Use of tactical nutrition to rescue first responders

OSU Research Matters is a bi-weekly look into the work of the faculty, staff, and students at Oklahoma State University.

In this episode, Dr. Kenneth Sewell – the school’s vice president for research – with Dr. Jill Joyce on how her tactical nutrition research benefits first responders.


Dr. Joyce: Tactical nutrition, for me – you’re probably wondering where this tactic came from. It comes from tactical athletes or tactical populations. And these are your first responders and your military personnel. Firefighters, police officers, and then Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines. These are your tactical athletes.

And we call them athletes because they have to do things that athletes have to do. You have to sprint, run long distances, drag, carry, lift, climb, all of those things.

Dr. Sewell: So from a nutritional point of view. What problems do these tactical professions have?

Dr. Joyce: We consider them athletes, but they tend to have a lot of additional physical and emotional stress from the job. So you have a lot of physical health problems, on my side at least, the physical health problems, and that would be cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even overweight and obesity.

Dr. Sewell: You have a certain approach to intervene with this group. And then plan to test that out. So what are you inventing? How are you trying to help these populations?

Dr. Joyce: Good question. So my background is public health nutrition. So I take a public health approach where instead of working with individuals, I create interventions or programs for large groups of people. For example a fire department or a law enforcement agency or a military unit.

I try to do this especially with electronic media like websites as each department has a fitness trainer or a wellness coordinator. And if we develop these theory-based and evidence-based, aka really really effective programs to improve diet or performance, then those departmental people who really have the trust of the unit can deliver my program, and it can be very effective.

Dr. Sewell: Sounds almost like using extender means to bring this scientific approach or evidence-based approach into play.

Dr. Joyce: Absolutely. We’re translating more of what we call bench science or clinical science into disease prevention, health promotion, and even performance improvement programs.

And you are right. It’s the university that creates the program, translates the science, and passes it on to the “educator” who is embedded in the department just like the educators in the county, and we even use the extension’s Canvas Catalog website for this. So work a lot with enlargement.

Dr. Sewell: Of course you rely on scientific methods, scientific approaches to nutrition, but it sounds like you’re still testing it. You will still see the effects. How do you proceed?

Dr. Joyce: On my side I ask a lot of questions like what did you eat in a day? This is how I can find out what nutrients you are eating, what types of food groups you are eating. And I can even give you a score. We call it dietary quality, but it’s like – out of a hundred – something like a percentage grade that you get in class. And I can tell you how healthy you are eating so I can see if that gets better.

Dr. Sewell: This is Kenneth Sewell, OSU vice president of research at OSU Research Matters.

Dr. Sewell and Dr. Joyce will be speaking in more detail about Tactical Fitness and Nutrition at Research On Tap on Monday October 18 at Iron Monk Brewery in Stillwater. The informal discussion is public and starts at 5.30 p.m. More information is available at