June 26, 2023 By Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Pre-Workout Nutrition Guidelines for Tactical Professionals


Tactical professionals require a certain level of fitness in order to complete the task at hand. Fueling adequately prior to workouts or tactical training sessions can make the difference in how hard and how the professional can push. Fueling and hydrating well may prevent injury during training and general fatigue after training. 



To optimize digestion and prevent stomach issues, a meal within 1-4 hours of the workout or training is encouraged. This should be a balanced meal with an emphasis on carbs like fruit or whole grains. For longer training days, a full meal is recommended over a small snack before.


General Macronutrient Guidelines 1-4 hours Before

    • > 40g carbohydrate
    • 20-25g protein
    • No trans fat and < 10% saturated fat


Meal Examples

    • Oatmeal & fruit with protein powder
    • Eggs with toast and fruit
    • Bagel/toast with peanut butter and banana
    • Turkey or chicken sandwich with fruit
    • Burrito bowl with chicken or lean steak

In a pinch, tactical professionals can eat 15-30 minutes before a workout. At this point, focus on easy-to-digest carbs like fruit or a Clif/Fig bar. Some people may need to avoid whole grains or peanut butter this close to the workout to prevent stomach issues (and peanut butter burps!). ⁠High protein, fat, or fiber products may contribute to stomach issues during the workout.


15-30 Minutes Before

    • Applesauce pouches
    • Natures Bakery Fig Bars
    • Clif Bar
    • Fruit
    • Rice cakes or toast with almond or peanut butter

During Workouts

For workouts and training sessions longer than 60 minutes, 10-15oz of a sports drink is recommended every 15-20 minutes. Encourage “full sugar” sports drinks over diet products. The sugar and electrolyte composition of sports drink is intended to speed rehydration and replace carbohydrates burned during activity. This is important to maximize performance during longer training sessions. 


Aim for 30-60g carbohydrates per hour. This can come from a sports drink or snacks like applesauce pouches, pretzels, dried cereal, fruit snacks, or dried fruit. Replacing carbohydrates is particularly important for long rucks or intense fire suppression drills.


Troubleshooting GI Issues



    • Cut back on quantity at breakfast
    • Cut back on quantity at breakfast
    • Consider a liquid breakfast (ex. smoothie, applesauce pouch
    • Eat > 60min before workout
    • Avoid NSAIDs on an empty stomach

Urge to Go

    • Reduce fat (>10g) or fiber (>5g) before
    • Avoid sugar alcohols (“diet” foods) before
    • Eat breakfast slower
    • Avoid juice or high carb drinks during 

Muscle cramping during the workout

    • Add electrolytes (sports drink, Liquid I.V., or DripDrop) 
      • This typically applies to endurance or cardio training for more than one hour at a moderate to high intensity
    • Re-evaluate workout or training progression
    • Add in a foam rolling or stretching program

Low Energy

    • Eat more frequent meals and snacks.
    • Choose higher calories snacks and meals
    • Prioritize sleep, aiming for 7-9 hours per day (naps count)

Binging on food/sweets at night 

    • Try eating more for breakfast 
    • Eat enough protein and fiber during the day, aiming for both at each meal

hydration tactical blog

What About Pre-Workout Supplements?


Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements are often used by sleep-deprived tactical professionals looking to enhance workout performance. Many pre-workout supplements include a blend of caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids, and nitric oxide. While these ingredients can help boost performance, evidence on safety and efficacy of pre-workout supplements is limited. Therefore, use caution when providing recommendations. Caffeinated pre-workout supplements have a high risk for side effects and are often not recommended prior to exercise. 


The challenge is that many tactical professionals will continue to use these supplements. When discussing these products, be sure to note concerns along with safer alternatives.


Consider the following for caffeinated pre-workouts:

    • Confirm that the supplement is third-party tested through Informed Choice, NSF International, or USP. Third-party testing ensures that the supplement actually has what it says it has in it, but does not guarantee that the ingredients work. ⁠


    • ⁠The FDA recommends <200 mg caffeine per serving. Higher amounts (1.5-3 mg/kg) have been suggested to improve performance, but the goal should be the minimum effective dose while limiting side effects. Even 200 mg caffeine may be too high for a tactical professional who has not used caffeiene before. Start small and assess the risk verses the benefit. 


    • Stick to the recommended dose. Do not double the dose once a tolerance has built up. ⁠



Avoid the following:

    • Proprietary blends, complexes, and matrices that do not note the amount of each ingredient used. This is often used to add ingredients that are shown to improve performance - but in scrap amounts that may not enhance performance.


    • Combining caffeinated products and fat burners (“thermogenic”). Fat burners often contain caffeine in large amounts - and can lead to caffeine overdose for a product that doesn't “burn” significant amounts of fat! ⁠


    • Avoid caffeinated pre-workout supplements if the professional has high blood pressure, acid reflux, GERD, or other conditions that are not compatible with caffeine (including pregnancy).⁠

Again, pre-workout use is not recommended. Be sure to consider all of the above prior to purchasing any caffeinated products. If a boost is needed prior to working out, coffee and tea are a safer bet. 




Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F 

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and strength coach who specializes in first responder nutrition. Megan shows first responders how to eat healthier when they don’t have time, money, or energy. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.


Tactical Solution


Alvar, B.A., Sell, K., Deuster, P. A. (2017) NSCA’s Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning. Human Kinetics.

Harty, P.S., Zabriskie, H.A., Erickson, J.L. et al. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 41 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6 

Kreider, R.B., Wilborn, C.D., Taylor, L. et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 7, 7 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-7 

OPSS Scorecard: Check Your Dietary Supplement. DOD Dietary Supplement Resource. Retrieved from https://www.opss.org/opss-scorecard-check-your-dietary-supplement 

Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Mar;116(3):501-528. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006. Erratum in: J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Jan;117(1):146. PMID: 26920240. 

About the Author

Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and strength coach who specializes in first responder nutrition. Megan shows first responders how to eat healthier when they don’t have time, money, or energy. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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