By MSG Daniel L. Dodds, US Army
A one-hour workout is only four percent of a daily routine, yet Soldiers continue to find ways to avoid physical readiness training. According to the United States Army Chief of Staff, General James McConville, the mission of the Army is to fight and win the nation’s wars against any enemy, anywhere, at any time (Army.mil, n.d.). For this to occur, the Army needs Soldiers who can perform at their peak, day in and day out. Inherently, Soldiers must remain physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to achieve and sustain the high-performance standards needed to perform at their peak (Department of the Army [DA], 2015). If implemented Army-wide and with Leader engagement, the performance triad program is the perfect tool to get the best out of Soldiers and improve the overall fitness of the operational force. Combining sleep, activity, and nutrition have several interconnected effects on Soldiers’ health and generates long-term benefits for the Army. The Army’s implementation of the performance triad is crucial for strengthening Soldiers, preventing injuries, and will increase readiness across the force.
In its most simplistic form, the word triad is a blending of three equal or closely related components that make up a whole (Triad Performance Training, 2023). The three components of the Army’s performance triad program are sleep, activity, and nutrition. Additionally, the Army’s most advanced and complex weapon system is the individual Soldier (DA, 2015). Therefore, Soldiers must delicately balance the performance triad activities of sleep, activity, and nutrition to remain physically fit and capable of performing their daily duties and wartime missions. Using the performance triad program, Soldiers receive the necessary skills and knowledge to compete and win at the highest levels, sustain their health, and improve their overall performance. The first tool for improving health and enhancing Soldiers’ performance is getting adequate rest and balancing positive sleep habits.
Sleep is essential for preserving and sustaining good mental and physical health (Mantua et al., 2020). Sleep is also necessary for effective functioning, and lack of sleep can negatively affect “physical and emotional health, behavior, attention, and academic performance” (Golden et al., 2022, p. 2). Furthermore, sleep supplies the brain with the ability to heal from daily activities and is the best time for restoring brain health, developing memories, and managing added information (DA, 2015). Irregular sleep patterns can harm soldiers whose jobs involve long hours of labor or work outside the conventional work hours of nine to five (Mantua et al., 2020). Within the Army, most careers have unique difficulties, such as continuous and extended operations, physically demanding performance requirements, and dangerous circumstances associated with the changing work environment. Additionally, due to the decentralized execution of mission command, intermediate leaders must often balance their subordinates’ needs with those of their higher headquarters, leading to significant stress. Mantua et al. (2020) state that stress is one of the most prominent indicators of poor sleeping habits.
In addition to stress, countless relevant factors can influence the amount and quality of sleep a Soldier gets or does not get. Physical pain, mental health, sleeping disorders, prescription medication, and the external environment can inhibit an individual’s sleep quality (Golden et al., 2022). According to Mantua et al. (2020), people sleeping less than seven hours daily showed significant signs of emotional exhaustion, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. Conversely, Soldiers who sustain favorable sleep schedules and have adequate rest typically perform better during daily physical activities or when faced with adversity. Sleep duration, timing, and continuity are essential, and Soldiers must incorporate these principles into their daily routines (DA, 2020). The benefits of sleep include improved concentration, enhanced creativity, productivity, and mental alertness (DA, 2015). While sleep is the first part of the Army’s performance triad, conducting physical activity daily is equally important for improving the force’s health.
According to the former Sergeant Major of the Army, Daniel A. Dailey, “Physical fitness may not be the most important thing you do that day, but it is the most important thing you do every day” (Richardson, 2015, para. 15). Physical activity is a crucial aspect of performance, readiness, and health (DA, 2015). According to Harrold et al. (2018), physically active people are less likely to become obese and have diabetes, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, or other long-term health issues. The advantages of exercise and staying active include faster learning, better concentration and focus, reduced stress, happiness, faster wound and skin healing, improved fat metabolism, and faster recovery from major surgery and sickness (Azam, 2019).
While most Soldiers associate physical activity with the routine exercise at the beginning of the day, it also involves getting into or out of bed, taking a bath, brushing their teeth, walking to and from a car, shopping for groceries, taking part in sports, and standard practices of everyday life. Moreover, activity is the bedrock for developing the “physical capacity to support the mastery of MOS and combat specific tasks” (DA, 2020, p. 70). The five activities that every Soldier must be able to perform during combat include moving from one covered position to another under enemy contact, lifting weights overhead, evacuating a casualty, conducting movement techniques under combat load, and climbing over a wall or obstacle (Haddock et al., 2016). These activities replicate tasks associated with combat duty and are crucial for Soldiers to be able to perform them at a moment’s notice. Training for these activities and performing daily physical exercise is necessary to execute these actions when working in austere environments. For Soldiers to perform at their peak without degrading themselves, they must use the third part of the Army’s performance triad and make food choices that promote a healthy diet and nutrition lifestyle.
