FALLS CHURCH, Virginia — As experts on diet and nutrition, dietitians can help you achieve your peak performance goals. They can help you choose foods that will improve and optimize your mental and physical performance while reducing your risk of injury and disease.
Often, in hopes of a quick and easy fix, you may be tempted to turn to supplements and fad diets promising quick results. But these are not always good for your health. And what works for you is not always the best choice for another.
A registered dietitian can help you understand what your body needs and choose foods you enjoy to meet those demands.
“Dietitians take a holistic approach in helping you to meet your performance nutrition goals by addressing underlying issues that are keeping you from reaching those goals,” said Laura Bottoms, a registered dietitian at Ireland Army Health Clinic, at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
“They will help you address and overcome barriers to success that may include time constraints, motivation and even skill deficits in cooking, grocery shopping, and meal planning to name a few.”
Dietitians can also address any underlying conditions to narrow the individual’s specific needs, she said.
Utilizing a care team, which can include mental health professionals, resiliency coaches and fitness professionals, individuals have a better chance of understanding their needs and getting the care they need.
“Mental health, sleep issues, stress and other areas can all affect our bodies,” Bottoms said. “By pinpointing those barriers and working through each issue, the dietitian and care team can help the individual tweak, build and enhance their performance nutrition needs.”
She said many service members tend to focus on only one aspect, such as protein, but without balance, such as with adequate carbohydrates, they may lack endurance.
Often, the brain is often neglected in performance, she added.
“The brain requires nutrition to operate at full capacity,” Bottoms said. “Depriving it of carbohydrates and other nutrients can make you feel foggy, tired and unable to perform at your full potential.”
Limiting certain foods in your diet or undereating, especially in a demanding operational environment, can also be counterproductive. Skipping meals or cutting down portions in hopes of losing a few pounds can affect your performance and health.
“Undereating can affect mental performance,” said Navy Lt. Michael Kantar, a dietitian at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, in California.
“If you are chronically undernourished, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it will be hard to think about anything more than food.”
A registered dietitian can help you start building healthier options and taking steps to reach your goals, he said.
“Instead of taking huge leaps and making drastic changes, a registered dietitian can meet you where you are, understand your goals, and help you start making healthier choices using smaller steps,” Kantar said.
“This means they’re more likely to stick with the changes while learning to incorporate healthier choices into their meals,” a proven approach to improving one’s ability to meet a goal while also being able to live your life, he said.
Dietitians can help guide active-duty service members preparing to deploy or for upcoming training missions. They can help address some of the nutrients you need in that specific situation.
“Whether you are preparing for cold-weather training or deploying to the desert, they can assist in giving you recommendations for healthy and peak performance options,” Bottoms said.
The Department of Defense has online resources to help you:
• Operation Supplement Safety, and the
• Uniformed Services University’s Human Performance Resources nutrition site.
For more information, talk to your primary care provider to access dietitian resources at your local military hospital or clinic.