Would you agree that a leaner athlete is a better athlete? I know this is a "loaded" question. A lot of the answer has to deal with the sport in which the athlete is participating. One thing that research shows is that a leaner athlete is a "more efficient" athlete. When it comes to firefighters, this is a valid finding.
Efficiency in general terms, describes the extent to which time, effort and/or cost is well-used for the intended task or purpose. In terms of firefighting, a more efficient firefighter will be able to do more work with less physical effort. This is especially important since most of our "more intense" work as Fire Rescue Athletes comes when breathing air via an SCBA.
Unfortunately, we as firefighters, EMTs and medics have no off-season or pre-season. We must be able to perform when our citizens need us. We need to stay lean and efficient and ready to perform every shift and call. This can be a daunting task, especially in the winter and holiday months with the added stress and the tempting foods. It is very common for individuals around the fire service to gain some weight around these months.
Tips to Help Firefighters Stay Lean and Efficient
To help you drop some of those extra pounds and improve your performance on and off the fireground, I came up with some easy to follow fat loss tips.
- Consume whole foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar, such as lean protein sources (lean beef, chicken, fish, and whey protein), fruits & vegetables (oranges, apples, strawberries, blueberries, broccoli, peppers, asparagus, carrots, nuts (almonds, cashews, & walnuts), and whole grains. Protein will help to build muscle which burns fat and reducing sugars will help but your body in a fat burning state. Incorporate “superfoods” into your meal plan daily. Some examples are salmon, low-fat plain yogurt, tomatoes, spinach, mixed berries, whole oats, mixed nuts, olive oil, flax seeds (or flax meal), green tea, and various beans.
- Avoid ADDED Sugar. Look for sugar in the ingredients and not just the nutrition facts. Sugar occurs naturally in many foods and is healthy for the body. The goal of reading the label is to make sure sugar is not an added ingredient. If it is not added, then do not worry about the natural sugar on the fact list. As far as how much sugar can you have in a day? The World Health Organization suggests that no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugar, so that’s a good dietary goal. By reading labels you can figure out the number of calories you eat each day and how much sugar. Personally, I do not eat a food that has more than 10 grams of sugar (natural or added) that does not have fiber in it also.
- Follow a consistent and effective EXERCISE program! Yes, you can lose weight and fat just by changing your eating habits. But, we as firefighters, EMTs and medics have to be physically ready any situation, a well-planned fitness program is essential. You should aim to workout at least 3x per week and your program should contain full body strength training exercises and place a large emphasis on core training and mobility. And, to burn calories and fat make sure your program includes interval training a couple times per week.
This sounds like a lot, but with a well-organized and planned workout program it is possible. Personally, I looked for years for a program that could do all this and never found one. So, I created my own! This program has helped thousands of firefighters, EMTs and medics (including myself) decimate fat and improve performance.
- Stop drinking “fat” cocktails. Consuming soda, high sugary energy drinks and juices lead to weight and fat gain (especially around the waist). And, sorry to inform you that diet sodas and diet energy drinks can do the same. If you do not believe me, you can read about the research here. Instead of diet sodas and energy drinks try to consume water, tea or coffee. Water is essential for every metabolic process including fat burning. Teas, especially green teas, have numerous healthy benefits and can help to detox the body. Coffee, without all the added creams and sugar substitutes can also heal with fat loss. You can however, drink too much coffee/ caffeine so try to limit your consumption. The best thing to drink for fat and weight loss is water, make sure you drink at least 80 ounces or more of water a day.
- Follow the 90% rule. If you can follow your plan 90% of the time, you will soon see unwanted fat melt off your body. However, if you find yourself breaking these rules more than 90% of the time, your chances of failing increase significantly. If you break that down to 4 meals a day (3 meals and 1 snack) you can have 2 cheat meals a week. You should not go too crazy with your cheat meal but give yourself a little indulgence occasionally, just make sure one “cheat” meal does not lead to a “cheat” week.
BONUS- Try intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is a diet regimen that cycles between brief periods of fasting, with either no food or significant calorie reduction, and periods of unrestricted eating. It is promoted to change body composition through loss of fat mass and weight, and to improve markers of health that are associated with disease such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Personally, I try to fast for 16 hours a couple times a week. I will not eat from 8pm until 12pm the next day then consume my calories in an 8-hour feeding window. You can read more about Intermittent Fasting for firefighters by clicking here. This technique has helped me stay out of the kitchen in the evening, so I am not tempted.
Consistent fat loss requires good habits. If you want to create good habits, then you need to plan. I suggest mapping out your meals, eat real food and limit those sugars and additive sweeteners. And, get a solid workout program and stay consistent with your workouts. Consistency will lead to weight loss, fat loss and performance improvement. You can do this!
I hope these tips help. Please comment, share and like your thoughts.
PS- Here is a pic of my results from the FRF Fat Loss Program. The program includes eating guide, recipes, coaching emails and our FRF tracking app. And, I will include some FRF swag if you start the program today.