What we put in our bodies affects everything. Today we sit down to talk with a Navy SEAL and SWCC nutritionist.
You’ll hear from my colleague, Angie Giovannini as she speaks with Justin Robinson about the importance of nutrition during and after training.
AG: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us a little bit about a really important pillar of training, which is nutrition. If we could just start out with you giving us a little bit of your background and how that fits into your work here at Naval Special Warfare. That would be really helpful.
JR: Great, well I’m happy to be here, too. I’ve been working at this Center, AKA the schoolhouse, for the last two and a half years. So, I started in June of 2015. Before that, was teaching college for a year, was in a similar position to this with an Army unit for a couple weeks before the government that had some cuts that came down, so it’s nice to be back into that system. Prior to that, I worked in professional baseball. I did a dual undergraduate in kinesiology and nutrition, and then my master’s degree is in kinesiology as well. I am a registered dietician and board certified specialist in sports dietetics, which I know is a mouthful, but…it’s the sports nutrition credential for dieticians.
AG: And so what drew you to Naval Special Warfare? How does that all fit in here?
JR: Really just working with people who are highly motivated. I’ve done the general training. I’ve done the personal training, I’ve done the general nutrition counseling, worked in the hospitals, and that’s great. You can make an impact, but I feel I’m at my best when I’m working with people who are highly motivated, people who will push me to do more research, to read more articles so I can come back to them and provide them with resources and information that will improve their careers, try to add some longevity to their careers. So, that’s probably the most, is highly, highly motivated population.
AG: And so, just to start out, let’s talk about how important nutrition is. Why is this something we’re even talking about today?
JR: Great question. Everybody’s got to eat. I look at it this way, that nutrition won’t be necessarily the difference maker. Having a solid nutrition program will not make you make it through this training pipeline. However, poor nutrition can be the reason that you don’t make it. So, we definitely see early on, in the early parts of phase and early parts of training when the intensity level is very high, we see low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. We see dehydration, we see heat injuries, and so, the individuals coming through the pipeline, the students who aren’t hydrating, who aren’t fueling high enough are going to get that low blood sugar, and it doesn’t matter how motivated you are, how fit you are, how strong you are, if you have low blood sugar, you can’t perform. And so, I like to say that it won’t be the reason you make it through, but it absolutely can be the reason that you don’t, so I want to eliminate that.
AG: Okay, on the flipside, there’s certain diets and certain eating choices that you make that can make you perform at your best… (JR: Absolutely) So, what are some things that you would recommend?
JR: So, it’s funny because especially now with so many different diet plans being very popular, it’s almost like a dichotomy. You have the vegans over here saying that plant-based is the only way to eat, and it makes you healthy, etc., etc. And on the other side, you have more of the carnivores, whole 30, Paleo and even the ketogenic crowd, who’s saying, “No, no, no, this is the only way to eat.” And so, as part bystander looking, trying to sort through the research, my goal is to try to find those common denominators. Why can a plant-based, meat-free vegan diet work for somebody, and likewise, why can an incredibly high fat, low carbohydrate diet also work? So, what are those common denominators? So, to answer your question better, I believe those common denominators are eating real food. You can call it clean eating, which has a very loose definition, but my definition of clean eating is real foods – so foods that don’t come in packages, food that’s not processed. If you do have food that comes in a package, the product over here that has five ingredients is probably better than the one over here that has 20. If you don’t like to cook – and here’s my first piece of advice – if you don’t like to cook, learn, learn how to do something other than cereal, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, learn how to do things like overnight oats. Learn how to cook some meats or some eggs because I feel that calorie for calorie, when you create something in your kitchen, it’s going to be healthier than it would be from a restaurant or a fast food restaurant, so clean eating. Try to eliminate added sugars, try to eliminate as much processed food as you can; would be those common denominators.
AG: And how do you see nutrition fitting in to the bigger picture of the fitness plan? I know there’s some pillars that you guys look at as a whole, as a big picture.
