Do you have a personal goal for your next ACFT? Nutrition is your secret weapon to success and having a solid nutrition strategy for test day can significantly improve scores. Your nutrition strategy for the test is going to include a few things: meals during the weeks before the ACFT, dinner the night before, breakfast the morning of, a snack to top off energy right before, and hydration. So here is what you want to consider:
Step 1: Weeks/Months Before
Aim to consume a balanced meal that includes as many food groups as possible, if not all. The Power Plate in the Warfighter Nutrition Guide is a great example of this. Some Soldiers may do well with three meals daily, others may need four to help hit their energy target. Don’t stress about one social event or getting a drink once in a while. Think about the big picture of what your nutrition pattern looks like over 3-6 months’ time. Missing meals or missing food groups could hinder recovery from workout to workout. You do not have to force yourself to eat any foods that you do not like to be healthy, however, you do need to eat each food group.
During the weeks leading up to the test, do your own personal food experimentation to test out which foods are going to feel the best to eat on ACFT day. Find a couple of simple carbohydrate foods (low in fiber). Eat one 30-60 minutes before your training session. Note how you feel and how well that session went for you. Repeat this for a few sessions with the same food. The more data the better. If you found a food that feels good for most workouts, then great. Stick with that food as your pre-ACFT fuel. If that food did not feel good, either you didn’t perform well or you had any gastrointestinal upset, then repeat this process with another simple carbohydrate until you find a few foods that work for you.
Another option is to try drinking a sports drink instead of eating food. Often this works well with my Soldiers who complain that eating food makes them nauseous or they feel like food is just sitting in their stomachs while exercising. Do not get a no-sugar or low-sugar sports drink. You need the sugar; the purpose of a sports drink is to provide quick digestible simple carbohydrates. Added electrolytes are not going to help you before the ACFT but they also will not hurt you. They are only needed after sweating to replenish lost electrolytes.
Step 2: Dinner Before
Dinner the night before the test should consist of a balanced meal. This is a good time to divide your plate into thirds, giving yourself more whole grains/potatoes/beans for energy. There is no need to “carb load” for the ACFT. Carbohydrate loading three days before can help with endurance events lasting several hours. Since the ACFT is intended to be completed in less than 70 minutes, carb loading will not help you out here. It also will not hurt you, so do what feels best.
Step 3: Breakfast Before
The morning of the ACFT you need to eat something depending on how much time you have before it. If you have several hours, please eat a full balanced meal. If you only have an hour, please eat at least a simple carbohydrate-rich food. The key is to give your body enough time to digest and utilize that energy. An easy guideline for nutrient timing is the following:
On the day of the test, choose foods that are familiar to you. This is not the day to try something new.
Step 4: Snack Before
About 30-60 minutes prior to the ACFT is when you are eating the carbohydrate-rich snack that you have tested and approved of over the last few weeks. This snack will help to top off your energy and give you a boost. This doesn’t have to be a lot, even 100 calories can help. If eating before exercise still doesn’t feel good for you, this is the time to have a sports drink or juice for some quick digesting energy.
Step 5: Hydration During
Make sure you are well-hydrated going into this test. If you start drinking water when the test begins, it is already too late and you may risk dehydration. Do not chug water or sports drinks. Sip water in between events as needed. Some find that having a lot of liquid in their stomach while running can cause stomach discomfort and can affect their run time.
Eating during the ACFT is not necessary to improve performance. The test itself is not long enough to need to refuel and most foods will not digest quickly enough to provide energy in time. If you feel like you need something more than water, you can try a sports drink.
After your test is complete it is time to refuel and recover with a full balanced meal. Be sure to include both carbohydrates and protein. You may feel like you need a snack right after the test, such as peanut butter crackers or a piece of fruit, prior to a full meal. The sooner you eat something, the sooner the recovery process starts. Keep hydrated and sip on water throughout the rest of the day too. If you were sweating heavily during the test, you may need a salty snack or an electrolyte drink to replenish the sodium lost in sweat. Do not force yourself to eat or drink too much. After hitting your ACFT target it is a great time to celebrate with a sweet treat or one of your favorite foods. It is important to remember food is not just about fueling your body.
It is important to understand that the ACFT and nutrition strategy has not yet been studied. Any nutrition guidance we have so far is based on other operational performance events and sports science research. Experiment with your own nutrition strategies and see what works best for you. Listen to your body. And always check in with a Tactical Dietitian if you need some help.
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- Headquarters, D. o. t. A. (2020). Holistic Health and Fitness. FM 7-22.
- Daigle, K. A., Logan, C. M., & Kotwal, R. S. (2015). Comprehensive Performance Nutrition for Special Operations Forces. Journal of special operations medicine : a peer reviewed journal for SOF medical professionals, 15(4), 40–53. https://doi.org/10.55460/XCD3-0RWE