Is Diet Quality Associated with Physical Performance & Special Forces Selection?

Research Paper Title

Diet Quality Is Associated with Physical Performance and Special Forces Selection.


This study determined associations between diet quality measured by the Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2015, physical performance, and successful selection following a US Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection course characterized by arduous cognitive and physical demands.


The HEI-2015 scores were calculated from usual diet assessed with a Block food frequency questionnaire among 782 soldiers attending Special Forces Assessment and Selection. Differences in HEI-2015 scores according to demographics and physical performance were determined with analysis of variance. Differences in likelihood of selection according to HEI-2015 scores were determined with logistic regression. Models were adjusted for potential confounders: age, education, body mass index (BMI), duration and type of resistance training, and smoking.


The HEI-2015 total score was higher among older soldiers (≥25 yr), those with more education (≥some college), higher body mass index (≥25), longer duration of resistance training (≥400 min·wk), those that reported use of free weights, suspension training, Olympic lifting, and nonsmokers (P < 0.05). The HEI-2015 total score was higher among those with higher Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) total scores, APFT sit-up score, APFT run score, and faster loaded road march times (P < 0.05). Those with higher HEI-2015 total scores were 75% (quartile 3 vs quartile 1: odds ratio, 1.75; 95% confidence interval, 1.09-2.81) and 65% (quartile 4 vs quartile 1: odds ratio, 1.65, 95% confidence interval, 1.03-2.65) more likely to be selected. Higher scores for total vegetables, greens and beans, seafood and plant protein, and refined grains, but lower sodium scores (indicating more sodium consumed), were associated with better physical performance (P < 0.05).


Dietary patterns that conform to federal dietary guidelines (except sodium) are associated with physical performance and Special Forces selection.


Farina, E.K., Thompson, L.A., Knapik, J.J., Pasiakos, S.M., Lieberman, H.R. & McClung, J.P. (2020) Diet Quality Is Associated with Physical Performance and Special Forces Selection. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 52(1), pp.178-186. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002111.


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