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Eating for Health and Performance: The Wildland Firefighter


About This Web Site

Photograph of firefighters eating.
Based on years of study of the energy expenditure and nutritional needs of wildland firefighters, the Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) has developed the nutrition education program included on this web site: Eating for Health and Performance: The Wildland Firefighter.

Recent research has identified nutritional strategies that will improve the health, safety and performance of wildland firefighters. The right food sources, eaten at the proper times, provide energy and nutrients that help sustain work output and maintain the immune system. Supplemental high-energy foods delay fatigue and further enhance immune function while maintaining firefighters' ability to think and make decisions during hard work.

Firefighters are endurance athletes who require twice as many calories as normal—or more—when they are working on the fireline. To maintain their health and ensure peak performance, firefighters need to eat like athletes. The nutrition education program was designed for wildland firefighters, incident management and support personnel, and those interested in good nutrition for health and performance. The program identifies energy and nutrient needs, the timing of food intake, and includes information on vitamin and mineral supplements, hydration, and weight management. It emphasizes the value of intermittent feeding (shift food) to maintain blood glucose, work output, immune function, mood, and decisionmaking throughout the workshift.

The Nutrition Education Program

This program includes a PowerPoint presentation, an instructor's guide, and an informational brochure.

The PowerPoint program has three parts:

  • Energy for work: calories

  • Nutrients and hydration

  • Related issues, including immune function, ergogenic aids, special needs of incident management teams, and weight management

Firefighters can take the brochure home for more detail on carbohydrate and protein requirements and to allow them to calculate their individual needs. The brochure also includes the addresses of Web sites that provide additional information. The instructor's guide includes a view of each slide and important points that clarify or amplify the slide's content.

The program was developed by Carla Cox, Ph.D., a registered dietician associated with the University of Montana Human Performance Laboratory, and Brian Sharkey, Ph.D., a project leader at MTDC. Cox's research interests include nutrition for endurance athletes and wildland firefighters. Sharkey has studied wildland firefighters for over 40 years. He is a professor emeritus at the University of Montana and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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