Marine Corps Surveying Officer Candidates on Their Favorite Performance Snacks

An officer candidate conducts the ammo can lift portion while another officer candidate counts the repetitions during the combat fitness test (CFT) at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, July 16, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Phuchung Nguyen)
An officer candidate conducts the ammo can lift portion while another officer candidate counts the repetitions during the combat fitness test (CFT) at Marine Corps Officer Candidates School aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, July 16, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps/Phuchung Nguyen)

Call it fourthmeal.

Since early 2018, the Marine Corps has been issuing Marine recruits and officer candidates in entry-level training a "performance nutrition pack" of high-energy snacks to get them through the 10-hour stretch between dinner and breakfast. Now, nutrition specialists want to know which items in the packs these prospective Marines are most likely to eat.

Surveys were distributed this month at Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia to gather feedback on the items in the performance nutrition packs that candidates were most likely to consume, said Sharlene Holladay, the Marine Corps' Warfighter and Performance Dietitian.

The packs are assembled with purpose; they're composed of off-the-shelf non-perishable food items that can include fruit-and-nut trail mixes, cereal, peanut butter and jelly packets, shelf-stable milk and more. A typical pack totals 500-600 calories in a ratio of 50-60% carbohydrates, 30% fat and 12-13% protein, Holladay said.

The intent is to give trainees a caloric boost before they head out to rigorous morning PT before breakfast; but that only works if they're eating what's provided.

"If you're not consuming it, it becomes really nutrient-dense trash," Holladay said.

The survey uses a Likert scale with ratings from one to five, inviting officer candidates to indicate what they are most likely to eat and most likely to discard. Feedback will be collected through the end of October, giving officials a 95% confidence rate in the results.

From there, the feedback will be used to design future nutrition packs. Holladay noted that tastes and preferences change over time with new generations of recruits, and the survey allows officials to stay current on popular items.

The rollout of performance nutrition packs at entry-level training, following a pilot program in fiscal 2016, mirrors efforts by other services to make sure trainees aren't limited by chow hall meal times when it comes to fueling up.

The Marine Corps dispenses roughly 1,500 of the packs each month at OCS and the two recruit depots in Parris Island, South Carolina and San Diego, Holladay said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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