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What are the keys to FA success?

By Staff Sgt. Mike Campbell | 477th Fighter Group, Public Affairs | Nov. 29, 2016

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —

Maintaining fitness and weight standards is a way of life in the military--that's not telling you something you don’t already know. So here's the scenario, I know my Fitness Assessment is around the corner; how do I plan for that day? If you are like me, you have questions:

-What should I eat?

-What shouldn’t I eat?

-What is the best exercise program for me?

-How long can I let something go?

Procrastination has never been the best way to prepare for something that is so important. For me, lack of exercise and giving in to the temptation to eat all the foods I know are not good for me have always been internal struggles, and I know I’m not alone.

But where should I start? Diet? Exercise? What are my choices? Trying to decipher the foods and exercises right for me is like playing the lottery. All these health choices are decisions we will all, at some point, make in our struggle for a better FA score. What we need are practical answers and steps to take to keep us fit all year long.

Speaking to a friend in the unit the other day about the complexities of diet and physical training, he said "KEEP IT SIMPLE."

"In our ever changing environment, we can find simple things sometimes become complex. When it comes to physical fitness, the amount of information available can sometimes cause a person to feel as if their goals are impossible," said Senior Airman Kyle Cahill. "Pertaining to military members, keeping it simple can not only be better, but it reduce complications in your life. An example is, if you are going to the grocery store, read the ingredients on the back of a box or bag of food. If the ingredients are complicated, I would probably stay away.'

According to Cahill, the same principle would apply to fitness. "If you go to the gym, remember what you were taught in basic training about how to conduct PT: push-ups, sit ups, pull ups, running. You want to find a challenge? Amplify these. Do more of the same workout for longer, faster, more repetitions. In the long run keep it simple and you will find more enjoyment in life”

Master Sgt. Bryan Nicolos, non-commissioned officer in charge of the 477th Fighter Group Sustainable Services Flight and unit physical training leader trainer has experienced many issues associated with the Air Force Fitness Assessment program. “The FA test shouldn’t be something you do every 6 or 12 months, it’s a way of life in the Air Force. Healthy eating helps keep your energy level up and keeps unhealthy weight down," said Nicolos. "Fast food slows you down in life and soda pop gives you temporary energy before you crash. It’s much easier to keep in shape and pass your FA when you’re eating healthy and doing push-ups and sit-ups every day.” 

According to Nicolos, spending one minute every morning and night doing push-ups and sit-ups will go a long way when it comes to the FA. "Many people don’t think about the UTA let alone their FA until a few days before, by then it's too late," he said. "Your whole family will benefit if you keep yourself healthy all year long, and so will your score.”

That's helpful advice, but what do the experts say? Putting all this knowledge together is a task, and advice is in front of us everywhere. There are many personnel challenges each individual has that can effect our FA scores including work related stress, diet and the physical demands of everyday life. 

What I found in my research is there are three main components to fitness: diet, exercise and mental well-being. This article will be the first in a three part series addressing those factors. 

So let’s get started with diet. One of the great benefits we have as military members is resources like qualified medical physicians, experienced professionals in the health department and leadership willing to help us advance our careers. I reached out to a dietitian from the 673rd Medical Group, Lt. Abigail Marlow, and asked the question, “What is the best way to prepare for a FA test?” Here are the answers she gave:

Question One:

How does your diet contribute to training for a FA test in the military? 

Answer: Diet is paramount to achieving optimal performance. When the body is fed poorly, it functions poorly”

Question Two:

How can we remain healthy "pre-training" and after the FA test?

Answer: The BEST way to keep your body functioning is to feed it well balanced meals. Our societal norm is to eat lots of protein, lots of carbohydrates and very few vegetables. Moderating the portion size of carbs and proteins, and boosting your intake of vegetables will help provide the micro nutrients that your body needs to be successful. Shoot for 2-3 cups of non-starchy vegetables daily (starchy vegetables include corn, peas, potatoes), OR look to fill half of your plate with vegetables.

In terms of nutrient balance for athletes, your goals might change depending on the type of workouts that are being completed. The FA test is a full body evaluation of athleticism and health. A well balanced diet is the way to go when thinking about FA training.

Question Three:

What does "well balanced" look like?

Answer: Here are some tips for keeping your plate fresh and exercise friendly:

-Remember your colors. Ask yourself - do you have at least 4 colors on your plate? If the answer is no... better add some more!

 -If your meal comes in a bag or box, you are probably not headed in the right direction. Fast food can be a fix for a meal in a pinch, but don't rely on it for your everyday meal solution.

-Make half of the plate vegetables. While this may not be do-able at every meal, shooting for half of the volume of your food as veggies will make a big difference in the way that you feel.

-Use Your Hand. Your hand can be a great tool for measuring portion size that is individualized to you. Your protein portion, for example, should be about the size and thickness of your palm. Another example is that a TBSP is about the same size as an average person's thumb up to the first knuckle.

-Avoid sugar sweetened beverages (soda, juice, etc.) - these are fast, easy carbohydrates that store quickly as fat.

Question Four:

So how important is diet?

Answer: The food that you put in your body BECOMES part of you. Your quality of life can be directly impacted by the quality of your diet. High fat content foods take longer to digest, and therefore sit in your gut longer. Accessing fat calories for energy is exponentially more difficult than accessing carbohydrate for energy. Keep in mind the QUALITY of carbohydrate matters. Most individuals need sustained energy to get you through the demands of a young, active family and job. Diet helps with that! If you are already struggling with some health issues, dietary changes can help manage symptoms and body function in a big way; often time’s dietary changes can lead to getting off medications.

What resources do Airmen have to keep their training on course?

Three great websites to improve your eating and performance are choosemyplate.gov, fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org, and hprc-online.org

Don't take my word for it though, schedule a nutrition appointment for yourself by calling 580-4310.