Most would think the highest risk for firefighters would be fire related. However, that’s not the case.
“The number one killer of firefighters is heart disease,” said Marty Yates, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron health assistant chief and safety officer. “Proper nutrition, cardio, strengthening and rest can help lower the risk.”
Aaron Anderson, 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron dietitian, recently spoke to 56th CES Fire Emergency Services members regarding health guidelines and how to implement them.
“Healthy eating doesn’t have to be hard,” Anderson said. “You can make eating healthy, enjoyable and tasty. There are no food police. You can eat whatever you want but there are foods that are better for you than others.”
Eating lighter meats, such as chicken or fish more often than dark meats, is a healthier choice, Anderson said. He explained how to read nutrition facts on product labels. Reading the labels can help people make a smarter quick meal decision.
“A good way to make a quick meal is prepare food in bulk,” Anderson said. “Bulk foods can be cooked, refrigerated and reheated easily for a healthier meal.”
For firefighters, bulk foods can be more convenient when prepared for on the go.
“Firefighters have to go at the drop of a hat,” Anderson said. “You may not be able to sit down and peel an orange, which takes time. Prepping can make it easier to eat healthier. Fruit cups and applesauce are an example of ways to eat healthier on the go.”
Anderson recommends preparing bulk foods immediately after buying them. Cook, wash and store them. Do what is needed to make it more convenient.
“Starting next month Anderson will be helping the fire services,” Yates said. “He’ll come by to show us how to shop healthier and provide us with cooking classes.”
After talking about healthy eating habits, Anderson spoke about supplements.
“Supplements such as protein powders can help repair muscle after working out,” he said. “One myth is that protein needs to be taken within 30 minutes of finishing a workout. It takes your body eight to 12 hours to digest protein, and it isn’t absorbed into the body until after it leaves the stomach.”
Sleep is a very important part, not only for repairing muscle, but keeping a healthy lifestyle. Firefighters however, may be required to go from deep sleep to being wide awake in the middle of the night. An option many use today for an instant boost are energy drinks.
“I am not going to say energy drinks are good or bad,” Anderson said. “Everyone’s body reacts differently to energy drinks. One thing people should watch out for is too much caffeine. If the caffeine affects your sleep you need to wean yourself off. As with protein it takes the body eight to 12 hours to break down half of the caffeine a person consumes. Anxiety and restlessness are possible signs of too much caffeine.”
Not only is caffeine something to keep in mind but also vitamin B6, which is included in most energy drinks and should be watched.
“B6 toxicity is something to be cautious of when drinking energy drinks,” Anderson said. “It can cause numbness and tingling in the extremities which is basic nerve damage. This nerve damage is irreversible.”
The highest amount of B6 contained in any energy drink is 40 milligrams. The National Academy of Science has established a tolerable upper limit of 100 milligrams daily for adults.
“I didn’t realize that it took more than eight hours to break down things like caffeine and protein,” said Staff Sgt. Bud Cleavenger, 56th CES lead firefighter. “I now plan to meet with Mr. Anderson to reconstruct my diet.”