Page 17 - HOT NEWS APRIL 2014
P. 17
Food For Thought
physical Training department Fitness adviser andy Bennett on the importance of fuelling your body correctly
nutrition for operational staff
Energy requirements and timing of operational incidents are unpredictable and it is important that operational staff are always fuelled and prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Incidents may require high intensity activity and/or extended duration work capacity. The fire and rescue service has fitness standards that ensure all operational staff have the required aerobic capacity to carry out the required tasks, but it is just as important that they have the required fuel and energy to carry out their tasks safely and effectively.
As a cyclist I have experienced the effects of running out of energy suddenly during exercise. We call it getting the Knock or the Bonk. It is quite common amongst endurance athletes. Runners also refer to it as Hitting the Wall. This situation could easily affect a firefighter at any time if they run out of fuel and, if this was during an incident, it could have adverse effects of the individual.
Energy is stored in the body in the form of glycogen in the liver and skeletal muscles. (Approximately 300-500g in an average person depending on muscle mass. 1g Carbs = 4 calories). Glycogen is obtained from dietary carbohydrates. When the body needs energy it obtains it from the sugar that is in the blood, glycogen that is in the working muscle or glycogen reserves from the liver.
If blood sugar drops below a certain level, a hormone (glucagon) sends a signal to the liver to release some of its stored glycogen. This is then topped up once we eat some more carbohydrate. If we eat more carbohydrate than we need and our glycogen stores are full, the body will convert the excess to fat and store this as an alternative source of energy for low intensity activity.
If, however, blood sugar drops too low and we also have low glycogen stores, then things start to go wrong. Effects can include:
These symptoms can quickly and easily be reversed by taking in some form of simple carbohydrate. However, it is better to avoid this situation in the first place by ensuring that energy stores do not become depleted.
operational considerations
The times during a firefighters’ shift when there would be a higher risk of getting hunger knock would be:
• During or immediately after a Physical Training session.
• After a drill session.
• Tactical exercise or a practical training course – for
example BA (Breathing Apparatus) or Fire Behaviour.
• Operational incident.
• More than four to five hours after last meal/snack.
A good nutritional strategy should, therefore, be the aim and responsibility of all operational staff. Hydration is an important part of this and firefighters have personal water bottles to decrease the risk of dehydration. Some good nutritional habits to reduce the risk of hunger knock would include:
• Regular intake, every three to five hours.
• Including carbohydrate in each meal/snack.
• Take snacks such as energy bars during the day.
• Choosing slow release / low GI carbohydrates.
• Having an energy drink on hand during PT and other
practical sessions.
• Arriving on duty “pre-fuelled”.
• Light headedness. • Dizziness.
• Weakness.
• Hunger.
• Sweating.
• Severe mental and physical fatigue. • Confusion.
• Hallucinations.

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