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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
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.
There is no consensus on a “perfect diet,” but the healthiest diets have one thing in common: plenty of vegetables daily. However, “I don’t like them,” “I don’t have enough time to prepare them,” and “I don’t know how to prepare them” are common complaints when it comes to vegetables in your or your kids’ meals. So here are some tips to help brighten up your plate with a variety of vegetables to optimize your health and performance.
- Be sneaky. Add vegetables to foods you already love. Shred vegetables and add them to omelets, rice, pasta, soups, stews, and sauces. Puree vegetables such as carrots, spinach, to add oomph to sauces and casseroles.
- Time crunch? Buy frozen or low-sodium canned (rinsed well with water) to cut down on prep time.
- Challenge your taste buds. Do you truly not like broccoli, or have you just never had it prepared in a way you like? Change your cooking technique and try again. Try baking, roasting, grilling, sautéing, steaming, or eating vegetables raw for a different flavor and texture.
- Flavor it up. A little flavor goes a long way with vegetables. Prepare veggies using a pinch of sea salt, fresh or dried herbs or spices, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, or a swirl of balsamic vinegar to turn up the flavor.
For more ideas and recipes for vegetables, visit More Matters. The recommended intake of vegetables varies depending on your weight, age, and calorie needs. Young children need about a cup, men need up to 3 cups, and women need a bit less. Find out how many vegetables you need.
Whether you’re an endurance athlete, a strength athlete, or doing a bit of both to stay in fighting shape, the optimal amount of protein for your daily needs depends on your activity level and body weight. Regardless of the amounts, the best sources of protein are always whole foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts/seeds, beans, and legumes.
Check out HPRC’s Protein Infosheet and protein calculator to determine the amounts that are right for you. Eating more protein than your body needs isn’t necessarily better. Going beyond these protein recommendations won’t provide any additional benefit to your performance.
Roughly one in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, but you can do something about it. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults and at risk for diabetes and other health conditions, so it’s important to act early. September is Childhood Obesity Month, so there’s no better time to start.
Let’s Go! is a childhood obesity prevention program to help kids eat better, be more physically active, and live healthier lives. Just remember their “5-2-1-0” countdown message:
5 – Get your kids to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Make it fun with kid-friendly recipes. Let your kids choose fruits and veggies at the store that they want to try, help prepare meals and snacks in the kitchen, or even plant a vegetable garden together.
2 – Cut down kids’ screen time to 2 hours or less a day. (No screen time for those under 2.) Get them to try other ways to be entertained, such as playing a game or going on a scavenger hunt. These types of activities will get your kids’ bodies and minds working.
1 – Kids need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Sound like a lot? Just think of it as playing instead of exercise! Make it a family affair. Go to the playground, play a sport, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood together.
0 – Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead, have your kids drink water and fat-free or one-percent milk. If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a little pizazz with some sliced berries, citrus fruits, melons, or kiwis. And they can eat the fruit when they’re finished drinking!
For more information, tips, and resources, please visit Let’s Go!
It’s cause for concern: Approximately 30% of teens consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Energy drinks provide no nutritional benefit and can actually pose health risks to adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, dehydration, and even death. Teens who consume energy drinks are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking cigarettes, and using drugs and alcohol.
Many of the negative effects associated with energy drinks are due to the large amounts of stimulants in these beverages. Their caffeine content can range from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens:
- consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day (equal to about 2 cans of caffeine-containing soda or one 8 oz. cup of coffee) and
- avoid energy drinks altogether.
However, the amount of caffeine teens consume from energy drinks is trending upwards, in part due to heavy marketing with celebrity athletes. Be sure to talk to your teens about the potential problems associated with energy drinks, and make sure they don’t confuse them with sports drinks.
You can take control of how your daily eating habits help or hurt your body’s joints. The physical demands of training and missions—along with day-to-day exercise, overuse, injury, and aging—can take their toll on your joints over time. There are certain eating habits you can practice to help keep your joints happy and healthy for the long run.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Extra weight means extra stress on your joints – walking alone can cause your knees to take on 3–6 times your body weight. Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you need to. Visit HPRC’s Fighting Weight Strategies for ideas.