JR: I would say for longevity. In some respects, it’s similar to baseball. When you work with baseball players, and they play 162 games, and in my opinion, my role there wasn’t necessarily to make somebody better for one game, but it was to make that person just as good on game 162 or just as strong, just as fit as they were on game one or in spring training. So, looking at this training pipeline here. If you just look at an hour of what the students do, a lot of really fit people, a lot of strong athletes say, “I could do that.” Say, “All right, yeah, you maybe could do a log PT sessions, but could you do log PT after a 4-mile run in the sand, knowing that you have a 2-mile swim coming up, knowing that you’re going to get four hours of sleep, wake up and you do the whole thing again tomorrow, wet and sandy?” So, it’s about that longevity, sustainability and just trying to have those good foods more for that endurance and more for the long haul, the 21 weeks all the way up to a year and a half of training, depending on which pipeline you’re going through. So that’s what it is. It’s about the endurance factor.
AG: So, say I’m just considering for the first time going, you know, into the SEALs or the SWCC team. What would be the first steps you would suggest I take in reconsidering my diet?
JR: I think the most important factor is the right diet plan for the right part of the training program. So that’s what I really like to hone in on for my education piece is that what you’re doing early on in training will differ from when you get to qualification training, and that’ll differ from when you get to the teams as an operator. So, finding the right overall diet plan, I feel, is that first step. So, if you’re looking at some of the trendy diets as I mentioned – I’m not getting paid by anybody to say anything – so I don’t feel that a ketogenic or Paleo diet might be appropriate for an incoming student, whereas it may have application for operators or for qualification training students. So, getting enough calories I think is going to be the number one point. Getting enough carbohydrates, getting enough hydration, getting enough healthy fats, because it is very intense. So, I’d say that making sure that you’re feeding your body enough total energy. The second component to that would be to get your total weight and your body composition in check before getting here, because once you get to Prep, or once you get to Coronado, that’s not the place to try to gain that last ten pounds that you know you need to gain, or try to lose that last ten or fifteen pounds. So get your body composition where it needs to be.
AG: Is there like a metric or...?
JR: We don’t give hard numbers. So I can say that where we see the fewest amount of injuries is in that 10 to 15 percent body fat range. Typically, if incoming students are too low, so 7, 8 percent really fit athletes, then they have trouble keeping weight on, or maybe their endurance suffers. On the other end of that spectrum, if somebody’s coming in at 18, 19, 20 percent body fat, then they’re probably carrying around too much weight on their frame. So, 10 to 15 would be that range. But I would say we, the metrics we look at would be more of an obstacle course type of output. So how are you doing with body weight push ups? How’s your 4-mile run? How are your pull-ups? And if your run is suffering, but you’re really, really strong in the gym, well, then maybe you need to lose a little bit of weight. Likewise, if you’re a very, very fast, strong runner, but you can’t do that many pull-ups, then maybe you actually need to increase upper body strength. So it’s, I apologize, I can’t give you all that hard answer. I know, everybody loves numbers, and I’m sure there’s a lot of number geeks out there like me, but I’d say that 10 to 15 percent range.
AG: Okay, so let’s, let’s take it down to the most basic, you know, I wake up in the morning, I decide I want to go into Special Warfare. I go downstairs, I look at my kitchen. What do, you get to be there next to me, pointing out different things that I need to change? What do you think some of the most common changes would be?
JR: So, I’d say one of the first things would be to get rid of the breakfast cereal and the Pop Tarts. So sorry, no Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But looking again at whole foods, and if you really can’t think of anything else, think carb, fat, protein, fruit, vegetable. Just get in the kitchen, try to find something that looks like a carbohydrate, a protein and a fat. Put that on your plate. Try to get a fruit or a vegetable, try to get some color. So, eggs are fine. I know for about 30 years, we had the low-fat guidelines and low cholesterol, and we’re finding out now that that’s not as true as you once thought. So scramble some eggs would be fine; throw some spinach in there. If you want some breakfast meat, I would suggest ones that say ‘nitrate-free’ or ‘no nitrates added’ or uncured. So some uncured bacon, some eggs, some spinach, and then your carbohydrate, which could come from oatmeal or fruit. So, nothing too complex, carb, fat, protein, color, fruit or vegetable, and do your best to eliminate things that come in packages.
