Ask Stew: How to Earn Your Food

Lance Cpl. Alex Bosma, a helicopter mechanic with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24 and native of Seattle, grabs a plate of fruit during breakfast (Cpl. James A. Sauter/U.S. Marine Corps photo)
Lance Cpl. Alex Bosma, a helicopter mechanic with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 24 and native of Seattle, grabs a plate of fruit during breakfast (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James A. Sauter)

When in the military, the days (and nights) can be long, and the hours make it difficult to get time to train and eat well. But if you try to add some basic ideas, you may find that you still can move more, eat less and feel better about your training, even when working all day. Here is an email from an active-duty member who is busy all day and needs to fit fitness and eating better into his day -- like we all do:

Stew -- I have a question about diet. I go to breakfast for an omelet and bacon. I go to lunch for chicken or fish and a small ration of carbs. Dinner is random, depending on galley food. I also have a red bull during school to stay awake and two when I have my watch every 4 days. Is there a plan I should be focusing on? I know the red bulls aren't good, and I'm cutting them out by just drinking one black coffee. Do you have a recommendation on how much or what I'm eating, sir?

I am working on and personally testing out a way to focus on eating and training: Earn your food. It goes back to my "move more, eat less" motto.

I work out first thing in the morning, then eat breakfast. I earned a full breakfast. I like something light (maybe some eggs -- boiled or scrambled), carbs from fruit, source of protein (usually left-over steak, fish or chicken from the previous evening) and/or a protein powder shake.

Then I tend to drink unsweetened tea and water in the morning while I work until lunch. It is enough caffeine and better for you than energy drinks.

Then I find a place to do something for 20-30 minutes during lunch. I live close to a pool so most of the time I swim 1,000-1,500 meters, run or bike just to break a sweat and burn some calories. Somedays it is only a walk for 10-15 minutes during the lunch break. Then I eat lunch -- usually some form of protein (meat, chicken, fish); brown rice or quinoa for highly nutritious grains; and vegetables. Salad works well for mixing it all together if in a rush.

Then I get back to work invigorated and do not need an afternoon energy drink. But I like unsweetened tea and will drink that with some water in the afternoon.

Then it is getting close to dinner. Sometimes, I do yard work, walk the dogs or play sports with my kids, then eat dinner. That is usually a big salad (spinach or green leafy lettuce with a wide array of veggies, strawberries and nuts), with a fish or chicken on top. I like the ABDs of nutrition for food lists but also the Lean Down Plan.

So, when I say, "I earn my food," this is just a description of a motto to eating and training I have: Move more, eat less, sleep better, less stress.

When I do not have time to add in a quick 20-30 minutes of activity, I do not eat as much. If you do not earn your food, you eat like a bird. Eat nuts, berries, fruit, yogurt and water. So consider this a sort of hunter-gatherer eating plan. If you exert yourself, you can eat a bigger meal. If not, you have to eat less but do not skip eating.

It also is fine to have a midday or midmorning snack, similar to the bird menu, if you need some extra calories. But you will find that you will be surprised how much extra food we eat as Americans. If the goal is to lose some weight, you have to burn either more calories each day to have a caloric deficit, or eat less. Just do not starve yourself.

If you keep track of your calories, the goal is to try to have about a 400- to 500-calorie deficit each day. So you can eat 2,500 calories a day as long as you are burning 3,000 calories per day. Find a level that works for you, but if you want to go below 1,500 calories of food a day, consult with a nutritionist as you may be missing out on essential nutrients.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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