Ask the Expert: I want to preserve my muscle mass!

Mixed Fruit
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Q: I was recently on a field exercise living on individual meal packs (IMPs) for two weeks. I found with the high tempo, I was often hungry and started losing muscle mass! Are these meals really enough for me to prevent muscle loss?
—Jesse

A: Dear Jesse:
Great question! It is true that if you consume too little energy, your muscle protein can be used for energy and will result in weight or muscle loss. Combat rations must meet nutritional requirements as per NATO STANAG 2937. Each IMP offers about 1200 kcal, for a total of 3600 kcal and a minimum of 118 g protein per day. Of course, this assumes you are eating everything in your IMP. Every IMP item has a purpose and provides specific nutrients, which is why it’s important not to strip rations. For some, eating three IMPs will not meet their energy needs, so a Light Meal Combat Ration (LMC) is an entitlement provided when exercises or operations are more demanding and energy expenditure is over 3600 kcal/day.

To learn more, Strengthening the Forces (STF), the CAF’s Health Promotion program, offers quality programs with evidence-based research and skill-building that you would likely find useful.

Combat Rations for Top Performance – this new, 45-minute briefing provides the latest information on changes to combat rations and would be a great professional development opportunity for your unit.

You learn about:

  • Combat rations and when they should be used;
  • Entitlements for fresh food supplements;
  • Calculating energy requirements;
  • Where to find macronutrients in IMPs;
  • Hydration;
  • Nutrition in different climates; and
  • Nutrition and performance.

Top Fuel for Top Performance – this two-day course teaches you how to choose the amount and type of food and fluid to balance your energy requirements in different situations.

You learn how to:

  • Evaluate your eating patterns;
  • Determine your daily energy needs;
  • Read food labels to make better choices;
  • Fuel and hydrate properly during training;
  • Uncover myths and facts about supplements and sports foods; and
  • Adjust your eating and exercise to bulk up or lose weight.

In addition, you can now access combat ration nutrition information on MyFitnessPal to ensure you are meeting your nutrition needs – just look for the brand Canadian Armed Forces CAF-IMP.

Contact your local health promotion office and take advantage of the excellent programs they have to offer.

—Nicole Houghtaling, RD,
Acting Nutrition Wellness Educator
Nicole.Houghtaling@forces.gc.ca

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