We have already discussed some simple nutrition rules here on Gunslinger Research (which you can read here) However, while that article will provide you with a firm foundation to get you started, nutrition is a very complex topic. With this article, we are going to explore some of the more complex points including: diet construction, meal timing and meal preparation. More importantly we are going to address the nutrition goals of the uniform occupations.
I’m going to preface this article by saying: I am not a nutritionist. What I am however is a fitness enthusiast and military and law enforcement consultant. I have had the pleasure of working with a diverse range of uniform professionals from special forces, to patrol officers in city police forces. As I have said before nothing is going to dictate your operational performance like your overall personal fitness level. Yet, for many of us working in the uniform occupations makes eating and training difficult and if you do not dedicate yourself to a higher fitness ideal you will quickly succumb to bad habits.
There are a lot of diets out there. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are downright ugly. What is important to note here is that the word “diet” has developed some very negative connotations. A diet shouldn’t be something you do because you indulged a little too heavily on scotch and Christmas cookies (not that I am speaking from experience.) A diet is a lifestyle choice. Therefore, when we construct a diet it needs to be sustainable. In short you have to enjoy the foods you are eating, and you have to be able stick with it.
When selecting a diet, you need to choose a plan that suits your personal tastes and life style. Try to avoid so called “power” or “crash” diets. Personally, I’m a big advocate of Paleo Eating. There are several reasons for this. First, in recent years I have developed some fairly serious intolerances to wheat, soy and dairy and am not a fan of blowing up toilets when I’m working. Second, paleo eating has significantly improved my performance at work and in the gym. Since paleo eating normalizes blood sugar throughout the waking period I do not experience crashes. Finally, my personal blood markers are the best they have ever been since switching to paleo.
So, what’s the big deal about blood markers? Well it’s the only way to really know what’s going on inside your body. There are resources abound on what to have tested and how, but the short version is: get your blood tested on a semi-regular basis so you know how your body is responding to your diet and training.
Vegans and vegetarians, stop reading now. There I said it. Research has shown that particularly for men, animal fats and dietary cholesterol are essential for producing testosterone which is the guiding hormone for muscle tissue development. In addition, meat and animal fat generally promote a healthy endocrine and immune system. If you don’t believe me, there is a myriad of research on this topic, go ahead I will wait (you wouldn’t read a bibliography if included it anyway.) If you want some anecdotal evidence, think about the vegans you know, and how often they are down and out with a cold.
So how do you avoid eating White Castle and Dunkin Donuts when on shift? The answer is very simple: meal planning and meal preparation.
To this end we are going to discuss meal planning from a typical “4 on and 4 off” police lifestyle, however the same principles can be applied to other schedules such as a typical Monday to Friday, continental etc.
We are going to plan for 4 meals a day. Some say, you need to eat more meals others say you can get away with less. The research shows it doesn’t really matter, ultimately your meal frequency is a function of your personal satiety. For example: if you are on a ketogenic diet you may be able to get away with as few as 2 large meals (with a snack or two in between) this is largely due to the fact that hunger is suppressed when it ketosis. That being said, plan for at least one meal post training for recovery purposes but more on that later.
The first step to meal planning is protein selection. I select two proteins per 4-day block. You will need to prep your 2 proteins of choice (say chicken and beef) ahead. Freezing if required. There is some research that shows that protein sources oxidize far faster than originally thought, so invest in some quality airtight containers or if you can afford it a vacuum sealing system. Next prep 2-3 vegetable options and 1 starchy option. The starchy option is key, as we are going to use this in our post workout meal (again I am writing this from a paleo perspective so my starch of choice is sweet potato) however white rice or potatoes are particularly good. Notice how I suggest white rice? Not brown? Again research has shown that many of the supposedly beneficial compounds in brown rice are not biologically available to humans, another piece of homework from this article.
While discussing meal prep it would be helpful to discuss post workout nutrition. When you are finished training you need to generate a fairly significant insulin spike (one of the key players in muscle growth.) However, this is difficult for many when following a paleo eating plan. Now, I am one of those zealots who does not supplement heavily at all (see my supplement section at the end of this article) so that option for me personally is out. What we need is a food item that will cause an insulin spike and if we ae lucky a good dose of citrulline. Citrulline, specifically citrulline malate is a common ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. Citrulline boosts the body’s arginine and nitric oxide levels, widening blood vessels and allowing even more nutrients to rush into the muscles. It is naturally found in fruits such as watermelon and cantaloupe, nuts such as walnuts as well as cacao and salmon. So, the way forward is pretty simple eat fruit (hopefully a citrulline rich fruit) to cause that insulin spike and allowing you to avoid those processed foods you are trying to avoid.
Let’s say you are working a 12-hour night shift. You get home around 0800 and crash out shortly after. Awaking at 14:00, have a 1-2 cups of black coffee (yes black remember those simple nutrition rules?) The coffee is going to do a couple of things. First, it’s going to wake you up (yay caffeine) and second coffee is a fairly powerful appetite suppressant, the goal is that we want to train fasted. The reason why I’m going to advocate training fasted here is simple: it will help mitigate any potential fat gain during your night rotation. Your metabolism will not be running optimally so anything we can do to stave off the fat gain is ideal.
Post training (you did read our training guide) you are going to want to have your first meal. Personally, my post training meal is usually 4-6 whole eggs, half an avocado, baked sweet potato, and serving or two of breakfast meat (bacon, ham, etc.) I have found that eggs post training is the best thing to whey protein. If you are eating dairy feel free to make a “mass gainer” shake (whey protein, almond butter, almond milk, and a banana for example) and drink that instead.
By now you should be ready for work, uniform on and getting ready to go on shift what I will usually do is blend up a green smoothie of some sort as my second meal, and a handful of nuts. This will get me through to meal 3.
Meal 3 is usually a large serving of green vegetables, and some sort of protein. I try to use proteins and veggies that taste good cold. For example, asparagus and grilled chicken thighs with Dijon mustard tends to go down easily when cold. I will usually try to eat meal 3 4-5 hours into my shift.
Meal 4 is an exact repeat of Meal 3. I usually try to alternate the protein. Alternatively, this meal may be the diner with my shift mates (in which case it’s the same as meal 1 only made by someone with dubious personal hygiene.)
With food taken care of we need to talk about water. Water is key. Water is often the missing piece for so many of us. I recommend drinking a gallon to a gallon and a half per day and seeing how you feel. Drink a large glass immediately upon waking, and as needed when training. Keep a water bottle filled and stay hydrated throughout your shift. While talking about hydration, try to limit your consumption of coffee if you can. While there are a lot of benefits to coffee, it is a potent diuretic, and will dehydrate you faster if you are unable to get enough water into your system.
We couldn’t talk about nutrition without talking supplements. I personally take three: fish oil, vitamin d, and quality multivitamin. I do not supplement with whey protein or take pre or post workout supplements, I am not saying you shouldn’t take these products you need to tailor your supplement stack to your goals and lifestyle, but what I will say is that many of these supplements are poor quality, and the industry is largely unregulated take this into consideration when purchasing supplements. It is also important to mention that many supplements will make you “pop” on standard drug tests.
Remember, your body is built in the gym AND the kitchen. Fuel your body properly and it will perform when you need it to. Until next time eat well, train hard, and stay safe.