- Fight inflammation. Include omega-3 fatty acids on your plate to reduce your body’s inflammation. Salmon isn’t your only source; foods such as English walnuts, flaxseeds and their oil, canola oil, and other fish contribute omega-3s to your eating plan. See HPRC’s omega-3 table for more foods rich in omega-3s.
- Fill up on fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables, all of which are nutrient-heavy, have been linked to a lower incidence of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals, and build snacks around them too.
- Revive with vitamin C. Because of its role in forming collagen (the main component of connective tissue) and as an antioxidant, foods high in vitamin C are important for joint health. Oranges, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, red peppers, and kiwi are excellent sources.
Focusing on a healthy weight and filling up on nutrient-rich foods, along with regular exercise and stretching, can help optimize the long-term health and performance of your joints.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is again warning about the dangers of powdered pure caffeine. At least 2 deaths (both teenagers) were associated with it in 2014, yet it continues to be sold, primarily in bulk online. FDA recently sent warning letters to 5 distributors of pure powdered caffeine, warning about potential serious health effects. FDA notes that it’s difficult to determine the difference between a safe amount and a toxic amount but that one teaspoon is roughly equivalent to 28 cups of coffee. For more information, read FDA’s update and HPRC’s 2014 article.
Make at least half of your grain choices whole grains. Unlike refined grains, whole grains contain all parts of the grain and are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that are essential for good health. Try these tips so you can enjoy more whole grains in every meal and snack:
- Breakfast: Start with a hearty breakfast that features whole-grain cereals such as steel-cut oats or shredded wheat. Have to eat breakfast on the run? Try switching to whole-wheat toast or whole-grain bagels instead of plain bagels.
- Lunch: Sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls are full of flavor and fiber. Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-grain corn tortillas.
- Dinner: Sides can really shine when you replace white rice with exotic black, brown, or red rice, quinoa, or bulgur. Add wild rice or whole-grain barley to soups, stews, and casseroles. In the mood for noodles? Try whole-wheat pastas for added texture.
- Snacks: Snacks can feature whole grains too. Air-popped popcorn, whole-grain crackers, and granola bars are tasty and healthy options to keep you going throughout the day.
Can’t tell if some of your grain products are whole? Look at the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient says “whole wheat” or “whole grain.” HPRC also has a grains table that points out nutritious grains (with and without gluten). And keep in mind that words such as “100% wheat” and “multigrain” don’t necessarily mean whole grain. For more information, visit the Whole Grains Council.
Many factors affect your sleep, including stress and exercise, but your diet can also have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, particularly in the hours before you go to bed. By improving your evening food habits you can sleep better, which can have a positive impact on your mental and physical performance, immune function, relationships, and overall health and well-being. Try these tips to be on your way to a better night’s sleep:
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine can disturb your sleep even many hours later. If you typically drink coffee or tea in the afternoon or after dinner, opt for a decaffeinated version. And be wary of hidden sources of caffeine.
- Avoid alcohol. Some people think of alcoholic beverages as a nightcap to help you sleep better. While it may help you go to sleep faster, it also reduces sleep quality by waking you up in the middle of the night.
- Eat balanced meals. Eating balanced meals daily will help you get all the nutrients you need, such as B vitamins and magnesium, to promote better sleep. A balanced plate is ½ a plate of fruits and vegetables, ¼ plate of whole grains or starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes), and ¼ protein, plus a serving of healthy fat (oil, avocado). In addition, your body takes long to digest fats, so eating too much fat may keep you from falling asleep.
For more strategies on how to improve your sleep, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.
The post-workout recovery phase is just as important as the workout itself. Refueling with the right nutrients can help your body heal damaged muscles, build more muscle, and replace nutrients lost during exercise to prepare you for your next workout or mission. A combination of protein and carbs in a snack is the key for recovery. It’s also important to drink enough fluids for rehydration. The best time to refuel is within 45 minutes after your workout, but if you plan to have a meal within 2 hours, you can skip the snack. Otherwise, you might be eating too many calories, which would spoil all your hard work. For more guidelines and snack ideas, please visit HPRC’s Peak Performance: Refueling.