FORT POLK, La. — Nutritional and physical fitness go hand in hand. For optimal performance, Soldiers must have the strength, stamina and conditioning necessary to succeed on and off the battlefield. The total force fitness domain looks at a Soldier’s ability to physically accomplish the mission without injury and sustain performance through appropriate quantities and quality of food, beverages and supplements.First Lt. Rebecca Prince, chief of the nutrition care division and a registered dietician for Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, said nutritional fitness is the foundation for physical fitness, health and longevity.Prince said learning to eat healthy is not complicated; understanding the basics is all it takes to experience the benefits of proper nutrition.“Nutrition helps reduce the risk of chronic illnesses,” she said. “If you want to live a long and prosperous life while continuing to enjoy an active lifestyle as you age, proper nutrition will help you get there.”She said a good nutritional foundation is one of the most important things a person can do for themselves.“We experience nutrition every day of our lives,” she said. “Food and water are basic human needs, understanding the importance of our choices will ultimately allow us to live long and healthy lives.”Staff Sgt. Christopher Gadson, a nutrition care specialist at BJACH, works closely with dietitians to assist patients and Soldiers with their individual nutritional needs.“My job is understanding how to fuel for performance, supplementation and assisting patients with nutrient timing,” said Gadson. “The best way to maintain nutritional fitness is to understand what your body needs.”He said food fuels performance and the right choices bolsters efficacy. A good diet isn’t just healthy and nutritious, it must be sustainable.Gadson said understanding nutritional needs in relation to physical goals is an important first step towards fitness and weight management.“Regardless of the objective, sitting down with a dietitian can be very productive,” he explained. “The dietitian will help calculate micro and macro nutrients, give advice on supplements and help plan how to cut carbs, fat and sugar in meals.”Staff Sgt. James Mattson, an occupational therapy specialist and certified occupational therapy assistant, said he helps patients develop, recover, improve and maintain skills necessary for daily living and working.“Physical fitness is absolutely necessary for all human beings and is important to me,” he said. “I like to say, motion is the lotion — as you move your body, you burn calories, your joints loosen up and your muscles (including your brain) get moving. Physical fitness keeps all of your internal systems running smoothly.”Mattson said physical fitness is more than a person’s body mass index, run time or maximum number of pushups. To optimize your physical fitness, people need strength, flexibility, balance and endurance to work together. He explained that each element of the total force fitness ideology is important and interrelated.“Fitness is an important part of my life. It is the most under-used stress regulation and reduction method available,” he said. “I’ve learned that, if you get good sleep, exercise regularly and eat a healthy breakfast each day, you can face anything in life.”Mattson said fitness and nutrition have helped him through difficult times in his life. He said prioritizing fitness in your own life is the only way to make it a habit.“There is a high prevalence of healthy activities for Soldiers at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk,” he said. “There are several opportunities to form holistic and healthy habits for Soldiers here.”Mattson said setting aside time for healthful habits is a good start in achieving physical and nutritional goals. He said positive sleep habits, a nutritious diet and daily physical activity will enhance overall wellbeing.The Fort Polk Army Wellness Center offers a variety of free classes and prevention services to promote a healthy lifestyle and improved health and wellness for Soldiers, Department of the Army civilian employees, Family members and retirees.Eric Middleton, supervisory health educator with the AWC, said there are many facets to nutritional and physical fitness. “You are what you eat. If you make poor nutritional choices, it will affect your performance,” he said. “We try to teach our clients to prepare healthier options for themselves, which in turn builds a framework for success. Providing higher quality fuel for the body will enhance cognitive, spiritual and physical performance.”Middleton said the AWC provides a comprehensive approach to overall health and fitness.He said his staff offers classes on stress management, nutrition education, sleep hygiene and a performance optimization curriculum.“We look at individuals on a holistic spectrum,” he explained.“We talk to clients individually and help them make small changes to achieve their goals. We are able to use scientific measurements to let the client know where they currently are and help them make choices to achieve their goals.” He said that, unlike dietitians, the staff at the AWC are exercise scientists. “We take a comprehensive approach to address a client’s needs,” he said.“We look at all aspects of an individual’s behaviors, nutrition, stress, fitness and overall wellbeing. We help our clients see the impact of their choices on a physical, cognitive and performance level with various factors.” He said they don’t direct clients what to do: They help them identify small changes that will facilitate the achievement of their goals. Clients are able to pick and choose what works for them and sit-down with staff members every 30 days to reassess and make adjustments to benefit their overall health. “Taking care of yourself and putting yourself first is important,” he said.“If you don’t invest time in your health now, you’ll be forced to invest for your health later on in life.”Middleton encourages everyone to take a little bit of time for their health each day. He recommends eating right and exercising daily as the first step to optimal health and performance.To learn more about Total Force Fitness visit Caution-www.health.mil < Caution-http://www.health.mil > . To schedule an appointment at the Army Wellness Center call 531-3055. BJACH dietitians are available to all Tricare beneficiaries, so ask your primary care manager for more information and referral.Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about Total Force Fitness, the first line effort in the National Defense Strategy of building a more lethal force.The concept focuses on a Soldier’s health throughout their career, connecting eight dimensions (physical, environmental, medical/dental preventive care, nutritional, ideological/spiritual, psychological, social and financial) of fitness to enhance health, performance and readiness holistically. This article focuses on physical and nutritional health.