AG: What do you think of those categories? What do you think people get the most confused about? I mean, you know, you say carbohydrate – that could mean a lot of things.
JR: Is ‘all of them’ an answer? I think, I think we get confused, and I’ll try to hit on each of these very briefly, but I think we get confused on protein. So, with protein, we know that athletes or incoming students have high caloric needs, high protein needs, but that doesn’t mean that they need to fill their plates with protein. So, I like to say think of your plate for an entire day, your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner, your snacks, and about a third of that should be protein. If you get too much more than that, it’s not going to shut down your kidneys, but then you’re probably not getting enough of the other quality nutrients like carbs and fat. With fat, the biggest thing there is – again, we thought for so long that fat kind of makes you fat, but now we understand that it’s a great fuel – that the healthy fats, the Omega 3 fats that are in fish and chia seed and flaxseed and walnuts, have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body. So that would probably be the most controversial, is fat. And then carbohydrate – almost as controversial, but you, again, I think with a very, very high-energy output, a high caloric output, you need carbohydrates to fuel that. Again, once you get to a certain part of the training pipeline, or if your goal is to reduce weight, then we can modify carbs a little bit and tweak them down, but if you’re going into this pipeline on a low carb diet, you’re probably not going to have the energy to make it through.
AG: So, sugar is something that comes up a lot now. It seems like that’s under attack the most, and it appears that there’s science behind that, but would you agree?
JR: I would, and I would say we need to specify, though, between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars and then further specify between athletes and non-athletes. So, if you’re a non-athlete, then absolutely limit total sugar and especially added sugar. If you’re an athlete, I wouldn’t worry so much about naturally occurring sugars in fruits, for example. They’re a healthy carbohydrate. I would do your best to limit added sugars, which would be, some of them are very plain to see, like Skittles are all sugar, Fruit Loops are all sugar, but then there’s added sugars in products like yogurt and granola bars, and then there’s some of the, I guess you could call it a ‘hidden sugar’ in a product like sports drinks. So, if you are going to consume those added sugars, make sure that it’s within that 30-minute window around an exercise session because that’s when your body can use them up. So, 30 minutes before, during or 30 minutes after, but a sports drink is not the beverage of choice on a Saturday afternoon on a recovery day when you’re just sitting around the house.
AG: So, recover. (JR: YES!) That’s a topic that I definitely want to talk about. How, how do we recover best, most efficiently? Is it supplements? Is it food? What is the magic formula?
JR: Top priority I would say is sleep. I realize it’s not necessarily a nutritional issue, but most 18 to 22 year olds likely don’t sleep enough, and, you know, it’s funny; a quick story. When I was in college, my roommate on my way to gym would always say, “Oh, you’re going to go do some bodybuilding,” and actually I’d say, “No, I’m going to do some body breaking down. I’ll do my bodybuilding later on tonight when I sleep.” And so, that approach of that you recover when you sleep, it just kind of switches the mindset a little bit. So even before I focus on nutrition, if I see somebody who’s, who has poor sleep or is only sleeping four or five hours a night, I will focus on that. And then maybe we’ll have a team approach to see what we could tweak on that, but drinking the right recovery shake or eating the right foods is, has a lesser impact than something like sleep or potentially just taking off a day here and there. So listening to your body, knowing that there might be some days when you might need to skip a session just so you could foam roll and stretch and do some of those topics that I’m sure you’ve talked about on some of the other podcasts. But to hit the nutrition standpoint, sleep number one, proper mobility exercises, two, three, I’d say hydration. So, we’re getting into the nutrition aspects, hydration, because when you are breaking down muscle tissue, when you’re working out muscle glycogen, you’re also burning through water. And so, when we replace that muscle glycogen or the storage form of energy in the body, we need water to go along with it, so I’d say hydration one. And then, the rules aren’t really that different, the carbs, the fats, the proteins. I try to make things simple, so the old-school theory was I need carbs before a workout and protein after a workout, and there’s some truth to that. I try to make it a little bit easier and say get a combination of carbs and protein before and get a combination of carbs and protein after. And then, in your later meals, maybe in between your workouts, that’s where you maybe have a slight emphasis on the healthy fats, cause fats do digest rather slowly. So, a high-fat meal an hour before a run is probably not the best idea, but a high-fat meal two or three hours before, or two or three hours after is a great idea.
