I've been following Ben Greenfield as a fan for two years now. As a fitness professional and a worldwide online trainer, I'm also one of Ben's students through his Superhuman Coach Certification Program. I owe a lot to Ben, but I want to emphasize here that I have not been paid for this endorsement. My purpose here is simply to connect you with an expert who's advice will aid you in living a better life while increasing your proficiency at your job.
If you're currently serving in a combat MOS, and between the ages of 18 and 21 then it is likely that you are in peak condition. You probably run nearly every day, and when you're out in the field you are carrying heavy loads, patrolling, and doing highly repetitive drills to increase your occupational proficiency.
If you're older than that, and you've been serving for a while, then you're probably starting to feel time taking it's toll on your body. Your joints may be aching, your back may be consistently sore, and getting out of the rack in the morning may be a lot more difficult. More important than this, you may feel your brain becoming foggier throughout the day, and your thought processes may be a bit slower.
Making the decision to serve in the military is one of the most honorable decisions a person can make. But it can also be an extremely punishing profession, which makes it a young man's game. The question I examine in this blog is this: how can those in combat occupational specialties extend their longevity in their profession, and experience a high quality of life long after they leave their profession, despite the punishing nature of their work?
Why the Odds Get Stacked Against You
Your leaders want you to succeed and anyone who has trained you or led you has staked their careers and their reputations on your success. My point here is not to say that the military is purposely stacking the odds against you. Nevertheless, when we examine the factors that can contribute to chronic injury, disease, and aging, we can begin to understand why some of the common practices in infantry and other combat units could hurt long term combat effectiveness and the long term health of their personnel.
A focus on steady long distance running over high intensity interval training.
Lack of sleep and recovery time after strenuous activity.
Lack of proper mobility training
Poor nutrition intake and high intake of inflammatory foods like sugar and omega 6 fatty acids.
Chronic dehydration due to working in extreme climates and highly varied temperatures.
Much of this is beyond your control. Your units will have mandatory PT that includes steady distance runs, you'll be forced to rely on chow hall food and MREs for nutrition, you aren't always going to be able to get 8 hours of sleep, and no matter how much water you drink, you will constantly be in danger of dehydration due to the conditions you are working in.
So the question then becomes how can you stay healthy, fit, and proficient in this punishing and high stress environment?
Enter Ben Greenfield
Ben Greenfield has never served in the military. He has, however, trained and competed in some of the most punishing sports in the world: long distance triathlon and obstacle course racing. In addition to this, he's dedicated his life's work to teaching others how to do these sports in the healthiest and most effective ways possible.
Ben has created a massive library of free content via his Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast, his YouTube Channel, and his highly detailed and scientifically referenced blog articles. His book, Beyond Training, is a must have for anyone who consistently pushes his or her body to the limit.
There is no one on the planet who is more knowledgeable than Ben is on how extreme athletes can achieve long-term mental and physical performance, and it is highly applicable to any active military members who want to improve and maximize their performance.
Ben's approach to fitness is special in two ways:
It builds you from the inside out - focusing not just on performance, but also on how all of your internal processes contribute to the long term success of your goal. For you, this means maintaining your combat effectiveness throughout your career and being able to live an active and fulfilling life long after your military career ends.
It gives you insight into ways in which you can quantify your health in addition to your performance. This is vital because everything about you may appear healthy on the surface, but below the surface your diet and training may be making an injury more likely or creating conditions for a chronic disease that could affect you down the line.
Ben's advice can help you with many of the issues that may come up throughout your career, including:
Brain inflammation - which could cause brain fogginess and exacerbate the effects of traumatic brain injury.
Total body chronic inflammation - which could make it more likely that you develop autoimmune disease, heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, or cancer down the line.
Joint problems - which could cut short your career and lead to debilitating injury.
Gut issues - which could cause irregular bowels, GERD, immune problems, fat gain, and neurological disorders.
Hormonal deficiencies - which could lead to low testosterone, depression, and sexual disfunction.
Other issues - there are many other issues that I may not have covered here. By listening to Ben's podcast you can keep up to date on the latest news in fitness and wellness and ways of dealing with issues that arise.
I am writing this, not only as someone who is concerned for your health, but as someone who's dealt with numerous factors that affected my quality of life after my military service.
When I was in the Marine Corps, I completely ignored my internal health and focused only on skin deep performance and my appearance. Gut issues, ulcerative colitis, brain fog, and hormonal deficiencies consistently interrupted my life and debilitated my performance.
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease with debilitating symptoms that include chronic diarrhea and intestinal bleeding. While I can't say that I would never have gotten this disease had my practices been different, I can tell you that what I was doing and not doing probably exacerbated the severity of my symptoms.
Had Ben Greenfield's book and podcast been around then, I may have been able to avoid a whole lot of pain and discomfort.
Learning from Ben, as a listener, reader, and as a student in his Superhuman Coach program has helped me perform better into my late 30s than I did in my mid 20s, and it has helped me better manage my ulcerative colitis so that I can live a normal life.
Additionally, as a trainer who is certified through Ben's Superhuman Coach program, I've applied many of his teachings to my work with my own clients with great success, and his knowledge is a priceless addition to my own knowledge base.
Key Principles You can Take From Ben
Here are some of the key principles you can take from Ben's book, podcasts, and other content.
Quality over quantity - short but effective high intensity training sessions are more effective than long drawn out "death march" sessions, and they can preserve and protect you from the effects of overtraining.
Nutrition is more than skin deep - sound nutrition goes beyond getting you leaner so that you can look better. It also helps to protect you from injury and keeps your internal organs functioning as they should.
Fuel with fat - for those in extreme sports, fat is a highly efficient fuel and more effective than sugar or carbohydrates for producing long lasting energy.
Protect and optimize your gut - poor digestion can give you more than bad gas. It can also give you brain fog, chronic injuries, and chronic disease. Do everything you can to protect your gut: supplement with probiotics, eat fermented foods, and avoid foods that cause gut irritation.
Your brain matters - you don't only need to be strong to do your job, you also need to be smart (grunts, yes, this goes for you too). Protect your brain by limiting total body chronic inflammation.
Optimize your sleep - good nutrition and effective training only go so far without proper sleep hygiene. Don't stay up all night every night playing video games, partying, or watching movies if you want a long career or to remain healthy in your civilian life.
In any combat MOS, you need to take advantage of anything you can to keep your edge and remain proficient at your job. Nevertheless, your time is also probably very limited and getting the proper information to help you is not always easy.
Following Ben Greenfield allows you to get a lot of this information quickly and easily. You can find his blog at www.bengreenfieldfitness.com. His New York Times best selling book, Beyond Training, is available at the link below:
The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast is available here.