From the CSFA Health, Wellness & Benefit Committee
The Lay of the Land
Look, we all know the drill. Long shifts, high-stress calls, and the temptation of quick, unhealthy meals. When you’re pulling a 24-hour shift, the last thing you’re thinking about is whether or not you’re getting enough fiber. But the fact remains: what you eat impacts your job performance. Bad dietary choices can lead to weight gain, low energy, and poor concentration—all things that can affect your efficiency in life-or-death situations.
Setting Up for Success
Stocking Up on Essentials
Keep the pantry and fridge stocked with balanced options. Go for whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and veggies. Make sure these healthier choices are more accessible than the chips or sugary drinks.
Whenever possible, prepare meals ahead of time. Not only will this save you money, but it also ensures you have a healthy option when it’s mealtime. Simple recipes that can be cooked in bulk like grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, and whole-grain pasta can be a lifesaver.
Instead of chips or cookies, opt for fruits, nuts, or protein bars. Snacks rich in protein and healthy fats can provide long-lasting energy. This is crucial when you’re fighting fires and can’t afford an energy crash.
You lose a lot of fluids on the job. Dehydration can seriously impact your performance, decreasing cognitive functions and physical capabilities. Always have water handy and aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces daily (Institute of Medicine, 2004).
The Rebound: When You Screw Up
Own It and Move On
Everyone falls off the wagon. When it happens, don’t dwell on it. Acknowledge the slip-up and aim to do better at the next meal. Guilt is wasted energy. Use that energy on the job or to make a healthier choice next time.
Reset with a Quick Workout
If you’ve binged on junk food, consider a quick workout. Even a 20-minute jog or some bodyweight exercises can make you feel more energized and less sluggish. Exercise also stimulates the release of endorphins, which can improve your mood after a dietary setback (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018).
If you notice a pattern of bad choices, take a moment to assess what’s going wrong. Are you opting for junk food because there are no healthier options available? If so, it’s time to restock and maybe do some more meal prep.
The Bottom Line
Making good food choices in the fire house isn’t just about avoiding the dad bod; it’s about performing at your best when lives are on the line. Meal prep, smarter snacking, and proper hydration are key. And when you do mess up—and you will—know how to rebound effectively.
Remember, you can’t fight fires well if you’re not fighting for your health. Make the right food choices so you can continue doing the job you were trained to do.
Institute of Medicine. 2004. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate.” Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Harvard Health Publishing. 2018. “The exercise effect.” Harvard Medical School.