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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
Carnitine is a naturally occurring substance in the human body that helps cells use fat for energy. The liver and kidneys can produce carnitine from amino acids provided by the diet, but carnitine also comes from many foods, especially red meat, and is an ingredient in many dietary supplements and energy drinks.
Sometimes doctors use carnitine to treat certain heart conditions. Recent clinical trials suggest that carnitine supplements may help reduce many of the complications associated with heart attacks, such as chest pain and irregular heart rhythms.
But new research suggests that long-term consumption of dietary carnitine also may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis—“hardening of the arteries”—especially in people who eat red meat regularly. So what’s the bottom line? More research is needed to determine the risks and benefits associated with carnitine.
You can learn more about carnitine in HPRC’s Dietary Supplement Classification System.
DMAA, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced illegal in dietary supplements on 11 April 2013, has been used in many weight-loss, bodybuilding, and performance-enhancement products. HPRC has received many questions about it use by military personnel. To help answer questions about DMAA in general, we put together an Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ. OPSS also has FAQs about Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, two popular dietary supplement products. Be sure to check back often as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a Consumer Update warning of the potential dangers of DMAA, which was announced illegal in dietary supplements on 11 April 2013. DMAA is also referred to as dimethylamylamine and other names. This dietary supplement product ingredient has been used in many weight-loss, bodybuilding, and performance-enhancement products. FDA received numerous reports of illnesses and death from the use of products containing DMAA; commonly reported reactions include heart and nervous system problems as well as psychiatric disorders. DMAA has been the focus of conflicting information regarding whether or not it is a natural extract from geranium. FDA has now found “the information insufficient to defend the use of DMAA as an ingredient in dietary supplements.” Online, FDA also stated, "Dietary supplements containing DMAA are illegal and FDA is doing everything within its authority to remove these products from the market."
For more information, read the FDA Q&A on DMAA here.
Do you see physical education classes decreasing in your children’s schools compared to the PE you had when you were younger? Do you want to help your children be active and eat healthier, but you don’t know where to start? Tell your children’s school about the American Council on Exercise (ACE) program called Operation Fit Kids, which consists of two curricula for educators (free to download after completing a survey): one for 3rd to 5th graders and another for 6th to 8th graders. They provide seven lessons with lesson plans, worksheets, and activities a group can do to learn and practice being healthy. After all, practice makes perfect!
If you are interested in additional tips for promoting family fitness, check out HPRC’s Family domain for more ideas. And for even more exercises to try with your family, visit ACE’s online Exercise Library.
Warfighters and family members looking to track their food choices now can use the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (called The Standard Reference or SR). This nutrient data is widely used and has been incorporated into many smart phone “apps” and interactive websites. Of particular interest is the USDA’s SuperTracker, where users can customize their dietary plan and physical activity. For more information, read how to access this nutritional data.
Army researchers have developed a special method of meal delivery for U-2 pilots on long flight missions, which can sometimes last up to 12 hours. Pressurized suits and bulky equipment limit pilot movement and prevent them from opening their helmet visors—so feeding themselves until now has been impossible. Chefs and nutritionists in Natick, MA, teamed up to create meals that meet a pilot’s calorie and nutrition needs. The meals are turned into a consistency similar to baby food and delivered to the pilot by way of a metallic tube about the size of a tube of toothpaste. The containers fit into a port on the pilot’s helmet in a way that doesn’t interfere with the suit’s pressure. Watch this video to see these tube meals in action!
What are the favorites among pilots? Caffeinated chocolate pudding and chicken-à-la-king are the most popular. Other meals include beef stroganoff, key lime pie, applesauce, and sloppy joe.
Raspberry ketone, touted to be an effective fat-loss and weight-loss supplement, occurs naturally in various red raspberries. The raspberry ketone in supplements is probably produced in the laboratory, as it would be too expensive to extract it from real raspberries. FDA recognizes that raspberry ketone as a food additive is “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) to consume in small amounts. However, the long-term effects in humans who consume it as a supplement are unknown. For more information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on “Raspberry ketone.”
Be extra cautious when taking dietary supplements before and after surgical procedures; some products can have serious negative effects on surgical procedures. For instance, certain supplements prevent certain blood cells (platelets) from clumping, resulting in excessive bleeding during surgery. Some of the ingredients commonly found in supplements that hinder platelet aggregation are ginko biloba, saw palmetto, glucosamine, black tea, fish oil, and garlic. If you are having a surgical operation, consider abstaining from these items or consume these items in moderation a few weeks before and after the procedure. For more a complete list of products and additional information, including other surgical risks associated with dietary supplements, read this web page from the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. And always read product labels carefully; many include warnings of potential medical risks, including the length of time prior to surgery that you should discontinue use.
Both deer velvet and IGF-1 have been in the news lately, and HPRC has received many questions about what these are and whether they improve athletic performance. Does deer velvet contain IGF-1? Read this OPSS FAQ about deer velvet to find out. To learn what IGF-1 is and whether it is banned in the military, read more in the OPSS FAQ about IGF-1. Be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.
Coconut oil has a sweet taste that lends distinct flavor to foods, and it contains several saturated fats—something the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we eat less of. That is because eating saturated fats has been linked to atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) and increased risk of heart disease.
Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it has different types of saturated fats. One of these—lauric acid—is regularly touted as having performance benefits. Lauric acid is referred to as a “medium chain fatty acid” (MCFA), and the body processes MCFAs differently than it does “long chain” fatty acids (LCFAs). Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly than long chain fatty acids, so they are quickly absorbed and available as an energy source. Some research suggests MCFAs might help to optimize and maintain glycogen stores, thus extending endurance performance. Not only that, MCFAs are less likely than other fats to be stored as fat—a plus if you’re concerned about weight control. The performance claims surrounding MCFAs and coconut oil have not held up, and claims about their weight loss benefits need more research.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics joint guidelines for Nutrition and Athletic Performance indicate that MCFAs do not provide any performance benefit. To date, only two studies have shown improvements in performance. On the other hand, MCFAs have been shown to increase the body’s use of “fats” as fuels, reducing food intake, so such products may promote weight loss. There just isn’t enough information available to make any scientific conclusions.
If you choose to eat coconut oil, do so in moderation for its unique flavor and texture, because its health and performance benefits are still open for consideration.