By Mary Ann Treger | Photography courtesy of the Blue Angels
Ever wonder what these extraordinary pilots do to stay in shape mentally and physically? We asked them to share their nutrition and fitness regimes.
LCDR Joe Schwartz, Former Blue Angels Flight Surgeon
For most of us, our diet would be described as “paleo-light Mediterranean,” avoiding simple carbohydrates, “cheat days” and processed food, concentrating on complex carbs, fresh produce and protein. We’re all on the same “naturalist” page. Calorie intake, especially while training in El Centro and flying, is easily in excess of 4,000 calories daily, so regular nutrition throughout the day is essential for G-tolerance and focus. This is easier said than done on the road during the air show season, but a few pilots go through the effort of meal prep for the weekend and bring along a big cooler.
With three kids at home, I haven’t found the time to execute to that level. At home in Pensacola I like a veggie/fruit/protein smoothie in the morning and oatmeal with coconut oil. I may take a multivitamin once weekly. Our lunches look similar … salads with fresh veggies and protein, and healthy snacks throughout the day like nuts, hummus, carrots, peppers. On the road, we’ll work out in the morning and hunt for protein smoothies or hearty breakfasts. We try to eat and work out together and you better believe that when bread, sweets, sodas or desserts show up at the table, some old-fashioned naval aviation–style ribbing ensues. Energy bars show up here and there, but aren’t a regular part of our diet.
I am a huge believer in the new research showing a link between our diet, our gut (microbiome) and our physical and mental health. I also limit antibiotic use as much as possible, not only for antibiotic resistance ramifications but also the deleterious effects on the microbiome.
On Staying Focused
LCDR Matt Suyderhoud, Former Blue Angels No. 2 Right Wing Pilot
Focus is all about discipline. Working out cultivates that. If you can force yourself to endure a strenuous workout, especially when you don’t want to do it, it will build your mental fortitude. It also allows for a release because you are doing something totally different than work. Focusing purely on flying, purely on the mental gymnastics of the flight demonstration, is dull and actually hurts performance in the end. Having a physical release and mental break from that is very healthy and it rejuvenates you.
On Staying Physically Fit
CMDR Andy Talbott, Former Blue Angels No. 4 Slot Pilot
We work out six days a week for 45 to 90 minutes per session. We are required to do this to combat the “G-Forces.” I execute a mixture of heavy weightlifting and conditioning. I hit all the muscle groups at least once a week. I concentrate on my core every day and legs twice a week. I run a lot of sprints and stairs, execute sled pushes, burpees, box jumps, lunges, double unders, etc. The sprints will consist of yo-yo/suicide sprints. I also run a mile as fast as I can to the point of failure.
For legs, I super-set squats, front squats, and overhead squats; as well as lunges, overhead lunges, and leg press. I do five sets of five, utilizing anywhere from 245 to 275 pounds for the squats. For the lunges, I utilize 95 pounds and work my way up to 135 pounds. For overhead lunges I use lighter weight, 70 to 90 pounds. For the leg presses, I start with two 45-pound plates on each side and add one additional plate on each side for every set. For the next set of exercises, I will super-set dead lifts and calf raises, four sets with eight to 12 reps each; super-set leg extensions and curls; and finish with sled pushes. This is an example of one workout.
I switch it up and will do cleans, snatch, hang clean and jerk [body builder language for weightlifting moves]. For other muscle groups, I do a similar amount of exercises, sets and reps, concentrating on form to improve overall strength. A lot of times we work out with fellow teammates. I think it is important to work out with partners to push each other and motivate one another.
On Achieving Mental Focus
We eat together, work out together, talk about work and life together and even go to church and Mass together. As we approach each flight our time becomes protected from the outside world. We show up at least an hour prior to a brief. We look at weather and talk to each other to see what attitudes and motivation levels are for the day. I interact with each pilot to see how they feel, how they slept, how energetic they are. We protect our time before the demo. Some of us call this “cowboy time,” but it’s really time to relax and prep. We must be in the room sanitized of any extra personnel 10 minutes prior to a brief. Five minutes prior we are in our seats. For the final minute before every brief there is complete silence. It’s powerful. It focuses all of us on the dangerous task at hand and gets us on the same page.