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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
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.
If you’re looking for ways to optimize your performance or perhaps drop some weight quickly, you may be tempted by the marketing hype and claims around green coffee beans, a dietary supplement ingredient often found in weight-loss products.
Green coffee beans are the raw, unroasted seeds or “beans” of the Coffea plant. They’re a source of caffeine, but they have become popular as a dietary supplement ingredient because they also contain a chemical called chlorogenic acid that supposedly offers some health benefits.
Some research suggests that chlorogenic acid might help with weight loss and prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, there’s limited evidence to support the use of dietary supplement products with green coffee beans for weight loss or other health conditions, so consumers should beware of health claims associated with this ingredient. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued a company for using unsupported weight-loss claims and fake news websites to market their green coffee extract dietary supplement. Read more in FTC’s Press Release.
Most energy drinks are now labeled with Nutrition Facts instead of Supplement Facts, but that doesn’t automatically make them safe. The most popular energy drinks contain about 80–120 mg of caffeine per serving (8 oz.)—about the same amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce coffee. Caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When used appropriately, caffeine can boost mental and physical performance. But each energy drink can or bottle often contains more than one serving, making it easier to consume larger amounts of caffeine, especially if you drink more than one per day. Too much caffeine (>400 mg) can cause nervousness, shakiness, rapid heart rate, and trouble sleeping.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks commonly contain amino acids, vitamins, and plant-based ingredients such as guarana (which also contains caffeine) and ginseng. Although these ingredients are generally safe, there still isn’t enough reliable information about their long-term safety or how combinations of these ingredients might interact in the body.
If you drink energy drinks, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be aware of how much caffeine (from all sources) is in each can or bottle, and limit the number you drink each day.
- Avoid caffeinated foods, beverages, and medications while using energy drinks. You may be consuming more caffeine than you realize.
- Don’t mistake energy drinks for sports drinks. Unlike energy drinks, sports drinks are designed to fuel and hydrate you during long workouts.
- Don’t mix energy drinks with alcohol. Energy drinks can mask the feeling of intoxication but still leave you impaired.
- Find other ways to energize yourself. It’s best to get the sleep your body needs, but you can try other ways to stay alert, such as exercising or listening to upbeat music.
Coconut oil is popular for use with everything from moisturizing skin, losing weight, and lowering cholesterol to providing energy and endurance, but research has yet to prove many of these claims. Unlike other oils, which are mostly unsaturated fats, coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. Commonly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it contains different types of saturated fats. One of these is called “medium chain fatty acids” (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than it does other kinds of saturated fats. Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly and absorbed quickly to become available as an energy source. But does this add up to advantages in performance or as a tool for weight loss?
- Athletic performance. MCFAs help protect and maintain stored glycogen (a form of glucose), which suggests they might improve endurance. However, a 2010 review showed the majority of research did not find performance benefits with MCFAs.
- Weight management. MCFAs metabolize quickly, so they’re less likely than other types of fats to be stored as fat. Some research suggests this means MCFAs can lower body mass index (BMI) and improve body composition (percentage of fat).
The bottom line is there isn’t enough scientific evidence at this time to recommend coconut oil for weight loss or performance benefits. Just as with any fat, if you choose to cook with coconut oil, do so in moderation.
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.
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.