The Role of Drill Sergeants for Nutritional Behaviors

Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. British Army Physical Training Instructor.  


Drill sergeants in the military have a huge impact on the lives of those new soldiers.

As the leader of the troops, they have a responsibility to maintain a high level of morale and stress management.

However, they also need to focus on the health of the soldiers, especially their fitness and nutrition. 

The Importance of Nutrition for Military Recruits

In an age of obesity, military recruits must be educated about the importance of nutrition.

Obesity can have a negative impact on their ability to complete missions. It can also reduce their chances of re-enlisting in the future.

However, proper diet is not only crucial to maintaining an appropriate weight but also to their physical abilities.

While the United States has always sought to recruit healthy men and women, the rate of eligible recruits who exceed body fat standards has nearly tripled in the last 40 years.

Although most of these recruits do not become obese, the resulting overweight can impair their ability to be physically and mentally ready for a mission.

Drill sergeants play an essential role in the armed forces. They are responsible for preparing new recruits for the physical demands of basic training.

They provide counseling and mentoring to new Soldiers. However, the reprimands associated with trainees' food choices need to be avoided.

This is especially important since most of the nutrition practices of Soldiers are influenced by their leaders.

As a result, the Department of Defense (DoD) has invested in research on human physiology and nutrient processing.

Physiology and nutrition research has helped improve the physical and mental endurance of military personnel.

Military dining facilities offer a chance to promote good eating habits. They serve food in accordance with DoD and DGA recommendations.

Food served to troops is generally less perishable and light on calories. These foods are often packaged and stabilization technologies help keep fresh-looking bread, fruits, and vegetables.

The DoD has also commissioned research into the impact of nutrition on athletic performance.

These researchers have found that higher quality nutrition is associated with better physical performance in tactical training.

When soldiers are well-fed, they are more cheerful and less likely to get sick.

There are many factors that affect the success of military operations, including the physical and mental health of military members.

Insufficient nutrition can lead to fatigue, weight loss, and mental impairments. A lack of access to nutritious meals can cause anxiety and stress.

The military also encourages soldiers to make ad libitum food choices. This means that they will eat as much or as little of what is available to them.

For example, the DoD recommends that recruits eat at least two servings of protein-rich, nutrient-dense foods each day.

Additionally, they are encouraged to eat regularly, drink adequate fluids, and consume low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods when on the move.

Drill sergeants can play a key role in helping military recruits establish a healthy diet.

Recruits can start making good dietary decisions long before they begin basic training. Their families can also help them develop a healthy lifestyle.

Dietitian's Choice offerings are also available at commissaries, vending machines, and other venues selling food.

These dietary options feature high-performance foods and are designed to meet a wide range of needs.

Having access to a variety of nutrient-rich foods helps Soldiers improve their physical and mental abilities.

It is also important for Soldiers to have reliable and easily accessible access to these foods.

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Impact on nutrition behavior

Drill sergeants are critical leaders in the armed forces. Their duties include providing counseling, mentoring, and helping trainees become "soldiers."

Many drill sergeants have little knowledge of nutrition behaviors. However, they recognize the importance of what soldiers eat to physical performance and well-being.

As a result, it is important that drill sergeants be aware of their role in the development of healthy eating habits.

Research has shown that drill sergeants' attitudes and beliefs about nutrition influence their behavior.

Therefore, it is necessary for drill sergeants to be given additional resources to help them emphasize the importance of healthy eating during basic combat training.

A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research surveyed more than 850 drill sergeants.

Participants were interviewed about their main duties, nutrition attitudes, and nutrition beliefs. The interviews were conducted at two US Army posts in the southeast.

Drill sergeants work 14.7 hours a day for at least 24 months. They arrive before the trainees wake up and do not leave until they are done with their duties.

Some drill sergeants report sleeping less than five hours a night. This lack of sleep affects their well-being and safety.

In addition to their main duty, drill sergeants have been shown to affect the mood of new recruits.

Soldiers who are assigned a drill sergeant in their platoon were found to have better behavioral health outcomes.

These positive results were associated with higher ratings of general leadership, camaraderie, and health-promoting leadership. 

Nutrition education

Military basic combat training (BCT) is a stressful form of structured training.

Many studies have shown that the experience is beneficial, but there is little research on the effects on the individual. Behavioral health issues, such as depression and sleep deprivation, are common. 

As a part of their BCT, drill sergeants are tasked with instructing a performance nutrition education course.

During this course, Soldiers learn about how food is used in the body for fuel. They are instructed to use the Go for Green label in DFACs and learn how to eat for their optimal performance. 

Influence on soldier identity

The influence of drill sergeants on nutrition behaviors during basic combat training is critical for soldiers' health and performance.

Drill sergeants are one of the key individuals who establish and develop a soldier's identity.

Basic Combat Training (BCT) consists of physical tasks and mental tasks. BCT is an intensive course that emphasizes soldierization.

Recruits are required to do a variety of exercises including dragging a 90-pound sled, lifting heavy weights, and running.

It is a physically demanding course, and many recruits are unfit or inactive.

The goal of this study was to determine how drill sergeants and their trainees viewed nutrition during BCT.

Drill sergeants identified a need for more information and resources to help trainees set healthy eating habits during BCT.

A research team at the United States Army Research Institute for Behavioral and Social Sciences developed a prototype measurement instrument.

They also developed analytical strategies and metrics to track value change. These tools were tested in basic training and a subsequent intervention program.

The study included three groups: a historical control group, a multiple injury control intervention group, and a multiple intervention cohort.

The historical control group was a group of soldiers who attended AIT before interventions were introduced.

Their physical training was conducted as planned. Those in the multiple intervention group had to participate in five days of training each week for about an hour.

In addition to training, drill sergeants administered the PRT program. This consisted of movement drills, calisthenics, dumbbell exercises, and recovery drills.

Some of the drill sergeants also administered the Army Combat Fitness Test (APFT), a two-mile timed run.

Recruits had to lift and deadlift heavy weights, carry kettlebells, and run while dragging a 90-pound sled.

While drill sergeants may not have explicitly recognized nutrition as part of their duties during basic combat training, they recognized that what they ate would affect their performance.

According to the Army, a lean, physically fit soldier is an ideal member of the military.

While the results of the study are positive, the Army will need to provide more resources to drill sergeants to help them improve nutrition behaviors during basic combat training.


Drill sergeants are a key part of the process of soldierization. Besides being a crucial ally, they also help develop a soldier's identity.

However, little is known about the role of a drill sergeant in promoting a healthy eating regimen.

The best part of this is that the Army and its various branches are making strides to improve the health and well being of their soldiers.

From using wireless activity trackers to providing telehealth counseling via telephone, the military is looking at ways to improve the overall health of its personnel.

There are several reasons that the Army Health System stands out as a possible model for the nation to follow.

This system is designed to address health readiness issues - from inadequate supports to lack of knowledge about nutrition - and to help make the most of each and every soldier in its ranks.

While the Army has made major strides, there are still many unrecognized and overlooked opportunities for improving the health and well being of its troops.

One example is the use of mobile apps for communications such as social media, email, and phone calls. Another example is a more holistic approach to health promotion through an exercise program that spans the entire detachment.


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