AG: So, you don’t, you don’t think protein powder is the answer? Cause it seems like that is pushed on us a lot.
JR: I’ll give you two responses to that. I think that in general, protein powders and shakes and bars are convenience foods, so, yes, they can be part of an overall training program for an athlete, and they can be beneficial. But I would still focus on whole foods first. Having said that, the other part to that, the other caveat is our supplement policy, which I know we’ll, we’ll get into a little bit. So, most protein powders would not be permitted for students going through the training pipeline. So my short answer to that is, try to do your best to train like you will when you get here. Create a similar environment for you now so that when you get to Prep, when you get to Coronado, when you get out to the teams, you know what to expect, and your body knows what to expect.
AG: Well, let’s just dive in then, supplements.
JR: So, supplements. I’ll start off with the letter of the law so to speak. The supplement policy only permits foods that say ‘nutrition’ facts versus foods that say ‘supplement facts’. So, anything on the back of a food label is going to typically say nutrition facts, drug facts or supplement facts. Anything that is a nutrition fact or drug fact is regulated by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. Anything that says supplement facts is not regulated, so no supplements are regulated in the United States. An act that came out in 1994 deregulated supplements, meaning that I could put – and I’m using an extreme case here, but it’s possible – I could put steroids in my protein powder and sell it, and somebody starts taking it, like, “Man, this protein powder’s really working,” and it’s, “Well, yeah, it’s not the protein in there. It’s the contaminated steroids.” And, so you hear of collegiate athletes and pro athletes testing positive, and they’ll blame it on a supplement because they probably took a supplement, they allegedly took a supplement that was not regulated and not properly tested. So, our supplement policy here is it must say ‘nutrition facts’, one, it must also be a single serving size. So we do believe that students need additional calories, additional carbs, fat and protein, so having a bottle of protein shake is fine. Having a protein bar is fine because that’s a single serving. The other component to our supplement policy is no energy drinks. We really want to do our best to limit caffeine, especially if you’re consuming a pre-workout, and as we just said maybe contaminated with amphetamines or the amount of caffeine listed may be different from what’s actually inside of the product. So it’s very easy to over-consume caffeine or amphetamine types of substances, which will affect heart rate, which will affect your body’s ability to regulate your temperature. And as I said, our students working out here are already at a high risk for dehydration and heat illness. So, it’s a very strict policy to be honest, but it’s also a very black and white supplement policy. For any students coming through who maybe do need a pill, a powder, for example, maybe someone who’s had a history of stress fractures and needs vitamin D or calcium, that has to be approved by a Navy medical provider. So, you can take things like fish oils, calcium, vitamin D, multivitamins if a Navy doctor says yes, for whatever reason this is what you need. So, my advice to students is train with food, cause like I said, I wouldn’t want, you know, the placebo effect to kick in, and you’re taking something that maybe is legit, it’s clean, it’s not going to make you test positive, but when you get here, you don’t have that anymore, and it’s like taking away the binky, you know. Or, and it’s such a mentally demanding environment here that I wouldn’t want that lack of a placebo effect, or I wouldn’t want you to take that away and think, “Oh, I need my multivitamin,” or, “I need my protein powder in order to recover properly.” It’s not physically necessary, so kind of get used to that now would be some of my advice.
AG: Yeah, that’s huge. Those are some very important takeaways, so nothing that says supplemental info on the label, train with whole foods, and pretty much, you know, do your best to eat vitamins in the food format, not in the pill format.
