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Better Performance Through Proper Nutrition

By CPL Walter Craig, U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit

There is one trait common to all champions, regardless of the sport they choose to compete in. This trait is an overwhelming and all consuming desire to succeed. Their desire is so great they will let nothing stand in their way. They find satisfaction in performing to the best of their ability and in mastering their body and mind like no one else has ever done. One of the first steps in helping any athlete perform their best is developing an optimal nutritional plan.

In highpower rifle shooting the nutritional demands to sustain peak physical and mental performance for extended periods are substantial. Particularly important is the tremendous amount of energy that the eyes, and indeed all parts of the body, require to function optimally. Balanced nutrition that supports the entire body is critical, allowing the body to reach top performance. To achieve consistency in shooting, nutrition is one of the most important and often neglected ingredients in the training regimen. A sound diet also allows the shooter to develop a sound mind, improving their ability to deal with the different types of stress faced on the range.

Many people tend to eat the same thing day in and day out, focusing more on satisfying their taste buds than on the real nutritional needs of their body. A proper diet should include a large variety and quantity of fruits and vegetables. Fruits, vegetables, and grains provide a variety of nutrients, as well as fiber. A low to moderate amount of animal protein helps the body to heal much faster and more completely. I do not advocate vegetarianism, especially among athletes. Some people might question equating the word “athlete” with shooters, but in order for the shooter’s body to perform optimally, shooters must live an athlete’s lifestyle that prioritizes physical and mental health.

Most athletes need more nutrient-dense foods than the general, sedentary public. These nutrients ideally should come from whole, minimally processed grains. The shooter should avoid greasy (high trans-fat content), foods like French fries or over cooked foods where vitamins are depleted. Empty foods like refined white flour and sugar should be kept to a minimum, as should the consumption of soda and coffee. We all need essential fatty acids (EFA), as opposed to trans-fatty acids, in the diet. I usually suggest one to two tablespoons of quality flaxseed oil each day. EFAs are anti-depressive, support immunity and play a role in almost all body functions, including joint flexibility and sugar regulation. EFAs are also found in fish oils as well as in evening primrose oil. In addition to meeting your nutritional needs, shooters should make getting adequate sleep and staying well hydrated a priority in preparation for the following day’s matches.

Incorporating good nutrition into a shooter’s training program is a win-win situation from several different viewpoints. If a shooter has the proper nutrition, then exercise and physical stress will be tolerated much better. The athlete will have greater energy reserves, improved stamina, and enhanced concentration, which definitely will lead to better overall performance on and off the rifle range. Many competitors have fired a standard highpower 800 aggregate match in tough conditions, and have found that by the time they reach the 600 yard stage, they are not only fatigued and frustrated, but their eyes are strained, making the job of focusing on the front sight post difficult. By improving your body’s health, you inherently improve your physical and visual health, giving you the added edge to realize your maximum potential.

It is every shooter’s dream to maximize their "natural" ability and hone raw talent into being a disciplined marksman who can consistently perform to the best of their ability. The key word is "consistently." There are many shooters that show initial promise, but fail to develop or sustain their competitive advantage. This is blamed on poor training, age, inability to recoup from injury, or not being sufficiently dedicated. It is my contention that diet plays a bigger role than is often credited. Because of the incredible stress placed on a body and mind while competing in any sport, nutrient demand is very high; much higher then most diets can supply. Because of the sustained stress the body is under physically and mentally over long training and competition periods, it is essential that shooters pay attention to the nutritional quality of their diets.

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