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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
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.
You missed a meal and plan to exercise soon or your next meal is hours away, but your stomach is rumbling – what can you do? One way to fill your nutritional gaps is with nutrient-packed snacks.
Nutrient-packed snacks should consist of both “plants” and protein. Plants—such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains—contribute carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Protein—including low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts, and seeds—contribute to muscle building and repair. Here are some simple snack ideas to have on hand during your workday, at the gym, and during missions to keep you at the top of your game, both mentally and physically:
- Apple or pear with 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter or almond butter
- Homemade trail mix –2 tbsp of dried fruit (any kind) mixed with a handful of nuts or seeds (any kind)
- Whole-grain crackers with 1 oz of cheese
- Whole-grain English muffin with 2 slices of turkey
- Slice peaches or plums, add to 1 cup of cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with cinnamon
- Cut-up veggies like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas; dip in hummus or bean dip
Low glucose (blood sugar) from lack of food can affect memory, learning, and attention. In addition, inadequate fuel can slow down your physical performance and your ability to recover from injuries, strenuous exercise, or difficult missions. Snacking can be a great way to fuel your body between meals and provide extra nutrition if you’re highly active.
But don’t forget to look at your portion sizes! Remember, this is a snack, not a meal. Snacking when you’re not truly hungry or large portion sizes can result in weight gain. Learn more about stocking your snack drawer.
Fall sports preparations are under way for many teen athletes, making it important for them to know what and when to eat and drink to be on top of their game. Two-a-days, strength-training programs, speed training—it sounds like the workout schedule of a professional athlete, but these are often components of teen athletes’ training for sports. Fueling the Adolescent Athlete contains valuable information on how they can fuel their bodies before, during, and after practice.
Fueling comes in two forms: what teen athletes eat to fuel up and what they drink to help stay hydrated. Eating nutrient-packed meals and snacks before, after, and even during practices and games is essential for optimal performance. The right balance of carbohydrates and protein work together to fuel and build muscles.
Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. It can be difficult for adolescent athletes to stay hydrated in heat and humidity, but drinking regularly and keeping an eye on their urine color can be helpful.
For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC's Family Nutrition section.
Carbohydrates are essential fuel for muscles and provide a source of quick energy. But is it true that eating extra carbs before an athletic event or mission will improve your performance? Carbs becomes especially important when you put your body to test during athletic competitions and events. If your body’s available carbs run out, fatigue sets in and you can “hit the wall.” To avoid this, many athletes load up on extra carbs such as bread, pasta, and rice. Read more about the concept behind carb loading and how it can affect your performance.
Getting the right nutrients at the right time can give you the edge you need when it comes to performance. Are you drinking the right kind of beverage to keep you hydrated? Do you know what to eat after a workout to optimize your recovery? Find answers to these questions and more in HPRC’s FAQS: Fueling for Performance.
And while you’re there, be sure to check out our other Nutrition FAQs for more answers to common questions we’ve received about nutrition.
It’s the peak of summer, which means barbeques, picnics, and other food-filled events. But especially in summer’s heat, don’t forget about food safety, or it might just spoil your fun. Let the good times roll this summer with these food safety tips:
- Wash your hands. Washing your hands often is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of bacteria. Remember to use warm water and soap, and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Marinate meat safely. Marinate your food in the refrigerator, and keep it there until you’re ready to cook it. If you want to use the marinade as a sauce, set aside a portion before adding your raw meat or poultry, and don’t reuse marinade.
- Cook food thoroughly.Use a thermometer to ensure your food is cooked to the right minimum internal temperature:
- Steaks and pork—145°F
- Hamburgers and sausages—160°F
- Keep cold food cold. Don’t let your cold dishes sit out on a counter for more than 2 hours, or one hour outdoors when temperature is above 90°F. Otherwise, keep it chilled at 40°F or less in a cooler or place directly on ice.
Always remember: “When in doubt, throw it out.” A foodborne illness is not worth the risk. For more information on food safety during the summer, visit “Summer and Vacations” at Foodsafety.gov.
Children and teens are vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition, especially during the summer months when school is out. This can lead to lower academic performance once school begins again. Poor nutrition also makes kids more prone to illness and other health issues.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to fill this nutrition gap by providing summer meals for children up to age 18. What’s more, it’s free, and children don’t have to enroll to be eligible. They just have to show up and enjoy a healthy meal. (In fact, more than one meal may be available.)
Summer meal sites are located in many communities across the country at places such as schools, community centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, and faith-based centers. To find a summer meal site in your community, check out USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder.
Granola bars are great for a quick, convenient snack, but some are more like candy bars in disguise. They can be high in sugar, fat, and calories. There are plenty of healthy variations of granola bars, though. You just have to know what to look for. Next time you’re in a store or in the commissary, compare Nutrition Facts labels and follow these tips:
- Look for a granola bar that has at least 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and less than 200 calories. This will help you stay full longer while keeping your nutrition in check.
- Find a granola bar with less than 10 grams of sugar. Most of it is added sugar. And watch out for hidden sources of sugar such as brown rice syrup and honey.
- When it comes to ingredients, look for ones you recognize or can pronounce. Remember, a granola bar with fewer ingredients is often better.
For information on how to read Nutrition Facts labels, check out this guide from the Food and Drug Administration.