Ask Stew: Finding Peak Performance

Photo courtesy of

No matter what we are doing, testing, working on or preparing for we all have good days and bad days.  We are human after all. However, if you are concerned about performing at your best to pass a test, or you have to be at your best because you have people’s lives in your hands, understanding how to be at your best is critical.  Whether you are a student preparing for competitive programs, a military professional focusing on mission capability, or a doctor with patients to treat during a long and stressful shift, your best matters.  

Here is an email from a student seeking to finish school and get in shape enough to join the Marines:

Stew, I was hoping you could offer some suggestions concerning performing at my best. Both in school and PT tests and preparation for summer Marine Corps Officer’s Training, I am having issues with keeping up, but some days I am crushing it. Do you have any strategies to help with the lower performance bad days and the higher performance good days?  Thanks, KT

No matter what endeavor we seek higher levels of performance (work, academic, physical), as humans it can typically be dependent upon what I call the BIG THREE: Sleep, Food, and Water.  You have to assess on a regular (even daily) basis the following:

1 – How well did you sleep last night?

2 – How well did you eat yesterday (if early morning testing) or today (if evening testing)?

3 – How well have you hydrated? (Water/electrolytes)

Sure, the amount of actual mental and physical preparation come into play, but if you are unable to focus due to poor sleep or diet, you can affect your study performance and retention on subjects you will be tested.  Same for the PT tests. If you are low on sleep, ate poorly, and not hydrated, you will most likely perform poorly on a fitness test.  Sure, you may be at a level where you are able to pass minimum standards even with poor diet and sleep, but if you are considering a higher level of competitive performance, you need everything to be working for you.  This means your months of training, recovery days, testing strategies, and the fuel you bring into your body that helps you perform at your bests needs to be understood. Basically – what works for you.

When you have a bad day – assess yourself with the above questions.  If you have a great day, and especially the BEST DAY EVER, assess yourself with the above questions.  Finding your optimal performance cues will be a performance enhancer from this point on.  Besides, if you are preparing for military service, you will be de-briefing and assessing missions and training cycles so you and your team can be at their best when there is very little room for error.

To do this properly, you must start to train the concept of debriefing and internal awareness. Having the ability to quickly assess the way you feel, your alertness, drowsiness, and physical ability is key to realizing you may or may not need to make changes to your “game day” or testing preparation.  This will truly help take you to the next level in performance.

Additional References: Importance of Sleep – Sleep is the number 1 recovery tool. If you fix your sleep issues, you fix many other performance issues as well as overall health and wellness.

Workouts on Less Sleep – Sometimes it is not the best idea to train or test on little sleep.  But when you have to, try the options in this article.

Recovery Tips – Sleep, eat, drink, recovery workouts, mobility days, recovery gear to help you perform at your best.

ABDs of Nutrition – From what do eat before, during and after workouts/testing periods to water consumptions and electrolytes.

Show Full Article

Related Topics

Fitness Marine Corps Topics