In my role as a tactical strength and conditioning coach and performance nutritionist, I am responsible for helping my military, fire, and law enforcement occupational professionals perform at their physical best under non-traditional circumstances and environments. Unlike traditional sports and athletics where the location, time, duration, start-end times, conditions, plus other factors, are very predictable, police, military, and firefighters do not have such control or predictability over their calls and missions. In training, I can control the training and nutritional factors that lead to optimal outcomes and adaptations sure, but when the operators go out into the field, this is often not the case.

I work hard to educate my student cadets at the DoD fire academy at Goodfellow AFB on the importance of nutrition, recovery, hydration, rest, sleep, and the impacts these things have on their health, wellness, performance, and job success day to day and over their careers. I also coach and train several athletes outside the fire academy in some unique recreational activities like hiking and backpacking who spend hours outdoors on extended hikes of 3-8 hours a day carrying loads of 25-60lbs. Once more, the demands of these activities place these people in conditions and environments where factors of fueling are less than ideal but still need to be considered and applied to assure their performance and safety are sustained when out in nature for an all-day or multiple-day event.

I do my homework on foods, fluids, and supplements that can help my operators and client athletes alike, so they do not have to sift through all the 100s of options out there to decide what is best for them or not. I want to be able to provide clear solutions to their fueling needs no matter the context of their hobbies or jobs. I am always happy to explain why I recommend or suggest a particular food, fluid, or supplement to them as well. Knowledge is power after all. Most of the time my clients and athletes have given their trust after years of working together. They have come to see I use an evidence-based, scientific approach to my nutritional recommendations for them. I never demand they take or use anything, I simply offer helpful suggestions that could very well help them out in solving a problem we deal with in their fueling plan. The 3 main areas my clients from the tactical and outdoor adventure domains seek help in for fueling most often is hydration and snack planning. In this article, I will cover how I have come to suggest Ovation Foods Chicken Sticks as one primary food-based snack my clients and athletes (as well as myself) use to help them perform optimally when in the field of battle or when going up against mother nature.

Things would be very easy for me if I could control and predict all the variables my clients face like temperature, duration, location, the timing of events, etc. This is rarely the case for police, fire, and military members. Calls and missions can take place at any time, to any place, and last for a few minutes or for several hours. Outdoor adventure athletes need to pack all of the food and fluids they need to weather the elements but also need to consider pack loads as every item they take with them adds weight to the load and leads to slower paces and higher fatigue, thus if they do not need to carry it or can opt for a smaller/lower weight/volume item, I typically suggest they do it! 

If it gets too cold fluids can freeze and bars can be rock solid making them unconsumable. If it is too hot out, chocolate-covered bars/snacks melt or get mushy to the point they cannot be eaten or become a mess to even attempt to consume. Granola and trail mix have been staples of many hikers yes but this is primarily a carbohydrate/energy source, not a complete protein source of food. Jerky is also a staple food item I often recommend but there are now as many junk versions of jerky out there as good ones lower in sugar and salt and higher in protein. I can't just tell them to “go buy some jerky” as they likely won't walk away with what I want them to use. I also need the food items they pick to be portable, stable, sealed, simple, and tasty, not just practical. If it doesn’t taste good, all the rest is pointless, it must taste good! I learned this early on in my engagement with these kinds of clients and athletes, taste matters most! 

Ovation Foods Chicken Sticks managed to fit the bill in EVERY domain of portable, tasty, temperature stable, sealed, and practical. They also filled a void many bars, trail mixes, and jerky foods did not. They function as a no-sugar, higher protein food with just 7 grams of fat per 1.5 oz stick. 30% of one's daily choline is another very nice perk to each stick as well. Given how choline acts as a primary precursor to the body’s primary muscular neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.  Protein from chicken and a whole egg to boot. High-quality, complete protein that can be eaten as a stand-alone protein food source or in combination with other carbohydrate and healthy fat-sourced foods like nuts, seeds, granola, snack bars, dried fruits, etc. Protein-based foods also have a higher satiation index which means they leave a person feeling fuller longer than carb/starch/sugar-based foods would in an equal calorie serving. The fact that three assorted flavors are available at that, allows my clients to change things up each time they consume a Chicken Stick and not be stuck with the same thing every time. I happen to like Chili Lime best, but Teriyaki and Smokehouse impress me as well. I do not take lightly to poor tasting foods even if the health/nutrition perks are impressive, I got to enjoy what I eat just like my clients and athletes demand of me when making suggestions to them. 

Before I even wrote a single word about the Chicken Sticks here, I ordered my own variety pack to see for myself just what they were about and how they tasted. A good friend of mine in Wisconsin who works in the very facility that manufactures the sticks told me of them and asked what I thought about them. Being clueless at the time, I was surprised and intrigued all at once. I had to know more! Being a skeptic of most anything brand new in the functional foods and drinks arena, I am fine tossing something aside and telling my clients and athletes to bypass things in favor of what truly works and is worth their time and money. This ended up not being one of those items. I was sold on all fronts as mentioned above, flavor, texture, nutrition, practicality, affordability, and economy. This was something I could use and my clients could use it across occupations and hobbies alike. 

I am not here to say these chicken sticks are the single best food item for a tactical military operator on deployment, for a firefighter out on a long call, or a police officer responding to an all-day emergency call. Nor am I saying they cover every nutritional base for an outdoor hiker or backpacker doing all-day or multi-day treks. Nutritional planning involves so much more than any one food can offer someone. Timing, amounts of food, ratios of food sources, the balance of nutrients, individual food preferences and tolerances, etc. All need to be factored into a functional, workable, and sustainable food plan for any one person. These chicken sticks simply act as a key player in the arsenal of food options that these professionals and recreational athletes alike can utilize within their lifestyles to optimize performance. 

Safe to say I personally will be using the sticks often when I travel for work and leisure. When I have long, extended work days out on the fire training pad with student cadets and can't get back to the office or break room for a meal. My own clients will see these as top suggestions for their hikes, rucks, and camping treks. The best solution to obstacles is often the simplest and as I see it, adding in a food source as versatile as these are, does not get much easier than this. Try them and see for yourself.

About the Author:

BIO: Joshua Hockett is a 16-year strength and conditioning specialist having worked with two NCAA D1 sports teams, one MLB team, the US Navy via 2 US aircraft carriers, a paratrooper squadron in Italy. He now works for the DoD fire academy at Goodfellow AFB in Texas where he acts as the human performance consultant within the firm, Booze Allen Hamilton. Joshua provides strength and conditioning and performance nutrition as well as recovery modalities for the 300 multi-service branch students of the academy year-round. Joshua also coaches several remote-based clients through his own business titled "Muscles N Morsels." Joshua holds an MS in exercise science from UW-La Crosse and a BS in Kinesiology from UW-Milwaukee. Josh holds certifications as a strength and conditioning specialist and tactical strength and conditioning facilitator from the NSCA. He is also an ISSN-certified sports nutritionist as well as an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist. He can be found at his website and on LinkedIn or social media at @musclesnmorsels