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.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
If you’re feeling stressed, don’t rely on liquid relaxation products to relieve your tension. While energy drinks are promoted to give you an extra boost, relaxation drinks* are marketed to do just the opposite and help you, well, relax. These products commonly contain the amino acid theanine, as well as several different plant-based ingredients. But the science doesn’t support the use of relaxation drinks to decrease stress or anxiety, and consumers should be cautious of two ingredients: kava and melatonin. Bottom line, if you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the cause, and then use stress management strategies backed by scientific evidence. Read more here.
Who says that figuring out what to prepare and eat over the coming holiday weeks needs to be stressful? Worrying about choosing appropriate food gifts? How about gaining weight and never taking it off—again? These concerns are often on our minds at this time of year. So here are some tips to enjoy a healthy holiday.
- Make recipes more nutritious. Use evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream in soups, quiches, pies, and other recipes. Substitute whole-wheat for white flour in bread, gravy, and cookie recipes.
- Reduce your calorie intake. Choose more fruits and vegetables at each meal. Don’t skip a meal—because you could overeat at the next meal. Eat smaller portions instead.
- Pick healthy gifts. Offer a welcome basket of fresh fruit or assorted packages of nuts and dried fruit. Put together a basket of healthy ingredients for a quick meal. Give a personal favorite such as a special bread, olive oil, or jam.
Challenge yourself by putting at least one tip into practice. It guarantees your holidays will be less stressful!
We all want to use our food resources and time wisely. Let’s talk about ways to save minutes and money. As the holidays approach, we want quick, easy meals to fortify us. Using the bones from our holiday meats can make an almost “free” extra meal or two. Helpful hint: store the bones in the freezer until you are ready to get cooking!
These tasty soups are healthy and affordable:
- Bean Soup. Put a ham bone in a crockpot. Cover with 8 cups of water. Add one pound of rinsed, dried pinto beans. Season as desired—jalapeno peppers and cilantro are especially good. Cook on High for 5–6 hours or Low for 11–12 hours. Skim the layer of fat from the top. Chop and add any leftover ham to the soup.
- Turkey Vegetable Soup. Put turkey bones in a large pot. Cover with 6–8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bones and strain the broth. Add frozen corn, green beans, grated carrots, and instant brown rice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chopped pieces of turkey meat if desired. Season with black pepper.
Who knew making soups could be so simple? These meals just might become a mainstay of your recipe toolkit!
A critical part of any road trip is making sure you are nourished for the journey. Vacation leave is approved, your pet is at the sitter, and suitcases are in the trunk. Are you ready to get in your car and drive? Your car is fueled but you are not. BIG mistake! As you prepare to travel, here are some ways to help you go the distance:
- Eat before you go. However, foods such as coffee, doughnuts, energy drinks, and candy bars aren’t the right fuel. These types of foods can cause your energy levels to crash.
- Pack a travel meal if you are going to be on the road for a while. It can be as easy as a peanut-butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread plus a banana.
- Bring tasty snacks. Examples include popcorn, homemade trail mix (whole-wheat cereals such as wheat squares or toasty oats, nuts, dried fruit, cheese crackers, and chocolate pieces), fruit, and nuts. Sugar-free gum makes a great addition to your stash.
- Stay hydrated. Bring along a water supply for each traveler.
- Eat small amounts of food every 2–3 hours to stave off sleepiness. Instead of eating while you drive, take a break at a rest stop. You can also switch drivers if needed.
These tips can help you save money and time. In addition, you won’t be as tempted by the high-calorie, fatty, sugary foods offered at travel centers and gas stations. What’s more, you’ll arrive feeling refreshed and ready for the next adventure!
Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and basil add a flavorful punch to meals, but they also may provide health benefits. Many herbs contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components. As plants, herbs contain beneficial phytochemicals, which are being researched for their role in cancer prevention. Here are some tips on using culinary herbs to make your meals both tastier and healthier.
- Pre-seasoned, pre-flavored foods (such as rice) often cost more than the basics. Buy unseasoned, plain staples for your pantry, and then add your own variety by using different herbs.
- If you’re trying to follow a low-sodium eating plan, substitute herbs in place of or in addition to a small amount of salt to season your meal.
- Can’t use up fresh herbs fast enough? Purchase dried or frozen herbs, which have a longer shelf life. Just check your recipe, as you probably need to use less of dried herbs than fresh.
Ready to test your green thumb? Place potted herbs on your patio, deck, or windowsill for fresh herbs whenever you need them. Adding herbs to your meat, fish, vegetable, and grains not only adds color and flavor, but it also may be good for your health. Learn more about herb and food combinations.
Fast food is often overloaded with calories, fat, and sodium, so it’s best to choose it less often and eat nutritious meals made at home or in the dining facilities. But juggling the demands of active-duty service, family, friends, and life in general can leave little time to shop, cook, and clean. Sometimes fast food might be your only option, so follow these tips to avoid the pitfalls:
- Make substitutions. Choose grilled chicken for your sandwich instead of fried chicken, and ask for a wheat bun. For your sides, trade in fries or onion rings for a side salad, fruit cup, or plain baked potato.
- Watch your toppings. Toppings such as bacon, cheese, and even sauces provide more fat and calories than you might realize. Skip these toppings and ask for extra veggies on your burger or sandwich. If you want a sauce, stick with ketchup or mustard.
- Go for greens. More and more restaurants offer salads as entrees, which is a great way to increase your veggie intake. But just beware of high-calorie additions such as bacon bits, croutons, fried tortilla strips, and creamy dressings. Instead, look for nutrient-rich toppings such as nuts, seeds, beans, fruit, and lean protein, and ask for a light dressing such as vinaigrette on the side.
