It’s common knowledge that wildland
firefighters must be in top physical condition to perform their duties. The
firefighter pack test, a physical fitness test, requires firefighters to complete
a 3-mile hike with 45-lbs on their back in 45 minutes.
But this strength doesn’t just come
from weight lifting and running. A wildland firefighter’s diet can also impact
his or her physical fitness. Keep these tips in mind when considering nutrition
for a wildland firefighter.
What to Eat
Wildland firefighting is
physically challenging, meaning firefighters burn a lot of calories while
fighting wildfires. According to
wildland firefighters generally need at least 6,000 calories per day to balance
their caloric intake and energy output. Here’s an overview of what’s most
important to their diet:
While in the field, it’s
important to keep carbohydrate-rich foods on hand. These foods help produce
glucose in the blood, which provides fuel to your brain. If your blood glucose
levels are low, your body can make glucose from muscle proteins, but this
weakens the body, making carbohydrate intake important for maintaining strength.
While working, firefighters should eat approximately 40 grams of carbohydrates
Carbohydrate-rich foods include:
- Whole-grain products
- Energy bars
While some of these items may not
seem practical out in the field, there are plenty of
light-weight and ready-to-eat options packed with these ingredients, such as various
Fats provide a large amount of
energy in a small package. As a general rule, however, fats should not make up
more than 20 to 35 percent of your daily calorie intake, and less than
one-third of that should be made up of saturated and trans fats. Substituting
butter for olive oil, for instance, can help you better balance your diet with
healthier fats. In the field, you can get a healthy dose of fats from products
like almonds and hazelnuts.
Protein helps maintain muscle
mass. For athletes and firefighters, the general guideline is to eat 1.2 to 1.8
grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Almonds, beans, peanut
butter, and meat are good sources of protein.
Drinking plenty of fluids is
vital to staying hydrated. This is particularly important for firefighters who
are in hot environments and constantly sweating.
What to Have in Your Pack
How do you get all these
carbohydrates, fats, and protein in your diet when you’re out in the field?
Clearly there are criteria for your pack food. For instance, it should be light-weight,
ready to eat, and packed with nutrients. Examples of what to keep in your
wildland pack include:
- Granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Peanut butter
- Protein bars
- Beef jerky
It’s also a good practice to keep
sports drinks like Gatorade along with you. Not only do they provide nutrients
themselves, but the ingredients in them are designed to help you stay hydrated,
so they can prove to be a better alternative to simply water.
Tips for Wildland Firefighters
To keep yourself in peak shape,
consider these additional tips:
- Weigh yourself frequently. It’s best to weigh
yourself every two weeks in the morning before breakfast but after urination. If
you find that you’re losing weight, it could mean you’re dropping muscle mass,
which isn’t ideal for a wildland firefighter. If you find that you’re dropping
pounds, add more foods or larger portions to your diet.
- Keep an eye on your urine. As odd as it sounds,
checking the color of your urine is an important step to staying hydrated. It
should be fairly clear in color. If it’s dark, you need to drink more water.
- When fire season is over, be sure to either reduce
your caloric intake or keep up with your physical exercise to maintain a
healthy calorie-to-energy-use ratio. You’ll want to return next season just as
physically fit as you were when you left.
Wildland firefighters require a
lot more food than the typical person since their jobs are so active. Eating a
healthy diet balanced with energy-rich foods will keep firefighters alert,
strong, and in peak physical condition.