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4 essential nutrition tips for firefighters

A simple checklist can help you stay on track at the station

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Firehouses are synonymous for tasty cooking—much of which does not support optimal health. The tempting, readily available treats found in the firehouse can make eating healthy challenging.

There is also no shortage of advice on how to cook and eat healthy. Go to any firehouse and you will be inundated with the latest and greatest diet plan and advised on what and how to eat (whether or not you are looking for such advice).

With all the temptation and self-proclaimed nutrition experts in every firehouse, how do you know what and how to eat healthy?

To help alleviate this dilemma, I created a checklist of essential nutrition tips for firefighters to follow in the firehouse—and out!

Get and keep your nutrition on track with these steps:

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is essential for every metabolic process, can help boost performance and energy, and can reduce your chances of sudden cardiac arrest and stroke. If these aren’t enough reasons to stay hydrated, consider that hydration also helps to curb appetite. If you get a hunger “pang,” reach for a glass of water. Try to consume half of your bodyweight in ounces of water each day.
  2. Determine what you are currently eating. One of the best ways to start eating healthier is to assess your current diet. This means you must become educated about the ingredients that make up the common foods you eat. Start reading labels and understanding how much a serving size truly is. Labels will also help you identify foods high in sugar, including “added sugar.”
  3. Reduce the amount of chemicals and sugars. Now that you are reading labels and understand serving sizes, you need to look for foods with the least number of ingredients and sugars. Less processed and lower sugar foods are better for the brain and body. Stick to foods with ingredients you can pronounce and look for 10 grams or less of sugars in each serving. Also look for foods with more fiber as they are digested more slowly and help to regulate blood sugars.
  4. Eat more fruits and veggies. Mom was right! Fruits and veggies are rich in vitamins and minerals, which are essential for health and performance. Depending on your age, gender and activity level, you should consume between five and nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Include fruits and vegetables of several different colors to maximize the nutrients. To get an adequate vegetable and fruit intake you need to be creative and consistent. Add them to each meal and prepare snacks with fruits and vegetables. Cut up a variety of vegetables, such as celery, carrots, pea pods and assorted peppers, and have them readily available around the firehouse table. If you haven’t been accustomed to eating much produce, start small, aiming for a couple of servings a day at first.
Aaron Zamzow is a fire lieutenant for the Madison (Wisconsin) Fire Department with 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and host of the Better Every Shift podcast. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health and wellness as well as a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification. He is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist, an NASM certified personal trainer and an ACE-certified peer fitness trainer. Zamzow is the founder and owner of and develops programs aimed at getting fire rescue athletes fit for duty. He authored the book “Ladder 2 Workout: A Comprehensive Firefighter Workout Program that will get you ‘Fit for Duty’ in 28 days.” Connect with Zamzow on Twitter or Facebook or via email.