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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

Coconut oil: health or hype?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition, Weight
Coconut oil is a popular alternative to butter and other oils, but does the research confirm promises of weight loss and improved performance?

Coconut oil is popular for use with everything from moisturizing skin, losing weight, and lowering cholesterol to providing energy and endurance, but research has yet to prove many of these claims. Unlike other oils, which are mostly unsaturated fats, coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. Commonly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it contains different types of saturated fats. One of these is called “medium chain fatty acids” (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than it does other kinds of saturated fats. Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly and absorbed quickly to become available as an energy source. But does this add up to advantages in performance or as a tool for weight loss?

  • Athletic performance. MCFAs help protect and maintain stored glycogen (a form of glucose), which suggests they might improve endurance. However, a 2010 review showed the majority of research did not find performance benefits with MCFAs.  
  • Weight management. MCFAs metabolize quickly, so they’re less likely than other types of fats to be stored as fat. Some research suggests this means MCFAs can lower body mass index (BMI) and improve body composition (percentage of fat).

The bottom line is there isn’t enough scientific evidence at this time to recommend coconut oil for weight loss or performance benefits. Just as with any fat, if you choose to cook with coconut oil, do so in moderation. 

Understanding drug-supplement interactions

Do you take dietary supplements and medications? Read about the risks in a new resource from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Many people take dietary supplements and medications together as a part of their daily health regimen, but few are aware of the potential for harmful interactions between prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and dietary supplements. To help you learn more about these types of interactions, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) created an interactive web resource that includes information about how supplements can change the effectiveness of your medications and how to work with your healthcare provide to make sure you’re taking them together safely. And for more information, please read HPRC’s Supplements and medications­ – What’s the problem?

Developing your coping arsenal

Learn coping strategies that can help you either directly tackle the problem or reduce your stress associated with the problem.

It’s a good idea to have a choice of coping strategies to meet the specific needs of each situation you face—some “problem-focused” and some “emotion-focused.” During severe stress, you might find that your old ways of dealing with problems aren’t doing enough to help. For example, your preferred way of coping in the past might have been venting to a friend about something you couldn’t control. But now you may be overlooking direct actions you can take to fix the problem. Or perhaps you’ve always been an action-oriented problem-solver but now, even though it’s unfamiliar to talk with others about what’s bothering you, you might simply need someone to be a good listener. Take stock of your current coping strategies. We offer some suggestions here for how you can expand your arsenal. Consider which ones might be most useful for you personally in various situations. 

Words to clear mental clutter

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind, Mood, Stress
It may sound simple, but you can repeat a word or phrase to bring calmness and relaxation into any situation.

No matter what triggers your stress, from deployment to late daycare pickup, you can manage your emotions, stress, and focus by repeating a word or phrase that clears your mind. This simple approach can reduce mental clutter and provide a sense of calm. You also may find you can focus better and more easily track your big priorities.

Good news! You can immediately begin learning this skill simply by trying it. Whether you know stress is coming or already feel stressed, or if you’re recovering after stress, repeat your chosen word or phrase to calm your mind. There’s no magic to this. By occupying your mind with a word or phrase, you put to rest distressing or distracting thoughts. Some people prefer to use words or phrases they find spiritually meaningful, while others choose something as simple as the word “one.” Other examples may include “breathe” or “let go.” The exact word or phrase doesn’t necessarily matter. See what works for you. As with other stress management techniques, the challenge is often transforming an interesting experiment into a healthy daily habit.

Can SARMs do you harm?

SARMs can be found in some dietary supplement products, but are they legal and will they cause a positive drug test?

SARMs, or “selective androgen receptor modulators,” are experimental drugs that are illegal for use in dietary supplement products, but they still can be found in stores and on the Internet. SARMs are most often found in products advertised to have effects similar to those of anabolic steroids.

Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about SARMs to learn more, including the ingredient names used for SARMs that may appear on dietary supplement labels. And remember: FDA does not approve dietary supplements prior to marketing. For more information on FDA’s role with regard to dietary supplements, visit FDA Basics.

Are you at risk for Female Athlete Triad?

Learn how the Female Athlete Triad affects health and performance and how you can prevent it.

