What and How Much You Eat Matters Before Special Ops Selection

Candidates assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School carry a telephone pole during a ruck march as part of Special Forces Assessment and Selection. Candidates who attended the three-week assessment and selection were evaluated on their ability to work individually and as a team. (U.S. Army/K. Kassens)

Getting accepted and passing any special operations selection program requires two specific training phases. Where most people fail is that they neglect to consider they have to pass a fitness test to get into the training pipeline, then they need to spend significant time preparing specifically to get through it.

This requires smart and effective training programs specific to the goals you seek for yourself, the ability to recover quickly and repeat similar high-intensity performances quickly and a healthy diet -- long before joining the military.

Recent findings suggest that performing well at Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) may be linked to the type of diet and physical performance that you have.

If you want to see optimal performance in your training, learning how to eat well and sleep well each day will help you see the results you need to get to and through selections. Mastering these two recovery methods will handle more than 90% of your recovery needs. The missing 10% can be found with active recovery methods, such as end-of-the-day stretching, mobility training, massage, contrast (hot/cold) baths and relaxing.

LISTEN: Podcast with Lt. Col. Nick Barringer PhD Nutritionist on Foods for Optimal Performance.

A recent study was conducted to examine the relationship between diet and physical performance with selection for special forces training. This study looked at the metabolites in the blood of soldiers who were selected for SFAS and compared them to soldiers who were not selected

Several hundred types of metabolites in the human body were measured in this study. The more common metabolites associated with intense physical performance are carbon dioxide, ammonia, amino acids and lactate/lactic acid. However, the common chemical markers that indicated success or failure were evident as the body breaks down food or its own tissue (fat or muscle) for energy.

In high-intensity or stressful situations, like special ops selections, the candidates are metabolizing every possible fuel for energy at higher than normal rates. This process, called metabolism, makes the energy and materials needed for physical and mental performance and recovery. The results were clear:

"Successful candidates selected during SFAS had higher pre-SFAS levels of circulating metabolites that allowed the candidates to be more resistant to oxidative stress, perform higher levels of physical performance and had higher diet quality. In contrast, non-selected candidates had higher levels of metabolites, potentially indicating elevated oxidative stress.

These findings indicate that soldiers who were selected for continued Special Forces training enter the SFAS course with metabolites associated with healthier diets and better physical performance due to better diets, effective physical training programming, and the ability to recover quickly. Additionally, the non-selected candidates had higher levels of metabolites that may indicate elevated oxidative stress, which could result from poor nutrition, non-functional overreaching/overtraining, or incomplete recovery from previous physical activity."

These findings suggest that if you want to give yourself the best chance of getting selected for special forces training, you should focus on eating a healthy diet and engaging in physical activities that improve your performance.

Eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins and healthy fats, can help you get the nutrients you need to perform at your best. Additionally, engaging in physical activities such as running or rucking, strength training, calisthenics and interval training can help you develop the physical fitness you need to succeed in Special Forces Selection.

These stress-reducing compounds, measured as metabolites, are found in fruits and vegetables high in dietary antioxidants (vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, etc.), potentially contributing to the observed differences in oxidative stress metabolites.

Benefits of antioxidants in such training programs:

  • They reduce oxidative stress.
  • They aid in brain function.
  • They can reduce inflammation.

Another aspect of nutrition is getting as much food as you can when enduring the selection programs. Your performance day after day depends largely on how often you drink water, consume electrolytes and how much you can eat when offered food.

Do not skimp on eating or drinking as they are your fuel to keep the engine operating. When sleep and recovery are minimized in these programs to test your mettle, your fueling is what will set you apart from those able or unable to perform.

With the right training, eating and recovery preparation, you can increase your chances of performing well in Special Forces Selection. Building up to the level needed to succeed at selection requires several months to a year of focused physical training and smart nutrition and recovery practices.

Overall, if you're looking for ways to set yourself apart from the competition and give yourself the best chance of getting selected for Army Special Forces training, focusing on your diet and physical performance is the key to success.

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 stew@stewsmith.com.

Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?

Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to Military.com and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Story Continues