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Maxing the ACFT: How to fuel your body for the test

Out with the old, in with the new: Starting this month, the six-event Army Combat Fitness Test is beginning steps toward replacing the three-event Army Physical Fitness Test as the physical assessment of record.

Soldiers who were able to breeze through the APFT may actually have to “study” for this test. How can Soldiers prepare to excel on the ACFT?

While training and familiarization with the events will pay dividends, a path less travelled involves an examination of nutrition-related habits.

When it comes to dietary intake, a focus on good nutrition will be “playing the long game.” Just like one training session at the track will likely not earn a gold medal, one balanced meal will stop short of a good score.

That being said, a wowing ACFT score will require a diet that is varied in macronutrients including carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Carbohydrates are found in rice, pasta, bread, fruits and starchy vegetables. Although they are currently vilified by keto diet enthusiasts, carbohydrates can prove to be great allies when preparing for the ACFT by providing quick energy for cardiovascular activities and strength training sessions.

Selecting high quality carbohydrates is easy – look for whole foods with minimal processing, often noted by a short ingredients list. Choose brown, black, wild or sprouted rice instead of white rice. Select bread with more than 3 grams of fiber instead of white bread. And remember, eating whole fruit is more nutritious than drinking fruit juice.

Consuming protein will help build powerful muscles for the strength focused ACFT events. Notable high-quality sources include 90% lean meats, eggs, fish, tofu, dairy or soy products, beans and lentils. It is best to eat protein rich foods throughout the day instead of eating large amounts all at once.

The typical Soldier athlete needs 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; however, extra protein does not translate to more muscle or strength gains, so aim for the recommended amount.

Fat is generally overshadowed by carbohydrates and protein but it is a major fuel source. Several quality sources of fat are found in walnuts, avocados, canola and olive oil as well as salmon and tuna. Not all fat is created equal so try to limit saturated fat which is found in most animal products like butter, cheese, red meat, and ice cream. Eliminate packaged foods that contain “partially hydrogenated fats” in their ingredients.

Start by eating at least three meals per day. Make your plate half fruits and vegetables, drink mostly water, and stay away from highly processed foods with extensive ingredient lists.

How to tackle Game Day:

Following these recommendations will ensure a solid foundation for “game day” success. But are there nutrition hacks for the day of the event? To ensure adequate energy for a taxing event such as the ACFT, fueling must begin the day prior. Maximize energy stores by choosing quality carbohydrates mentioned above.

On the morning of the ACFT, follow the guidelines in the box shown here, based on hours prior to the event.

Hours prior
to event
Grams of carbs
per kg body weight
Ex: Grams of carbs
for 180-pound
(82kg) Soldier
Example sources
1 1 80 1 Tbsp. PB + 2 tsp. jelly + 2 slices
whole wheat bread, 8 oz sports drink
2 2 165 6 oz yogurt + 1/2 cup granola + 1 box raisins
+ 1 sports bar + 16 oz sports drink
3 3 245 1.5 cup oatmeal + 1/3 cup dried fruit
+ ¼ cup nuts, 1 biscuit + 2 tbsp honey
+ butter, 1/2 cup trail mix, 32 oz sports drink
4 4 325 1.5 cup breakfast potatoes + 1 egg;
1 biscuit + butter + 2 tbsp honey, 1 banana,
½ cup trail mix, 1 sports bar, 12 oz chocolate milk,
32 oz sports drink

(Note: to convert pound to kilograms, divide your weight by 2.2.)

If breakfast is not feasible, consume 30 grams of easily digested carbohydrates like a banana or sports drink five minutes prior to start of the event.

The ACFT will take longer to administer than the APFT (90 minutes) depending on the number of Soldiers tested. Bring a carbohydrate-rich snack like a sports bar, sports drink or a piece of fruit (orange slices, banana) to prevent hunger and to keep your energy level high.

Nutrition can be your secret game plan for success on the ACFT. Schedule an appointment with your local Army dietitian for individualized recommendations. Good luck!

Capt. Kira P. Heartwick is a performance dietitian at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Capt. Vladi Ivanova is a dietitian at Madigan Army Medical Center, Washington.

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