Healthy eating is important for everyone. But there is an added layer of importance when it comes to a wildland firefighter. That’s because eating healthy could make the difference between life and death. It might seem like an extreme statement at first, but think about it; fueling your body with the right nutrients can give you the endurance to fight a fire longer, get over the next hill faster, or help out a buddy when they need you the most. The right wildland firefighter gear is only as good as the person who is wearing it. The right fuel maximizes your potential as a firefighter, and that fuel comes from the food that you eat. Put junk in, you’ll get junk out. But put quality in, you’ll get quality out. So let’s look at some of the top suggestions for how to fuel your body for the next firefight.
The Challenge of Eating Right
It’s tough to eat right, especially when there are so many tasty (and bad for you!) temptations around all the time. But it can be even more difficult for a wildland firefighter. Schedules are unpredictable, and you often end up working long, tough shifts. That doesn’t leave you a lot of room to prepare and cook a healthy meal. Even worse, there often isn’t a lot of selection onhand where you happen to be working that day; it might be fast-food or nothing. It’s important to know the challenges so you can work on overcoming them and being prepared for situations before they happen.
Overcoming the Challenge of Eating Healthy
- With a little pre planning, you can avoid temptation by bringing your own snacks and drinks with you. Throw some protein bars in your bag and make sure you have plenty of water in your pack at all times.
- You might end up slipping up once in awhile and chowing down on a fast-food meal; it’s not the end of the world. Move on and make better plans for the next time. Just don’t make it a habit or you’ll start to see the effects in your body.
- Look for meal plans and diets that work with your lifestyle. Some diets require so much preparation that they are virtually impossible to manage with a firefighter’s schedule; look for ones that focus on performance using foods that you can easily get from the grocery store.
- Encourage your fellow firefighters to join in on the action; it’s a lot easier to eat healthy when your whole team is in on it. Cook healthy meals together and share recipes and products with each that work for your body’s needs.
- Be consistent when you can. Schedules might be unpredictable, but keeping up with a routine can help you eat healthy and get in the time you need at the gym, too. Your fellow firefighters can help you stay on track, too.
What Your Body Really Needs
As a firefighter, you’ll want to focus on fueling your body with foods that:
- Promote muscle growth. You’ll want to continue to build muscle so you can meet the challenges ahead.
- Increase your endurance. The shifts are long and often difficult; you need to be able to hold up to the challenge every minute you are out there.
- Build your mental stamina. Wildland firefighters need to be mentally sharp, too, in order to outthink the fire.
- Promote faster recovery. Your breaks might be short and infrequent, so the faster your body can recover, the better off you’ll be.
So what foods can do all of this? You’ll want to build healthy meals out of ingredients such as:
- Lean meats like chicken and beef
- Eggs, especially whole eggs
- Fish, especially fatty fish like salmon
- Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach
- Fruits, especially berries and citrus
- Quinoa, great source of protein and easy to mix into a meal
- Nuts, great as a snack on-the-go
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you are drinking plenty. Dehydration is a major concern for a firefighter, especially when you are on the job. Make sure your pack is loaded with water. If you drink something other than water, make it green tea. Other beverages such as soda have too much added sugar, which can slow you down mentally and physically.
Carbs Are Your Friends
Low-carb diets have been popular for the last decade or so, and for good reason. Cutting the carbs can help people drop unwanted weight, and many have discovered that cutting out carbs reduced inflammation in their body and alleviates conditions such as migraines. However, carbs are a firefighter’s friend. That’s because carbs can be quickly and efficiently converted into energy by your body, fueling intense performance in a short amount of time. You’ve probably heard of carb-loading before a run; it’s the same principle here for firefighters. That doesn’t mean you should scarf down a load of bread before responding to a call, though. You should focus on getting more complex carbohydrates into your diet. Those come from green vegetables, oatmeal, whole grain breads, peas, lentils, and potatoes.
What Foods to Avoid
We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: cut the sugar out of your diet. You’ll be amazed at the difference this can make, not just in dropping any extra weight that you might be carrying but also in clearing up any mental fog that you might experience when you start to get fatigued. You’ll find sugar naturally occuring in a lot of foods, especially fruits. That’s okay; you don’t have to avoid those sugars. What you want to avoid are added sugars, like you’ll find in everything from condiments such as ketchup to the syrups in your morning latte. Educate yourself and start making conscious choices to cut down on your sugar intake.
Saturated fats come from foods like cheese, butter, and red meat; probably all things you don’t mind eating. Saturated fats aren’t as bad for you as trans fats (more about those below), but you’ll definitely want to restrict your intake. There is evidence that saturated fats can increase your cholesterol and risk of heart disease, so keep them to less than 10% of your caloric intake.
Trans fats are dangerous to your health because they can increase your cholesterol and put you at greater risk for heart disease and stroke. They even put you at higher risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes. You’ll find trans fats in everything from the cookies that you buy at the store to the french fries you much on in the drive-thru. Efforts are being made by food manufacturers and restaurants to cut trans fats out, but read the labels before you eat. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil” on the list, pass it by.
You Provide the Fuel, We’ll Provide the Gear
Hopefully this guide provides you with some information about what you should and shouldn’t eat as a firefighter. It’s up to you to provide the fuel you need for your body to maximize its potential, but we’ll be here with the gear that you need. Visit our online store or come see it in person to see our selection of high-quality wildland firefighting gear.