JR: Precisely, and if you need those extra calories, and you want convenience food, it’s fine to have the bottled protein shake, or some of the energy bars or protein bars. Again, going back to the clean eating, when you’re searching through the different ones, don’t necessarily just go for the one that has the most protein as a lot of us do, but maybe try to find the ones that have a grass-fed protein that’s a little cleaner. Try to find ones that don’t have artificial sugars, artificial colors, artificial flavors. So again, that fewer ingredients still applies to the bottle protein and the bars.
AG: So, while we’re talking about the labels, there’s a lot of words on labels that are hard to understand. Are there a few that you would say that are just no, absolute no’s? I remember partially hydrogenated soybean oil being something that’s pretty bad, or there are like three things that you just say no, no, no?
JR: Great question, and partially hydrogenated oils would be high up on that list. I would say anything that has a color or a number associated with it. So, you know, Red 5, Blue 4, any of these different artificial colors. So that would be the first thing. And I like to say that if a fifth grader could not pronounce it, it probably shouldn’t be there. So polysorbate 80, and sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, and some of those ones that, yes, if you’re a college chemical engineer chemistry student, you know what those mean, but if a fifth grader can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t put it into your body.
AG: Nice, I like that rule a lot. So, when you look at the top part of the label, you know, percentages of everything, is there any sort of rule of, you know, not over this amount of sugar in one serving size or something like that that you would say is a rule of thumb?
JR: Another awesome question. And I would say when it comes to the percentages, my rule is to ignore those, because those percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. And I would say that most of the students coming through the pipeline here need at least double, and sometimes even triple those amounts. So, early on --- and to throw the calories thing out there, some of the numbers – early on in training, students here are burning 5 to 6 thousand calories per day, and during Hell Week or during the Tour, that number goes up to 10 to 12 thousand calories per day. So, looking at the percentages and thinking that you need a 2,000-calorie diet, you’re going to be incredibly under-fueled for this training environment. So, I, I like to look at the ingredients. My other rule – ignore the percentages. I actually get away from the macros, the grams of carbohydrate, fat and protein to be honest, and I go straight to the ingredient list. The ingredient list is listed from largest amount of that food to the least, highest to least in terms of its weight. So, if you’re looking at a product, a bar, and brown rice syrup is the first ingredient on that energy bar, that means – which is a sugar – that means there’s more added sugar in that bar than anything else, whereas another bar over here, the first two ingredients may be cashews and dates. And yes, dates have sugar, but they’re a natural sugar. So, that would be my rule of thumb, is ignore the whole top part of that label, go to the ingredient list, look for things as we said that a fifth grader can’t pronounce, try to find the products that have the fewest number of ingredients, and then try to find the ones that don’t sound like artificial or added sugars.
AG: Okay, so, you know, a lot of people when they turn 18 are shopping for the first time, and that is going to be a lot of people that you’re seeing here. Do you have advice for someone as they walk into the grocery store to do the right thing?
JR: So, you always hear the tip of, ‘well, stick to the perimeter’, and I believe in that to an extent. However, there’s a lot of frozen foods in the middle, a lot of frozen vegetables and frozen fruit to make smoothies, in the center aisles that’s really healthy food. So you’ll hear that one a lot, and there’s some truth to it. The best advice I could have is it starts before you get to the grocery store, and that’s to make a plan. We talk about with operators here you have to pay attention to detail, so you have to be very detail-oriented thought process. So I say make, make a menu for the week, and you don’t have to make a menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks. The easiest way to do it would be to make a menu for five days, just for dinner. So, here are my dinners for the week, and I’m going to plan to have leftovers one night, and I’m going to plan to eat out one night, and then maybe my lunch is going to be my leftovers from the night before. So, make that five meal, week-long menu, and then see what ingredients you need, and use that to create your shopping list. Cause otherwise, I think we’ll have a tendency to buy the exact same things every single time we go through the grocery story, okay, we’ll get milk, we’ll get bread, we’ll get a thing of lettuce, and then we’ll go home that day, and we’ll make a salad, and then the next Sunday, we’ll open up the bottom drawer, and that lettuce is wilted, and you’re wasting money. So, I know at 18, budget is a concern, and so if you plan to do things like the salads and your fishes and your fresh meats early in the week, then you can plan to use your frozen foods, frozen vegetables later in the week.
