Civilian dietitian among the first in nation to help change the old Army way

Jessica Anderson

Soldiers are trained to excel under adverse conditions, but performance can always be improved, and following the old way is not always the best way to get superior results. Sometimes a novel approach is needed.

That’s how Jessica Anderson ’15, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, ACSM EP-C, became the first civilian performance dietitian at Fort Drum in New York. She’s also among the first in the nation to join the Holistic Health and Fitness System, or H2F, which is rethinking how Army soldiers train and fuel.

“It's pretty unique and everything's brand new,” Anderson says. “Standards are being changed and revised. H2F was piloted at 13 different posts across the country, and it will continue to expand. It's definitely growing, and the Army sees a need.”

H2F is currently the Army's primary investment in soldier readiness and mission success. The program includes a team of strength and performance specialists who design plans to reduce injuries, improve rehabilitation after injury, and increase career longevity by extending the time enlisted personal can serve.

“The biggest thing was going from being reactive to proactive,” says Anderson. “Instead of being the dietitian that takes care of the injuries and chronic diseases, and trying to fix that, it's about optimizing and improving now to prevent injuries down the line.”

As the performance dietitian, Anderson provides both group-based and individualized nutrition plans for about 5,000 soldiers. Her primary goal is to reduce musculoskeletal injuries that can arise when soldiers over train and under fuel or when excess weight does not translate to lean muscle mass.

Through a combination of body composition screenings, dietary supplement and nutritional analyses, and creative recipes suited to the unique context of Army life, Anderson has helped her brigade reduce musculoskeletal injury by 65 percent in just the last year alone.

She also began offering educational services to change bad habits -- such as an overreliance on energy drinks and tobacco -- and to overcome lingering misconceptions about diet in general.

“Breaking the old Army way is difficult,” Anderson says. “People thought that seeing me meant shame, shame -- as if they had to lose weight. They didn't realize the spectrum of services I offered. The weight loss component is important, but that alone isn't going to improve performance. So it's been really exciting being the first one in my position, seeing it grow from the ground up, and actually seeing the successes we're having.”

Anderson’s experience working with competitive athletes helped to prepare her for the challenge. Alongside her role with the military, she also owns and operates ATP Sports Nutrition LLC, which works primarily with figure skaters and various ice skating teams.

“There's definitely a crossover between the dynamics of sports-specific performance and tactical optimization,” she says, “and being able to play a role in both sectors has been really awesome.”

Anderson also credits her training at Miami for providing the skills and guidance needed to succeed.

“Nancy Parkinson is an instructor I’ll always remember,” Anderson says. “She really helps you navigate the field, figure out where you want to go, and what you can do down the road. The dietetic program at Miami is very special. They do a great job creating future dietitians who are empowered and independent. I felt so prepared and very confident in what I’m doing.”