Must-Have Performance Nutrition Advice: Eat Right to Make it Through OCS

Thank you to friend of the blog and Nutrition Coach Erin for contributing this guest post. Erin has worked in Afghanistan and the US with military service members and CrossFit athletes working toward optimal human performance. See how her advice and coaching could help you improve your training and your life before you’re stuck with OCS or boot camp food.

Don’t just train smart. Eat smart to survive OCS on “Boot Camp Food”

Everyone has heard the old adage “You can’t out train a bad diet”.

As cliché as that sounds, it’s true.

You can’t expect your body to function at an optimal level if you are not feeding it high quality foods in adequate amounts.

Especially for YOU–the one needing to perform at the highest level.

The Athlete: Marine recruit or officer candidate.

I commend you.

For even considering joining an elite force and subjecting yourself to the ass whooping that you are going to receive during boot camp is not for the faint-hearted, and for that, I take my hat off to you.

I am not here to blow up your head though; I am here to advise you to get your shit together nutritionally.


That is if you want your body to withstand the beating.

But before I continue, let me introduce myself.

My name is Erin Burkes and I am NOT a Marine.

What I am though is a nutrition coach to those looking to fuel performance at a high level, a wife to a former Marine, and a badass chick who voluntarily subjected herself to a life of war for 4 years.

Almost a decade ago, I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with some of the finest men and women we have: Marine RECON and Army Special Forces in Afghanistan.


Living four consecutive years in the sandpit I began to truly understand the impact that training and nutrition can have on the body especially in a high demand, high stress environment.

What you need to know about nutrition before you’re stuck with OCS or boot camp food

In this article I want to explain how you can optimize your nutrition so your body will be prepared to perform as an endurance athlete.

Let me preface with this: during OCS or boot camp food choices will not be yours.

You will eat what and when your instructor tells you to. This is not always optimal from a performance standpoint but there are things you can do prior to OCS that will help you sustain the demand.

For that reason alone, nutrition and overall health prior to OCS will be very important.

You might be wondering HOW you can improve your performance through your diet.

Let me explain.

Photo by Mira Bozhko on Unsplash


I mention carbohydrates first because they are critical for an athlete’s performance for two really important reasons:


Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for our brains and bodies to function properly. When carbs are eaten they are eventually digested and broken down into smaller sugar molecules called glucose. These glucose molecules are stored in the liver and muscles to be used for fuel, especially during physical activity. This may vary, but approximately 50% of calories should come from carbs to fuel performance.


Without an adequate amount of stored glucose in the body, other nutrients, such as fat or muscle protein, are utilized to make energy. With the correct amount of carbohydrates available to muscles, protein can be free to do its main job of repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue, which maximizes muscle gain.


As exercise increases, muscle glycogen (where we store carbohydrates) becomes used up, which causes a higher need for carbohydrates. If you enter OCS already depleted of glycogen, your body will use protein and fat for fuel, which will decrease recovery rate and decrease performance output dramatically.


  • STARCHES- grains, whole wheat bread/pasta, whole grain tortillas, oatmeal/cereal, quinoa, beans, rice/brown rice, potato/sweet potato, corn
  • FRUIT- fresh is best
  • DAIRY- low fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • VEGETABLES- fresh is best
Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash


Proteins are the building blocks for maintenance, repair, and growth of lean muscle mass. It is also essential to optimize immune function. Aim for 0.8g-1g/lb of bodyweight and if more carbohydrates are needed, you can go as low as 0.5g-0.8g/lb of bodyweight.


The longer you exercise, the more muscle tissue is sacrificed. When you exercise beyond 2–3 hours, you need to provide protein from a dietary source or your body will “borrow” amino acids from your muscle tissue. This creates performance problems both during exercise (due to increased levels of fatigue) and during your post–exercise recovery (due to excess lean muscle tissue damage). During prolonged physical activity, you, the endurance athlete needs to make sure that both complex carbohydrate and protein intake are adequate to delay and offset this muscle cannibalization process.


  • LEAN MEAT: chicken, turkey, lean beef, flank steak
  • FISH-salmon, cod, halibut, mahi mahi
  • DAIRY- yogurt/cheese, cottage cheese
Don't expect a lot of fresh avocados in boot camp food
Don’t expect a lot of fresh avocados in boot camp food


Fats are needed to carry fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) to tissues, they are important in the making of cell membranes, they’re needed to create bile (which helps to break down fat), cholesterol (a type of fat) is required to make important hormones such as testosterone, and fats play a crucial part in maintaining energy during exercise.


While the body has a limited ability to store carbohydrates, it has a much larger capacity to store fat. As athletes we would like to be able to tap into our fat stores as much as possible so we can spare our carbohydrates for later in our performance. Eating enough calories for maintenance or a slight surplus (yes, having a bit of fat on your body) will help your performance and recovery in bootcamp.

FAT SOURCES- 1:1 ratio of Omega 3:Omega 6

  • Omega 3 fatty acids are not produced by the body; they must be consumed from our diet. Omega 3’s reduce inflammation and will aid in recovery after intense training sessions.
    • Fish- salmon, halibut, herring, mackerel, sardines, trout oysters
    • Dairy- eggs, milk, yogurt
    • Grains and nuts- flaxseed, peanut butter, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
    • Vegetables- brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower
  • Omega 6 fatty acids are much easier to consume in the American diet since these fats are found in processed foods.
  • Flaxseeds, flaxseed meal
  • Hempseeds
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Seeds-pumpkin seeds and raw sunflower seeds
  • Nuts- pignolia (pine) nuts and pistachios
  • Borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant see oil
  • Acai
Credit: @marincrops, the funniest Instagram account for Marines


A general rule of thumb is to consume half your bodyweight in ounces per day and an additional 500mls for every hour of training. If intense training occurs during hot/humid conditions or for prolonged periods of time, consuming a sports drink with electrolytes before, during and after will be more beneficial to restore balance.

To wrap this up, there are many things nutritionally that a recruit can do to prepare the body for intense training like boot camp. If the diet is not optimal before training begins, performance will be slighted and the body will suffer. Recovery is just as important for performance than performance itself especially for excessive and repeated bouts. Consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats and water while preparing for boot camp so your performance will be maximized for OCS.

Good Luck!!!


Thank you to Erin for her advice on training and fueling before you’re stuck with OCS or boot camp food. If you’re interested in receiving coaching on nutrition or other needs, direct message (or email) us.

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