AG: So, we were talking about all these things that are so good for you. One of my personal favorite expressions in this community is, “Work hard, play hard,” which indicates a certain amount of consumption of other things outside of training. What, what are your suggestions on managing that? I mean, you’re going to go have fun, you’re going to drink, you know, you’re going to eat junk food. What do you do when that occurs? How do you get, how do you recover from that, you know?
JR: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, “Work hard, play hard”. Another quote in this community is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” So I know where you’re coming from with that thought process. So, I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule, which you may have heard before, where if you focus on healthy eating 80 percent of the time, then that other 20 percent you can have the junk food and go out and enjoy it. So, within that, I’ll say two things: one, depending on your personal goals, you may need to adjust that. If you struggle with losing that last five to ten pounds that you know you need to lose cause you want to get that 4-mile run time down, you may need to be on a 90/10 type of diet. And then when you get to a certain point, you can go a little bit back towards 80/20. So, I’ll say this, on the second part of that is, eat what you like. I always tell people that the double fudge brownie, a small portion is better than an entire tray of low-fat, sugar-free brownies, alright. So, make, satisfy yourself, and what I usually tell the students and the operators here is lump all your junk food. So your fast food, your desserts, your alcohol, lump that all into the 20 percent as well. So, if you, if you like your double IPAs and your wine, then you go for that…(AG: eat a salad) And a salad! That’s the exact, exactly just like that. So do what you like, just try to control, think about a week-long process of, “All right, where’s my junk food, where’s my booze, where’s my fast food, and, you know, how am I going to manage that all into my 20 percent?”
AG: And not everyone’s, you know, do you have advice for someone who, they didn’t eat a salad, they got drunk, and they had a cheeseburger, and then they’re feeling bad about that? It’s like what, what do you suggest to get back on the wagon again, to get back in the mindset?
JR: Great question, and it’s all about establishing healthy habits. So, if you have the habit of drinking a lot and very frequently, then you’re probably also going to have the habit of going out and eating the cheeseburgers, or the pizza, or the tacos late night. We’re in San Diego, so it’s, it’s California burritos here. I know it, I understand it. So I would say just getting back into that routine the next day, of, “All right, yesterday was yesterday, today’s today, and I need to get back into my fitness routine.” It’s funny when you read about habits that people who are more fit, people who exercise more, you know, people who make their bed, if you’ve heard that from one of our former leaders here. When you make your bed in the morning, that everything else just trickles down.
AG: Start the day doing something that’s productive so that the rest of the day follows from there. (JR: Exactly, exactly) Is there, is there a Navy SEAL and SWCC equivalent of making your bed first thing in the morning? Is there a nutrition equivalent of that?
JR: Oh, man, that’s a good, that’s a very fair question. I would say drinking water. I think we, the first thing we typically do in the morning is we go to the bathroom, and we wake up dehydrated. So I’d say start the day hydrated. There it is, start the day hydrated. Your brain cells need water, your muscle cells and so you can think more clearly, you can listen to your body a little bit more clearly in terms of your hunger and satiety when you are hydrated.
AG: That’s really interesting because I’d say a very large percentage of us start the day with coffee, a diuretic essentially, so maybe like chug a glass of water before you have that coffee? [JR: Exactly.] All right, I like that. So, we’ve, we’ve gone, you know, big picture down to some of the, the smaller, sweat the small stuff kind of details of this. Let’s bring it back to the plan. If I’m looking at this for the first time, and I’m trying to map out how I’m going to attack, you know, my journey to the Special Warfare community, what would you recommend I look at first and then, you know, how to map it out?
