Firefighter Nutrition

Firefighter Health First-Aid
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Jun 2020


Nutrition is a critical part of the health and safety of wildland fire suppression personnel.  This is the fuel for the body to perform the work and maintain cognitive abilities.  Wildland firefighters on the fireline need 4,000-6,000 calories a day to not go into an energy deficit. 

Consider the following key points when choosing your meal:

  • There are 3 major energy sources in food: carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
  • Carbohydrates (also called sugar) offer an immediate source of energy for your body. They provide the fuel for your muscles and organs, such as your brain.
  • Proteins are the basic building blocks of the human body. They are made up of amino acids that help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs.
  • Fat is an essential nutrient that provides energy, energy storage, insulation, and contour to the body.
  • MTDC recommends eating 150-200 kcals every 2 hours during the work shift to maintain blood glucose and energy levels.  


  • Studies on athletes have shown that carbohydrates are the most critical energy source for performance and health.
  • Carbohydrates are your body’s first choice for fuel. If given a choice of several types of foods simultaneously, your body will use the energy from carbohydrates first.
  • If you do not eat enough carbohydrates, the following can occur:
    • Fatigue.
    • Muscle cramps.
    • Poor mental function.
  • The fire camp lunches (called shift food) are designed to allow firefighters small amounts of food (primarily carbohydrates) that can be easily eaten throughout the work shift.

Discussion Points

How are you eating your fire lunch?  Is it all at once or small amounts throughout the day?  Think of long-duration events (Ultra Runs, triathlons), do you see athletes stopping for a big meal or eating small amounts constantly throughout the race?


This topic was submitted by Joe Domitrovich, Ph.D., Exercise Physiologist, Missoula Technology and Development Center. 



Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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