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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
There’s an old adage you may have heard: “Eat after eight, put on weight.” And maybe you’ve experienced it first-hand: You noticed that eating those late night pizzas and ice cream really packed on the pounds. But was your weight gain due to timing or just the high calorie counts? According to research in the field of circadian rhythms (CRs)—the 24-hour cycle of your body’s biological, hormonal, and behavioral patterns—it seems that when you eat could be just as important to weight gain as what you eat.
Deep within your brain sits a small cluster of nerve cells—a “master clock” of sorts—that’s responsible for orchestrating your CRs. Each biological system in your body works on a different CR schedule, and the master clock keeps all the schedules in sync. For example, CRs influence your body’s production of the hormones that regulate hunger, as well as how your body uses and stores fats and sugar, ultimately influencing your body weight, performance, and overall health. Other hormones, such as the ones that tell you when you’re full, are switched on or off according to a variety of inputs.
The two greatest influences on how well your master clock is able to keep things in sync are light and food. Light tells your brain how much sleep you get (think: eyes closed, less light). Food (smell, taste, and consumption) tells your body to produce a myriad of chemicals. As a result, staying up late at night, working shifts, and eating at all hours of the day and night—whether voluntarily or due to the demands of overseas deployments, training demands, shift-work schedules, and even parenthood—can play havoc with your circadian rhythms.
In an interesting twist, not only do CRs influence hunger and body weight, but excess body fat and/or a high-fat diet may disrupt CRs. This can lead to further weight gain, culminating in a collection of health problems known as “metabolic syndrome.” In the U.S., regular loss of sleep closely parallels the occurrence of metabolic syndrome. In addition, researchers have found that people who sleep less or have poor-quality sleep are more likely to become obese.
What to do? Make a conscious effort to “normalize” your daily routines as much as possible to maintain regular mealtimes. Whether you choose to eat three regular-sized meals or four to six smaller meals a day, space them out through the daylight hours to take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. Here are some suggestions to avoid eating late at night:
- Try to eat a balanced dinner at least two hours before you go to bed, and take a walk afterwards when possible.
- Sip on soothing herbal tea or flavored water (without sugar).
- Be aware that watching TV (especially food-related ads) can trigger your desire to eat.
- Sometimes it can help to create new nighttime rituals that don’t involve eating, such as light stretching or yoga, taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or reading (or listening to) a book.
But if you find yourself up late at night—whether it’s due to a hard day at work, regular shiftwork, or temporary shifts due to jet lag or an infant’s night feedings—resist the urge to snack out of boredom or to “keep your energy up.” Shift workers should pack or purchase a healthy meal to eat during their work hours—one that includes lean protein and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Eat early in the shift if possible, so you’ll have the energy you need to think and move efficiently. Travelers and parents should look for healthy snacks that follow a similar pattern. And try to limit coffee, tea, and other sources of caffeine to just two to four servings a day.
Of course, eating is just one half of the CR equation. Getting enough sleep is important too, so read HPRC’s overview for great tips on how Warfighters can improve their sleep.
The Nutrition Facts panel on a food label can be a Warfighter’s best friend when trying to decide what to eat for optimal performance. That’s because it provides you all the information you need to compare the nutritional content and value of foods and make good choices for your health and performance.
The Nutrition Facts label answers these questions about a food:
- How big is a serving?
- How many calories does it have?
- Does it contain nutrients that I should get less (or more) of?
- How does it fit into my overall nutrition goals?
- What percentage of key nutrients does it provide?
For tips on how to use and understand the information on a Nutrition Facts label, check out this easy guide from the Food and Drug Administration. Although label reading can be challenging at first, with practice you’ll become an expert at using the Nutrition Facts label as a helpful tool for following a healthy, balanced diet.
Holiday parties provide opportunities to relax and enjoy good food and good times with family, friends, and colleagues. But they also can derail your weight and fitness goals. Buffet tables laden with calorie-rich treats and beverages can weaken the resolve of even the most committed folks. To keep yourself on track, remember these tips:
- Never go to a party hungry. Eat a protein-rich food before you go. Protein foods tell your brain that you’re satisfied and help you avoid overindulging. Low-fat milk or yogurt or a handful of nuts are great choices.