JR: So, the first step would be some form of self-assessment, and I think the easiest thing you can do is just write down what you eat and what you drink, because I feel that we are in autopilot when it comes to nutrition most of the day, that we don’t realize we’re grabbing this snack or grabbing that snack, or at the end of the day, we don’t realize that we maybe over consumed on this product, maybe under-consumed on this product or under-consumed water. So, I’d say that first step is just the self-assessment, the awareness of, “Alright, what am I actually putting into my body?” Cause you can go online and download a diet program, but it may not be specific to you. “What are one to three aspects I can focus on today or tomorrow morning that will improve what I do?” It might be drinking more water, it might be not skipping a meal. There’s 100 different things we could look at, but the self-awareness is probably that first step.
AG: How often do you find that people are surprised once they do start tracking? I’d imagine it’s a very high percentage.
JR: Very high percentage, yeah, 9 out of 10. In fact, there’s some studies, this is more on the weight loss side, but just simply tracking their calories and not having any input from a dietician, that alone, people lose weight. So, you can become more fit simply by becoming more aware, as I said, of what you’re putting into your body or what you’re not putting into your body.
AG: That indicates a lot of mindless activity going on, so it’s all about mindfulness… (JR: Exactly, yes) Well, I know one of the things that you wanted to make sure we addressed is, you know, there’s, there’s a plethora of information out there. There’s a lot of data, there’s a lot of research, there’s a lot of websites and apps, and you, you know, your goal is to make sure that people have a simple, have simple explanations and ways of attacking their health and nutrition. What would you kind of dispel it down to for some takeaways?
JR: Great question, and we touched on this when we were discussing protein a little bit, but if you think about that big plate, again, your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner, all your snacks, and about a third of that plate should be protein. Well, about another third of that should be vegetables, and so I would say that most Americans, including athletes, including Naval Special Warfare operators, don’t consume enough vegetables. So make a third of that plate vegetables. And then make the other third of that plate your carbohydrates, your starches, your starchy vegetables. So, potatoes are a starch, peas, corn and carrots are starches, not vegetables. And just kind of think about that third, third and third with your healthy fats spread around. And then if you need to gain weight or lose weight, we can modify that a little bit. If your goal is to gain weight, maybe the carbohydrates is a little bit bigger portion. If you need to lose weight, maybe the vegetables becomes a little bit bigger portion. But that would be a great starting place, is thinking about, again, what you’re putting into your body, what foods are going on that plate and just having an honest, you know, gut check moment of, “All right, well, what does my plate look like today? What is that pie graph look like?” And then, “What are some steps I can take to make sure that I tweak that pie chart to look a little bit more like that one-third, one-third, one-third?” I’d say probably most of the students, we think about half of it is probably the protein, and about another third is our starches, and then maybe that last little sliver is our vegetables.
AG: Are there any trends? I know you said that it’s an individual thing, and then everybody at every stage along the training process and wherever they are in life has to look at it, but are there any trends that are just ridiculous that right now? You know, it changes every year, but…
JR: It does. So, again, what is appropriate for somebody who is diabetic or somebody who’s overweight or even somebody who is a Special Operations Forces operator, may not be appropriate for a student. So, if I’m looking at something like intermittent fasting, for example, which is a very popular trend, where it’s eight hours of eating and 16 hours of not eating, I would say that is not appropriate for a student coming into this pipeline because you’re just going to be grossly under-fueled. When you get to a point in your career where you maybe will have to go out on a three-day hump, and you don’t have access to food, well, then maybe use some intermittent fasting along your training pipeline to get your body used to not eating would be absolutely appropriate. But when you get to Prep, when you get to Coronado, you’re going to get three squares a day, and during certain parts, you’ll get that forth meal or snack, so get used to that regiment. Feed your body, because you’re going to need to burn through those calories. So, that would, that would be the one right now that I would say would not be appropriate for students coming in.
AG: So, hydration is important. We understand that. I think that’s widely known and maybe something we can all focus on more, but is there a certain amount that we should be focusing on, is it a percentage of body weight? How do you look at that?