- Keep your portion sizes small. Bigger portions mean more calories. Opt for the smallest size when it comes to burgers, fries, sodas, and desserts, and avoid value-sized meals. Doing so can save you a couple hundred calories or more! Check out this infographic on portion sizes to help you.
Fueling with fast food every day isn’t ideal, especially if you want to perform well. Just keep in mind that when you do eat it, making small changes such as these can have a big impact on your health.
Tart cherry juice might help soothe muscle pain after exercise, especially intense or long workouts. A few studies researched how drinking tart cherry juice affects muscle soreness and pain following different types of exercise. Participants drank tart cherry juice 5–7 days before exercise (such as running a marathon). Those who drank the tart cherry juice instead of the placebo experienced a decrease in intensity and duration of muscle pain, but these measurements weren’t consistent from study to study, and not all measures of muscle pain improved. However, tart cherry juice does contain anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Keep in mind that research participants drank 8–12 oz of tart cherry juice twice daily. Drinking that amount could add 260–390 calories per day to your diet, mostly from sugar. Too many calories and not enough exercise to balance it out can lead to weight gain. If you enjoy drinking tart cherry juice, then consider adding it to your nutrition plan. In addition to stretching and foam rolling after your workouts, it could help you experience less muscle soreness.
“You are what you eat” means that food affects your physical AND emotional health! A tip that also helps your mood is to stay away from “comfort foods.” Choose foods that give you more steady energy, such as an orange or raisins (not ice cream or fries). This might be old advice, but here’s a new twist: Eat that snack mindfully!
By practicing mindfulness before you eat, when you’re feeling a craving, and while you eat, you can overcome binge eating, eating to soothe emotional concerns, and impulses triggered by yummy sights, sounds, or smells. It helps you understand your motivation. Are you eating because you’re hungry and it’s time to eat? Or is it a “quick fix” for your stress or worries?
Once you’re eating, instead of analyzing why you’re eating or focusing on other tasks such as texting, be mindful of the eating experience, embracing the experiences of smell, taste, temperature, and texture. You may find yourself slowing down and enjoying your food more!
Before diving into your next snack or meal, think about what you’re eating and be mindful of why. Here’s a simple example of how you can weave mindful eating into your daily life: You might notice that it’s 3pm, and you’ve had nothing to eat since that healthy lunch, and you need a pick-me-up, so you reach for an orange. Now, mindfully enjoy each part of the experience as you peel the orange, noticing the textures inside and outside, the stickiness, the spray, and the smell. Notice how you salivate with the anticipation of citrus acids, and the moment when the piece of orange hits your tongue, followed by squirts of flavor, and changing texture. Enjoy!
It’s time to get off the SoFAS! No, we don’t mean your couch (but that’s a good idea too). We’re talking about solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS).
Solid fats are solid at room temperature and are found in foods such as butter, cheese, meats, and foods made with these products, such as cookies, pizza, burgers, and fried foods. Solid fats include both saturated and trans fats, which raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease.
Added sugars can contribute to weight gain and tooth decay. Although some foods such as fruit and milk contain naturally occurring sugars, added sugars are usually found in processed foods such as sodas, sports or energy drinks, candy, and most dessert items. It can be hard to identify added sugars on food labels, but you can learn how to recognize hidden sources of sugar.
Foods containing SoFAS are often high in calories but don’t provide important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Start cutting back on SoFAS by following a few simple tips:
- Prepare more meals at home and cook with olive oil instead of butter. Olive oil provides healthy fats that can improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease.
- Switch from soda to sparkling water. Sparkling water is free of added sugars, but comes in a variety of flavors, so you’re bound to find one that you like!
- Trade in chips, dip, and cookies for fruits, veggies, nuts, and hummus or guacamole. Nutrient-packed snacks are generally lower in calories but will keep you going throughout the day.
Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat any foods with SoFAS. Just be aware of what foods contain them, eat them less often, and watch your portion sizes for better health and performance.
You’ve just finished a marathon; you’ve put your body through hell, but it’s not over yet. Recovering can be just important as the time you put in training for race day. Taking the right recovery measures can help you avoid lingering soreness and injury and help you get back on the road sooner.
- Food. After an intense workout such as a marathon, it’s important to refuel with carbs and protein. Think whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and legumes. You’ve probably been thinking about your post-race meal for some time. But before you binge, plan ahead.
- Hydrate. Drink lots of fluids and eat juicy fruits and vegetables to replace the fluids lost during the race. See HPRC's Hydration Infosheet for hydration guidelines during and after exercise.
- Massage/Foam roll. Massage by a professional or self-massage (such as foam rolling), increases blood flow and help heal damaged muscles. Foam rolling also helps stretch out tight muscles and decrease soreness.
- Exercise. Light exercise (not running) within a day or two after a race can help you recover by increasing blood flow, which brings nutrients into and flushes toxins out of your muscles. Keep it light; go for an easy bike ride, hit the pool, or even go for a light walk.
- Sleep. Sleep is critical to recovery, not only after a race but for general health and optimal functioning. Sleep is the time when your body restores and repairs, which is especially important after the stress you’ve put it through. Take that extra nap; you deserve it!
- Ice bath. While this method of recovery hasn’t actually been proven to be effective, sitting in a tub of ice water after a race or hard workout is still a popular method. People report that this makes them feel better, and mental recovery is very important.