Holistic Health and Fitness: Achieving Physical and Nutritional Readiness

TRADOC Command Dietician, Maj. Brenda Bustillos, PhD, discusses nutritional health to the Embracing H2F program participants at the Fort Eustis, Virgina, Commissary, Feb. 22, 2021. (U.S. Army Courtesy Photo).



Story by Nina Borgeson 

U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command  

FORT EUSTIS, Va. – The overarching goal of the new Holistic Health and Fitness initiative, created by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Center for Initial Military Training, is Soldier readiness. This goal is reached by following the five domains of H2F: physical, nutritional, mental, spiritual, and sleep. Each of these domains intertwine with and support one another.

Nutritional Readiness Domain

Field Manual 7-22, the official H2F document, describes nutritional readiness as “the ability to recognize, select, and consume the requisite food and drink to meet the physical and nonphysical demands of any duty or combat position, accomplish the mission and come home healthy.”

The manual also states that a comprehensive performance nutrition program must be “proactive, active, and reactive.” This means that the program must provide proactive prevention of nutrition deficiencies, provide operational nutrition to help Soldiers with event fueling and post-event recovery, and consider any dietary interventions that must take place to get Soldiers back to their optimal readiness.

Proactive nutrition, also called foundational nutrition, focuses on the prevention of any nutritional deficiencies. It is essentially the foundation of what and how we eat, and is influenced my various factors including personal taste, culture, and beliefs.

“There is no one right way to eat a healthy diet,” states Maj. Jordan DeMay, USACIMT H2F Nutrition Domain lead. “However, there are nutrition-related goals we all should strive for such as eating a nutritious mix of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to ensure we meet our vitamin and mineral requirement.”

By optimizing the base of their diet and adjusting eating behaviors, Soldiers are more prepared to tackle their Soldier specific tasks and maintain their overall health.

In active nutrition, or operational nutrition, the main goal is to align eating behaviors with physical activity. Soldiers can do this through task-specific event fueling, which involves consuming the right amount and types of nutrients required for the occupational event they are about to do, and then recover and repair the body after that event.

Reactive nutrition, also called therapeutic nutrition, involves working with those who have an illness, injury, or other medical conditions in which one’s diet plays a significant role. This nutritional intervention can address short-term issues, such as musculoskeletal injuries, to more chronic issues, such as high cholesterol or diabetes.

There are many ways for Soldiers to take initiative and improve their nutritional readiness on their own, but before they can start improving their individual nutritional readiness, they must step back and evaluate where they are currently in their nutrition journey. They must take into consideration lifestyle behaviors, diet quality, mindfulness, external and personal food environment, social support, and many other factors when deciding what the best steps for them will be.

“Soldiers often alter their dietary behaviors because they seek aggressive, rapid changes to body composition and/or performance. These changes do yield some initial results for some, but are largely disappointing and unsustainable for most,” states Maj. Brenda Bustillos, PhD, TRADOC command dietitian.

Bustillos recommends that all Soldiers familiarize themselves with chapter eight in the FM 7-22 manual and work regularly with their dietitian to establish feasible and sustainable goals, and maintain accountability to those goals.

Physical Readiness Domain

The physical readiness domain focuses on a particular goal called “movement lethality,” which is the ability to destroy the enemy on the battlefield and successfully return home. Movement lethality is an essential skill for every Soldier to have, regardless of their specific military occupational specialty, as every Soldier has the potential to be deployed.

“Although the Army’s primary measure of physical readiness is the Army Combat Fitness Test, a secondary measure of physical readiness might be injury rates,” states Lt. Col. Jose Durbin, USACIMT physical therapist. “There is ample evidence to support a relationship between higher levels of physical fitness and decreased incidence of musculoskeletal injury.”

FM 7-22 states the necessary physical components that must be trained to achieve movement lethality: muscular strength, muscular endurance, aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, and power. These physical components are directly affected by the use of specific repetitive drills that improve the following movement skills: agility, coordination, dynamic balance, kinesthesia, pace, perception, and reaction time.
Strengthening both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, along with muscular strength and endurance, and mental endurance, provides Soldiers with a well-rounded physical readiness. This requires a lot of dedicated effort from leaders when creating a training plan for their Soldiers.

Durbin stressed the importance that all plans should begin with a thorough assessment of the Soldiers’ current fitness level across each of the physical components, and that special consideration should be paid toward individual progression, as capability and tolerance can vary widely between Soldiers.

Army Techniques Publication 7-22.02, the Holistic Health and Fitness Testing guide, provides an exhaustive list of drills and exercises that leaders can use when creating their Soldiers’ fitness plans.

“Determining the ideal frequency, intensity, time, recovery and integration with the unit training schedule requires someone knowledgeable and experienced in exercise programming,” Durbin states. “While strength coaches are ideal and included in the H2F Team model, Army Master Fitness Trainers can perform this vital function as well.”

H2F Success

Leaders across the organization are currently conducting trial programs that incorporate H2F to assess the impact it has on ACFT success and the overall wellbeing of Soldiers. Durbin and Bustillos are currently working alongside their team of experts at USACIMT to conduct one of these 10 week programs that puts H2F into action. After the first month of the program, Durbin states he has already noticed participants grow in confidence and motivation to train as they steadily build up their speed and stamina and looks forward to seeing more results as the program continues.

“As a group, from pre-program/baseline to this point, they increased their lean, or fat free mass, by 23 pounds and lost roughly 33 percent body fat,” Bustillos states. She attributes these positive results to the “dedication and industriousness of the participants and the superior leadership of the trainers and H2F team,” and looks forward to seeing the end results.

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