The Female Athlete Triad is a health condition that commonly affects physically active girls, teens, and women, especially those involved in activities that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. It’s characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss), which can leave you tired, anxious, and unmotivated—an equation for poor performance. It can also put you at risk for serious health problems such as muscle loss, dehydration, and stress fractures.

Female service members can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories (underfueling) and if training is too intense. But you can prevent it easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight and by following these tips:

  • Eat when you’re hungry and include a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as lean sources of protein—lean fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products—along with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Skipping meals and snacks or severely restricting your food intake will keep you from getting enough calories and other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Eat a recovery snack that consists of carbs and protein after your workout. Carbs are your body’s primary fuel source to keep you energized, and you need protein to build and repair your muscles.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian (RD) for an individual nutrition plan. An RD who specializes in sports nutrition can help you choose the best foods and the right amounts to optimize your performance.

Remember, food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best. For more, read this handout from the Female Athlete Triad Coalition.

Couples communication 101

It’s easy to get off track in communicating with your partner. To stay on course, be aware of these common pitfalls and actively work on communicating well.

Disagreements aren’t necessarily bad. Good relationships hinge on being able to communicate different viewpoints effectively, express yourself well, and really hear your partner. Here are some communication tips:

  • Start gently. Being direct is good, but you don’t need to dive in so hard and fast that you trigger defensiveness.
  • Own how you feel. You can be direct about how you feel without blaming anyone. And when you’re drawn into a fruitless argument over who’s to blame, it’s difficult to argue about how you feel. Consider saying, “I felt totally unimportant” rather than “You totally ignored me.”
  • Really listen. Summarize what you heard without defensiveness. Really tune into how your partner feels and communicate that in your summary, even if you don’t agree with why he or she feels that way.
  • Criticize behaviors, NOT character. It’s important to talk about specific actions that upset you. Rather than categorizing your partner as “the kind of person who…,” stay focused on a specific and recent behavior.
  • Always be respectful. Resist destructive temptations such as insults or name-calling; staying respectful is crucial for long-term communication success.
  • Hang in there. Problems often can’t be solved right away, but when talking together, persevere rather than escape: Don’t “zone out,” and don’t storm away.

Chances are that neither you nor your partner is a mean person. Nonetheless, because you’re human, your worst behaviors can come out during a difficult conversation. You might be aggressive, blame the other person, stop caring what the other person has to say, or you might work to avoid arguments altogether. But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Following the tips above will help you communicate constructively. For more on these kinds of strategies check out Basic Training for Couples Communication.



How to combat depression

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
The same activities that are good for your body can also help with feelings of depression!

Taking an active role in keeping your mind healthy and happy can keep you from feeling down or depressed. Staying on top of your mood can help maintain healthy relationships with your family and loved ones. If you’re not sure whether or not you might be depressed, here are some things to look out for:

  • lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities;
  • significant weight loss or gain;
  • insomnia or excessive sleeping;
  • lack of energy;
  • inability to concentrate; and
  • symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Getting the support of a mental health professional is generally a good idea in dealing with symptoms of depression, but even if you’re in therapy, you can play an active role in improving your situation. Try following some of our simple tips found here.

Get motivated to exercise through friends

October is the MHS’s Women’s Health Month! Invite a girlfriend to exercise with you and help each other stay motivated.

Listen up, ladies! Women are more likely to engage in physical activity if they do it as part of a group and if they have friends who are active. Whether you’re looking for a group exercise class, a spotter for strength training, or a partner to join you on your run, social support from friends or family increases your chances of sticking to an exercise plan.

Women also enjoy activities more when they’re done with others instead of alone. Feeling better about a workout leads to more minutes of exercise per week too. Surround yourself with others who want to stay fit and have similar goals. You can decide whether you want to join an organized exercise group or keep it small and informal by asking one of your friends to participate in an exercise routine. Either way, get motivated!

For more about Women’s Health Month, visit the Military Health System website during October.

Running: indoors or outdoors?

Learn about the pros and cons of running indoors versus running outdoors, especially now that colder weather is coming on.

Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same. If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. It seems athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, yet they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.

If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass. When you want or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.

If you decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe in cold weather and the many resources on cold environments where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!

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