Minneapolis fire crews consult chef on nutrition - KMSP-TV

Minneapolis fire crews consult chef on nutrition

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When the call comes in, firefighters have to be ready to exert a sudden burst of energy and, sometimes, an incredible amount of strength -- and that's why Minneapolis is taking a new approach to good health.

Chef Marshall O'Brien says he's not trying to shake a finger at firefighters and tell them stop eating pizza. Instead, he's sharing ideas that they can use to help ease the pain and exhaustion that comes with the career.

Firefighters are professional heroes, and when the flames start raging, they put themselves at risk as they race to help. Jumping in and out of trucks, pushing, pulling, climbing, lifting, and saving lives is difficult physical work that strains the body -- but good nutrition can ease the exhaustion that follows and facilitate a fast recovery.

"We're doing CPR sometimes for 30 minutes -- compressions," Minneapolis Fire Chief Melanie Rucker explained. "Firefighting, you're pulling ceilings. You're over-exerting your muscles. It's just a hard day at work."

City leaders called O'Brien in for ideas, and he spent several 24-hour shifts shadowing fire crews to get a better idea of the physical demands they face on the job.

"I'm not your mother. I'm not here to tell you how to live your life," he told them.

O'Brien says his tips can help firefighters be safer, recover faster, and live pain-free.

"Most processed foods have a lot of added sugar and a lot of preservatives and sodium. Those promote inflammation and increase joint pain. We recommend you minimize it or, quite frankly, eliminate it," he said.

The chef's program for firefighters includes various hearty recipes and simple tips for a quick energy snap on site, like swapping candy bars for honey stingers, chews and protein bars usually used by cyclists.

According to O'Brien, hydration is probably the No. 1 ingredient to great job performance and good health. He recommends taking your body weight, cutting it in half, and drinking that many ounces of water per day every day. In fact, he made it a point to warn them against drinking on the run, right before a call, and expecting a good outcome.

"Being hydrated will help them with joint and ligaments, and an optimally hydrated firefighter, their lungs can withstand the intensity of smoke and dust a lot more and their body core temperature will stay cooler in the heat of a firefight," O'Brien said.

Another key component to feeling good is sleep, and O'Brien recognizes that firefighters' schedules can be random. So, he suggests eating pineapple, dark chocolate and green, leafy vegetables to kickstart a good slumber.

As for whether the crews will heed the advice, Rucker said she thinks the new program is a good way to go because it isn't a diet.

"They don't like a lot of change, and telling them what to do and what's right and what's wrong," she said.

Since the program essentially provides information and tools toward health, Rucker is optimistic, and O'Brien isn't done yet. He is now working on a plan for police officers and public works crews.

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