Nutrition is the third part of the Army’s performance triad and an essential aspect of the newly established holistic health and fitness program. According to Field Manual (FM) 7-22, mission success is dependent on nutritional readiness (DA, 2020). A solid nutritional plan is essential for improving individual athletic performance. Good nutrition provides the body with the required nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to work its best. Additionally, FM 7-22 states “Nutritional readiness is the ability to recognize, select, and consume the requisite food and drink to meet the physical and non-physical demands of any duty or combat position, accomplish the mission, and come home healthy” (DA, 2020, p. 41). Eating a good diet supplies the body with the energy it needs to balance the day’s events and sustain health. However, when Soldiers do not refuel the body with nutrients like carbohydrates, fluids, vitamins, and proteins, they are more likely to become tired, stressed, or have a mediocre performance during daily tasks (DA, 2020). Importantly, proper nutrition, like fruits and vegetables, plays a critical role in soldiers’ overall health and durability while simultaneously reducing preventable diseases and long-term illness.
Fruits and Vegetables
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower the chance of contracting several serious diseases as well as improve overall health. However, according to the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) (2021), only 12% of adults consume the required quantity of fruits daily to support a healthy lifestyle. In comparison, only 9% of adults consume the required quantity of vegetables (DNPAO, 2021). Fruits and vegetables provide the body with high fiber, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, leading to effective functioning (Popeck, 2020). According to Popeck (2020), fruits and vegetables have an abundant amount of vitamins A, C, and E, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, folic acid, and potassium. These vitamins and minerals are in fruits like apricots, blueberries, oranges, and peaches and vegetables like cucumbers, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini. Increasing the daily intake of fruits and vegetables while minimizing fats, oils, and sugars is crucial for supporting the best health and helps with strengthening Soldiers and preventing injuries.
Fats, Oils, and Sugars
While fats are necessary for the body to function appropriately, trans fats negatively affect heart health and performance. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol, such as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, while minimizing good cholesterol, like high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2022). Furthermore, saturated fats are extremely unhealthy and can lead to long-term cardiovascular disease and promote weight gain (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021b). Trans fats are in commercially baked goods, refrigerated doughs, and fried foods, while saturated fats are also in commercially baked goods, processed meats, and whole-fat dairy products (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021b). Due to the adverse effects of trans and saturated fats, it is imperative for Soldiers to reduce the consumption of foods with these fats. Limiting the intake of foods with these fats can improve overall health while simultaneously enabling weight loss in a healthy manner.
Liquid fat oils are an excellent source of vitamins A, D, and E when used in moderation (Barrie, 2020). However, not all oils provide the body with these vitamins. While olive, canola, flaxseed, and avocado oils are rich in essential nutrients, coconut oil includes 90% saturated fat and fatty acids which is unhealthy and can cause weight gain when used excessively (Barrie, 2020). Equally important, added sugars lack nutritional value and weaken cardiovascular health (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021a). Corn syrup, molasses, fruit juice concentrates, and high-fructose corn syrup are all forms of sugars that Soldiers should either avoid or cut back on the amount and frequency of foods they consume with these products in them (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021a). Choosing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables and reducing fats, oils, and sugars during daily meal selection strengthens Soldiers and promotes the high-performance standards needed to perform at their peak.
The most crucial thing Soldiers can do to strengthen themselves is exercise regularly. Through regular and progressive training plans, Soldiers increase their muscular strength, muscular endurance, hypertrophy, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power (DA, 2020). According to DA (2020), exercises such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift aid in building strength and power. Another method to build strength is using bodyweight training—pushups, pullups, planks, lunges, and squats—without added weight or resistance (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021c). Soldiers build aerobic endurance by conducting long-distance running, foot marches, formation runs, and exercising muscle groups for extended periods of time (DA, 2020). However, anaerobic endurance occurs through short bursts of high-intensity workouts like sprinting, max-weight heavy lifting, and combative training (DA, 2020).