- Follow the MyPlate strategies for filling your party plate: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables then fill the rest with whole grains and lean protein such as fish or chicken.
- Choose wine over fancy mixed drinks or beer, and be sure to drink in moderation: one drink for women and two drinks for men. Sip slowly to make your drink last through the evening.
- If it’s a potluck, you really are in luck. Offer to bring a healthy salad or entrée, and fill your plate with your own delicious creation.
- Don’t waste your calories (and taste buds) on desserts that you don’t absolutely love. Choose your favorite and then share it with a friend. You’ll eat slower while you and your friend chat, and cherish the moment as much as the sweet!
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has added even more questions and answers to its FAQs section on HPRC’s website. Be sure to check back often as we add more answers to questions about supplement ingredients, performance and dietary supplements, weight loss and supplements, and choosing supplements safely. Didn’t find what you were looking for? Use our Ask the Expert button located on the OPSS home page.
You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.
Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.
Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.
Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.
Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
In a 1960s TV cartoon series, George Jetson of The Jetsons simply popped a pill when he wanted to eat. “Dinner in a pill” was promised as the food of the future. So why hasn’t technology delivered on its promise? Simply put, no dietary supplement can reproduce the aromas, flavors, textures, or nutritional value of oven-roasted turkey, crusty, fresh-baked bread, juicy ripe pineapple, fragrant hot tea, or any other wholesome, delicious, performance-enhancing real food or beverage. And substituting dietary supplements for real food won’t help performance either – check out our video here. So skip supplements—not meals. To learn more about how real foods should come before dietary supplements, check out HPRC’s article in Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS).
The phrase “Garbage in, garbage out” was coined first by computer experts back in the 1960s. Since then, the phrase has gained a wider usage—even to the world of performance nutrition. Providing your body with high-quality fuels and nutrients is crucial to optimizing your performance. Like the poorly fueled runner in HPRC’s video, you’re likely to find that a diet of high-fat or sugary foods and drinks (“garbage in”) produces less than optimal results (“garbage out”). Instead, choose wholesome foods such as lean meats and fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, which provide high-quality fuels and nutrients.
No one wants to experience foodborne illness. However, there are safety tips and techniques that will help prevent such incidents. The Food and Drug Administration has developed Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays, which includes other helpful links about food safety.
Weight-loss (diet) prescription medications are generally not permitted, but it’s important to check your service’s policy for specific conditions that may exist. Read this OPSS FAQ to find out more details, including links to specific policies. Also, be sure to check the OPSS site often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements and how to choose supplements safely.
If you have a question about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
Do you have a “snack drawer”? Most people do, whether it’s in their office desk, gym locker, backpack, or family minivan. Snacking can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle, preventing late-afternoon vending machine runs or mealtime overeating and providing crucial nutrients prior to workouts or missions. Snacking can also ambush otherwise healthy eating plans, so it’s important to choose snacks wisely.
Ideally, your snack drawer should be stocked with a variety of protein and carbohydrate snacks to meet your needs during the day. A healthy snack provides 100 to 300 calories, depending on your weight and activity level.
Opt for lean-protein choices such as water-packed tuna (the kind in packets fit easily into a backpack, briefcase, or purse), peanut butter, and dry-roasted nuts such as walnuts, almonds, or pistachios. If you have a fridge available, boiled eggs (up to one week) or single-serving cups of hummus, cottage cheese, or Greek-style yogurt are great choices.
Healthy-carbohydrate options include instant oatmeal or grits, whole-grain crackers, and dried fruit. Choices for the fridge include fresh fruit and veggies—a great way to get the recommended amounts you need each day.
Take advantage of snack time to add some hydration to your day. Water (flavored ones can make drinking water more appealing), milk, soymilk, and almond milk are great choices. Herbal teas provide a caffeine-free alternative. Of course, juicy fruits such as watermelon, oranges, and kiwis are terrific too.
Being prepared can help you make good choices the next time a snack attack hits. But don’t forget about food safety: Be sure to keep an eye on expiration dates and toss things when they’re past their prime. For more information about healthy snacking, read these informative tips from MedlinePlus.