How can individuals increase their physical fitness performance? The answer is, with nutrition and exercise.

One thing some servicemembers tend to forget is the importance of proper nutrition. When the servicemember combines an equal balance of diet and exercise, he or she can enhance physical fitness, maintain an ideal weight for their physique, and maintain the proper energy level needed to achieve maximum potential during a workout.

“Nutrition is key to fitness,” said 1st Lt. Brooks Pritchett, chief of Outpatient Nutrition Services and troop dietitian at Womack Army Medical Center.

“I love the philosophy of garbage in, garbage out. If you eat garbage foods and you do not care about what you are eating, you are not going to be able to perform well and there is research to show that proper foods or nutrition can increase performance by eight to 12 percent.”

Every person is different and so is the nutritional requirements needed in order to maintain optimal health and achieve top physical performance. Servicemembers concerned about their daily food intake should take time to know how many calories to consume to achieve their goals.

Individual caloric needs are going to vary based on many factors, such as level of a person’s activity, how men need more calories than women, a person’s metabolism, a person’s build and age. By visiting a nutritionist, each person can evaluate their personal lifestyle factors and body composition to understand what they need to eat in order to head down the right track towards fitness goals.

Quite often individuals do not know exactly what or when to eat to get where they want to be physically. The proper timing of consuming foods will help individuals get what the body needs.

“Eating prior to exercising is an individual preference,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Gilbert, a physical fitness manager and aircraft loadmaster for the 2nd Airlift Squadron. “Some people perform better on a full stomach and some on an empty stomach.”

“It is okay to work out on an empty stomach, and some research says it is good for fat loss as long as calories are controlled,” Pritchett said. “It will not severely impair their performance, but it still would be a better bet to get in something small. It can help prolong their exercise or their time of exhaustion.”

By visiting a local nutritionist, servicemembers can get an individualized meal plan and get on the right track to maintaining a healthy diet before, during and after physical fitness.

“We recommend, three to four hours pre-workout, eating something high in carbohydrates and protein,” said Pritchett. “For those working out first thing in the morning and just want an extra boost, eat something with high carbohydrates within 30 to sixty minutes. Foods that are great carbohydrates are fruits and cereal; sports gels and sports drinks can be helpful too.

“The best foods to eat during recovery are fruits and vegetables,” he added. “They are chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. (Eat) more foods (that) are quality carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein — get a good variety and include all of the food groups in the right proportion.”

Pritchett said, it is not just about what you eat before and after the workout, but what you’re consuming throughout the day as well.

Womack Army Medical Center’s Nutritional Department offers many services to help any TRICARE beneficiary with questions about diet, caloric intake or what part nutrition plays in overall physical health.

Individuals who need any assistance do not have to get a referral to make an appointment.

For more information, visit www.wamc.amedd.army.mil/Pages/default.aspx or call 907-6000.