These physical tenets for strength are impossible to achieve without incorporating non-physical tenets like sleep and nutrition. Sleep restores the body’s energy supply needed to perform strength-building activities by “spreading key performance hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone throughout your body” (Bedosky, 2018, para. 5). Additionally, proper nutrition maximizes your workout by balancing the nutrients needed to prevent fatigue and improve performance. Sleep, coupled with proper nutrition, acts as a battery for improved performance by supplying the fuel for strengthening activities. When practiced together, the physical and non-physical tenets of strength increase the force’s readiness and prevent injuries.
Injury prevention is crucial for strengthening Soldiers and necessary for Soldiers to remain physically fit and to be able to perform at their peak. One method to prevent injuries is to include stretching exercises during warm-up drills and cooling down after intense exercises. Stretching increases the flexibility of muscle tendons, promotes better performance, and decreases the number of injuries (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2021c). Another method for injury prevention is to change the workout design and conduct cross-training. Unlike conducting the same training daily, switching up the exercise regime on a routine basis prevents overuse injuries to muscles and promotes muscle and tendon recovery.
In addition to changing an exercise routine, using the proper form and posture when conducting various workouts is essential to minimizing tears and strains (DeBusk, 2022). Furthermore, ensuring each muscle group receives adequate rest between workouts helps the body rebuild the muscle, preventing injury and enabling growth. For instance, instead of running for five days straight, Soldiers should incorporate muscular strength and body weight activities between scheduled run days. Each muscle group can recover properly on days without use by adding various exercises and changing the variety of workouts throughout the planning. This assists with preventing overuse injuries while also enabling growth. Finally, getting enough sleep, eating the proper nutrients, and consistently staying active are the best methods to prevent injuries and sustain individual health, leading to increased readiness (DA, 2020).
According to Rempfer (2020), approximately 58,000 Soldiers across the Army, which equates to 13 brigade combat teams, are medically non-deployable and cannot perform their daily duties due to temporary and permanent profiles. Many of these profiles are categorized into three distinct areas: poor sleeping habits, obesity, and musculoskeletal injuries (Rempfer, 2020). Furthermore, Rempfer (2020) notes that a study conducted by the Army found that approximately 17% of the operational force is obese, and 71% of injuries sustained by Soldiers are musculoskeletal injuries from overuse, leading to an annual cost of $557 million. While individual units may experience small number of Soldier profiles that seem insignificant, the aggregate number is alarming when considering the impact 13 brigade combat teams can have on the total force. These profiles affect the Army’s readiness as Soldiers miss duty days, have physical limitations, and have deployment restrictions, which decreases readiness within their respective organizations. By applying the Army’s performance triad program, Soldiers and their respective units can mitigate the causes for these profiles and minimize their long-term risks, directly affecting the Army and increasing readiness.
Through force-wide implementation, the performance triad will emphasize the components of sleep, activity, and nutrition in Army organizations, shifting from a reactive mindset to a proactive approach for increasing readiness. Having adequate sleep improves the ability to function and provides the body with the rest needed to withstand the rigors associated with the military lifestyle. Improving diet and nutrition allows Soldiers to prevent obesity while providing the body with the necessary fuels to sustain the best possible performance. Also, staying active while often changing exercise routines improves fitness, reduces overuse injuries, and enables Soldiers to perform at their peak.
The Army must use the performance triad to strengthen soldiers and reduce injuries, which leads to increased readiness. The components of the performance triad are sleep, activity, and nutrition. Sleep assists with brain function and improves performance, while lack of sleep creates fatigue and exhaustion. Activity increases learning and reduces stress, while sedentary people are more likely to have long-term health issues like obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Nutrition gives the body the nutrients it needs to sustain the best performance, while poor nutrition can negatively affect an individual’s health. Together, the components of the performance triad program help Soldiers improve their overall health, which builds strength and prevents injury. Strengthening occurs through regular and progressive training plans and includes the tenets of muscular strength, muscular endurance, hypertrophy, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power. The best method to prevent injuries is to use proper form and posture when working out, conduct pre- and post-workout stretching, add variety to scheduled workouts, and get adequate rest and recovery. Applying these concepts Army-wide will lead to increased readiness and a better fighting force.
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Master Sergeant Daniel L. Dodds is a Military Police Senior Noncommissioned Officer. He has served in every leadership position, from Patrolman to Antiterrorism/ Force Protection Supervisor. He currently attends the Sergeants Major Course (Resident) Class 73 at the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. His civilian education includes an associate degree from Excelsior University in Administrative/ Management Studies, and he is pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Workforce Development from the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).
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