JR: Yes, exactly, and we like to say get at bare minimum half your body weight in ounces, and so that’s if you have a low training day, and you’re not really sweating or burning a lot, but that can go all the way up to three-quarters of your body weight. And for incredibly intense days or for those of you who are in the Midwest or the east coast, where it’s really hot and humid, then maybe even your body weight, in ounces. So, if you’re 200 pounds, you should be drinking about 100 ounces of fluids per day. And it is definitely a relative amount. You know, there are people who will say, “Well, you should drink eight glasses,” some people say you should drink a gallon. Well, a gallon is 128 ounces, so for most 180 to 200-pound students coming in, that’s probably a pretty good range, a good estimate. I would also say we should talk about electrolytes and the sodium and the potassium, and that if it is hot and humid, you need to make sure you’re getting some form of essentially salt into that water. And it might be water and salty food; it could be a sports drink. Some people will talk about hyponatremia, which is too little sodium in the blood. We don’t see that here. In my two and a half years here and in talking to the medical providers who’ve been here long, longer than I have, I don’t know that we’ve seen any cases of hyponatremia, but we’ve absolutely seen plenty of cases of heat illness and dehydration. So, if you’re thirsty, you should drink, and you should probably drink a little bit beyond your thirst. You know, thirst is a really good regulator. I would say just drink slightly beyond your thirst, get half your body weight to three-quarters of your body weight in ounces of fluid per day, and then make sure that when you are exercising, getting some sodium especially, in one form or another.
AG: Should anyone be worried about over-hydration?
JR: And over-hydration would be that hyponatremia. It’s, I’d say, in the population coming in here, it’s probably pretty rare. You have to be drinking for like four or five hours. Where it can become a threat would be people who are running marathons who finish in that five to six-hour range and have been drinking water every aid station. But like I said, you know, if we’re going to put our money down on something, I’m going to put my money down on somebody being dehydrated in this population, than somebody being over-hydrated. So, you don’t ever, you may not need to go over one ounce per pound of body weight. That might put you at that risk for over-hydration or hyponatremia, but half to three-quarters per pound is good.
AG: While we’re talking about amounts, when it comes to advice about, you know, shifting to eating a whole food diet can be a little challenging for somebody who hasn’t done it before or maybe who hasn’t cooked for themselves before. Are there any kind of little tips that you’ve learned along the way for the daily consumption, you know, especially as someone on the go? What would you recommend?
JR: One of my go-tos is trail mix, and if you find a Whole Foods type of store where they have the bulk section, you can make your own trail mix. And nuts and seeds and dried fruit, and you can get different varieties of that. Do one that’s almonds and tart cherries. I love tart cherries, I love tart cherry juice. So trail mix, things like hardboiled eggs, I think are incredibly easy. And then as some of the different energy bars that are whole food bars, if you want to get adventurous, you can go on Pinterest, for example, and look up homemade energy bar recipes. So, I would say those things, trail mix, hardboiled eggs, homemade energy bars. And then there’s 1,000 different recipes for like overnight oats or homemade oatmeal’s, where you can put in almond butter. One of the favorites of the students here that we do a little cooking class when they get to qualification training. And pumpkin pie oatmeal is one of the favorites, where you put some canned pumpkin, some dark chocolate chips, a little bit of honey, sea salt and the oats, and it’s five minutes and delicious.
AG: That sounds great. I love that. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about that lately. Is there anywhere people can go to find out more about this? I mean I think there’s, you, I think you have a lot more to share.
JR: Well, I know where, the SEALSWCC.com website is constantly being revamped, and, you know, I’m working on some different pieces, getting some more nutrition education to go along with all the great training information that’s already present. So, I keep coming back to that.
AG: I just want to thank you, Justin, for being here. This has been so interesting. I feel like we could talk for days about it. Maybe we’ll have you back again sometime…Part two.
JR: Absolutely, I appreciate your time, and best of luck to everyone out there for, with their training.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast