Nutrition and the Military 2
the existence of the Roman Army over 2000 years ago, military commanders have
long known the importance of providing their units with adequate provisions
such as nutritious food and water. Without those two things an entire army can
expect or expect to be a successful war combating unit. Adequate food and a
regular supply of water, ensure the maintenance of proper physical capabilities
and mental performance expected of a soldier. Whether it is a history of
military personnel dying from poor nutrition, nutrition suitable of military
operations, or promoting wellness throughout all 3 branches of military,
nutrition and the military and fundamentally entwined.
history, there are many examples how nutrition affects operational performance.
One example can be seen where Scurvy (lack of vitamin C) accounted for more
deaths than the enemy had killed onboard the HMS Salisbury. During Lord Anson’s
circumnavigation of the world (1740-1744), 636 of the 961 sailors about his
ship succumbed to Scurvy. While serving as the ship’s surgeon on the HMS
Salisbury, James Lind, Royal Navy, observed that many of the symptoms were
caused by lack of citrus fruits and fresh vegetables. In his book “A Treatise
of the Scurvy” published in 1753, he recommended more intake of citrus fruits
and celery stalks to prevent Scurvy. Along with Lord Anson’s circumnavigation,
many lives were lost during the Crimean war due to poor hygiene and severely
inadequate nutrition. It was until Florence Nightingale and Alexis Soyer, two
civilian French chefs, intervened and improved the sanitation and structure of the
nutrition distribution to the fighting troops and the sick.
Nutrition and the Military 3
operations or military exercises where there is no field kitchen and fresh food
is not available, military personal are issues often called Operational Ration
Packs (ORPs), Meal Individual Rations (MIRs), or Meals Ready to Eat (MREs).
These rations packs are designed to “sustain troops on operations and during
field exercises, with the aim of preserving life, preserving physical and
mental functions, maintaining mood and motivation, preventing fatigue, and
speeding up recovery”. Even with all the nutrient packed rations, most
militaries recommend replacing ration packs with fresh food after no more than
44 days (14 in combat duties, and 30 subsequent days). Issued in the United
Kingdom, the MCR (Multi-Climate-Ration), contains an energy intake of 4098
calories, 651 grams or carbohydrate, 130 grams or protein, and 92 grams of fat
if all components of food are eaten. “The soldier who is well fed is not only
in better bodily health and better able to resist disease, but he is more
cheerful in difficulties and therefore more equal to any strain he may be
called upon to endure” (Boot Camp and Military Fitness Institute, 2017).
in addition to nutrition for performance, attention is also being given to
nutrition for wellness within the military. Without a doubt, the constant
promotion for nutrition for performance has given way to nutrition for
wellness. The growing awareness of the need to keep its workforces healthy in
and in optimal function has created an increase in awareness and concern in
both the civilian contractor and military side. Dietitians look at the whole
patient and asses where they are in the military life cycle. Most the education
from there is addressed in order to meet the needs some
Nutrition and the Military 4
unique individuals may have.
Military dietitians are always actively collaborating with health care
providers and health promotion program coordinators and in disease prevention
efforts with the end goal of reducing chronic conditions and diseases such as
obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc., to improve the quality
of life in the armed forces.
One may often ask, “What does nutrition have to do with
the military?” Whether is it better preparing the forces for combat operations
throughout history, or having optimal physical and mental performance during
combat duties, nutrition plays a major role in the operations of militaries around
the world. Even after members are not selected for combat duties, there is
always a promotion for health and nutrition in the armed forces. After all, you
can’t fight on an empty stomach.