Friday, March 28, 2014

Marine Guide for Eating (Healthy) in the Field

Overview

            This article is aimed at Marines, particularly Marines in units that have extremely limited access to fresh food while in the field, that are forced to consume MRE’s for weeks on end.  Keep in mind I am only looking at this from a health perspective and because I am not a fan of many of the items in MRE’s you will have to supplement with self-purchased items.
This entire article will not really apply to civilians or even members of the armed forces that aren’t exposed to field life without access to normal foods but it should make for an entertaining article none the less.  If you are lucky enough to have awesome foods Marines like I do that provide us salad and fruits on a regular basis, your supplementation will be minimum but still a good idea.

Disclaimer

            I am not responsible for anything you may or may not do as a result of reading this article.  Do not tell your Sergeant that you can only eat the high protein MRE’s because I said they are the better choice; He won’t care.  This article is for informational purposes and is not tailored to the needs of any single persons specific situation.  The information provided is intended to help you make informed decisions about your health.

Usually $1 at the Commissary!

What to Eat

            Protein should be your main focus in the field and this is the main reason you will have to supplement with additional food.  MRE’s were created with one goal in mind and that is shelf life.  Palatability, quality and your dietary needs were taken into consideration also but they were far from the top of their priority list.  Don’t believe me, talk to someone that has eaten a vegetable omelet or the four fingers of death.  See, told you.
            Now the reason protein is so hard to come by in MRE’s is because protein is typically found in meat products whose shelf lives are extended by adding crap tons of salt and preservatives to them.  Also, the FDA’s recommendation for dietary protein is extremely low and insufficient for just about any Marine especially in the field but it is most likely what the MRE creators were referencing when they were designed.  Protein is muscle sparing which means it helps you maintain the muscle mass that is currently on your body.  In the field I would recommend .8g - 1g of protein per lb. of body weight.  This will ensure you are providing your body with enough protein to retain as much muscle mass as possible throughout your time in the field.  This is a general recommendation so if you want something more specific to your needs and situation just let me know.
            The source of your protein will be up to you.  There are a few decent choices of MRE’s that contain up to 30g of protein in the main meal.  These should be the ones you go for.  There are little to no snacks in the MRE’s that provide more than a few grams of protein.  The beef snacks and nuts are the exceptions.  This is where your supplementation comes in.  Tuna, salmon, chicken and a few other pure protein sources can be purchased in convenient pouches, perfect for carrying to the field.  Protein powder is a little more inconvenient but still a good choice to supplement with.


I have yet to find a flavor that doesn't taste amazing.

Quest bars are another great example of something small and convenient you can purchase to bring to the field.  With 20g of protein and 17g of fiber they make for an amazing snack.  Forget about that marble pound cake, eat a cookie dough Quest bar.  Much better taste and infinitely better for you.  Don’t choose other protein bars as 99% of them are glorified candy bars with just as much sugar and typically more calories with little to no fiber.
            Combine the protein you bring with the main meals that are already high in protein or even the sides meals that go well with what you bought.  The different rice sides taste great with a can of chicken and even the mashed potatoes and cornbread stuffing are usually tolerable when combined with something you brought.  Hot sauce will be your friend while you are in the field.  It will help mask the crappy flavor of the MRE and also provide you with some much needed sodium.
            Carb sources in the field are important due to the amount of energy expended while you are there.  Even if you aren’t a grunt you are still moving more than normal and require carbohydrates for energy.  The sides that come with the main meal are a decent source of carbohydrates but they usually taste terrible.  Uncle Ben has some ready to eat rice that may not be a bad idea if you want something a little fresher than the MRE carbs.  Your body can also use fat as energy so nuts are also a good energy source.
            Supplementing with additional fiber could also be a good thing if fresh fruit isn’t available when you are in the field.  You can’t pack enough apples for 2 weeks but you can grab some nuts and maybe some homemade dried fruits.  I know the dried fruits are a stretch but grab some nuts.  Between that and the quest bars your digestive system will thank you.

What to Avoid

            Avoid trans fats.  Fairly simple and straight forward but it eliminates nearly everything inside the MRE.  Very rarely will I tell someone NOT to eat something and eliminate it from their diet but trans fat is the exception.  The crackers, bread, cookies, cakes, snacks, candy, peanut butter and cheese all contain some form of trans fat.  Some of them list 0g on their labels but if you see ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ in the ingredients you can be sure there is trans fat in there.  Trans fat should be avoided for a multitude of reasons.  If you want some specific ones then Google them.  In all honestly an entire separate article could be written with regards to trans fat.  As you can imagine, this leaves very little food inside the MRE that I recommend eating which is why you will have to supplement.
          
  
One subject that I know will come up is candy.  The candy that comes in MRE’s has been the same for a while now.  Reese’s pieces, Skittles, Twizzler’s bites, M&M’s, peanut M&M’s, tootsie rolls and those other chocolate squares are all decent snacks.  While not the best source of nutrition as some of them contain trans fat, they break up the monotony of tasteless food and keep you from going insane during a few week stint in the field.  If you can avoid it, do so but do not feel bad eating them.

Hydration

            Drink water and plenty of it.  It doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot, you are moving around more than normal when you are in the field.  Walks to the head, chow and just walking around for whatever your tasks are throughout the day will cause you to require more water than you are used to.  Keep a camelback on you or have a canteen you fill regularly.  On a typical day in the field I can go through 200oz of water fairly easy.  Mio and other flavor enhancers can be used to either mask the taste of field water.  I hate drinking calories except for the occasional glass of wine with my wife so using the big drink pouches in the MRE will never be recommended by me.  They aren’t required if you are eating the proper foods anyways.

When to Eat

            Chow is continuous Devil Dog.  Eat when you want.  I still try to stick to a 16/8 fast and eat schedule but sometimes that isn’t feasible.  One small piece of advice is to eat your carbs later in the day.  When sleeping in cold weather you will find yourself waking up at night at least 1 time to take a piss.  Sometimes you try to sleep through this but that is a terrible idea.  The feeling can only be compared to what Sigourney Weaver was feeling in Alien when the spawn was just about to burst out of her.  Now I have never had an alien spawn burst out of my stomach but that is a feeling I do not wish on anyone.  Back on topic, eating some carbs before bed will give your body some place to store that water that you would have pissed out if you were to have eaten those carbs earlier in the day.  I can do some more research on the science behind all of this to further explain it but it has yet to fail me or anyone I recommend it to.

Benefits of Eating Healthy in the Field

            The best benefit is performance.  You will feel better which means you will have the ability to perform better.  You will be providing your body with a more optimal macronutrient profile which will also lead to more consistent visits to go poopy.  You should be going 1-2 times a day depending on your eating schedule.  One time a day at minimum.  If you aren’t then you aren’t getting enough fiber and will likely have a rough transition back to normal food when you come back from the field.

Notice

            This has been an extremely general overview of field eating for Marines.  If you want something specific for your case or if you want to discuss something in greater detail either comment below or email me at Joshua.j.palmieri@gmail.com.  Thank you for reading!