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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
If you limit carbohydrates and underfuel your body, your performance may suffer. Carbs feed the working muscles and help maintain blood sugar. In addition, carbs help you recover after a difficult workout or mission.
Underfueling by limiting carbohydrates can be intentional—when limiting calories, avoiding gluten, or losing weight. Or you may be limiting carbs unintentionally if you are unsure how many carbs to eat or if you’re are skipping meals or snacks due to limited time or money. And female warriors are more susceptible to under-fueling.
So what type of carbs should you be eating? Properly fuel your body by filling your plate two-thirds to three-fourths with carbs such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and dairy. Choose a variety of fruit and vegetables to maximize vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole-grain breads, grains, and pastas provide more performance-boosting nutrients than white-flour and refined versions. Low-fat dairy products contribute carbs along with protein and calcium.
Carbohydrate needs differ depending your activity, type of exercise, and intensity, and your calorie needs and may change from day to day. For more information on carbohydrate needs before, during, and after activities, see HPRC’s An Athlete's Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.
Keep on eye on your weight and performance to help you determine if you’re taking in too few carbs. If you’re losing weight without trying or find yourself having trouble performing at your best, you may be underfueling. For more personalized recommendations on carbohydrate intake, visit a registered dietitian.
Optimal fueling includes staying well hydrated during exercise. Inadequate fluid intake can lead to dehydration that affects your mental and physical performance.
The first key is staying well hydrated throughout the day. If you start exercising with low fluid intake, you’re already behind. To stay hydrated, drink fluids such as water, 100% juice (diluted), milk or milk alternatives throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in fluid ounces. For example, a 150-lb warrior should drink 75 fluid ounces per day. Foods with high-water content count too! Some examples of high-water-content foods are fruits (especially grapes, watermelon, peaches), vegetables (zucchini, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes), yogurt, sherbet/sorbet, and soup.
Exercise is when you can lose a lot of fluid, especially if your workouts are long, intense, or in heat or humidity. Dehydration—losing just two percent of your body weight—can lead to a decrease in performance. Drink often and drink the appropriate fluid to stay on top of your game. For more information on what to drink and when, see HPRC’s Hydration infosheet.
You may find it challenging to drink enough fluids, but some simple reminders can help. First, keep a water bottle on hand. Just seeing the water bottle is a great reminder to drink more. Also, always drink with meals and snacks. Sick of plain water? Add sliced lemon, lime, mint, cucumber, or fruit to your water. Or add to a water pitcher and keep in your refrigerator.
An eating disorder can impact your performance, both physically and mentally. But you can take steps to overcome it.
Eating disorders are serious conditions involving a person’s attitudes and behaviors toward food, weight, and body image. People with eating disorders eat extremely small or excessive amounts of food and usually feel embarrassment, disgust, and depression.
Eating disorders can be triggered by a number of causes, including genetic, biologic, behavioral, emotional, psychological, and social factors. Service members must meet certain physical requirements and often set even higher expectations for themselves. Pressure to be at an ideal weight or have the best physique can contribute to an eating disorder.
Even the most resilient service members are not immune to these triggers, and female service members are affected more than males. In addition, the number of diagnosed eating disorders in the military seems to be increasing, and many military members with eating disorders may go undiagnosed.
Not getting enough food or not eating healthy, consistent amounts of food means that your body is not being optimally fueled. And even worse, eating disorders can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health, and your relationships.
The key to overcoming an eating disorder is seeking help as soon as you can and putting in the time. (It doesn’t go away overnight.) Research shows that psychotherapy is often the most successful approach, but treatment is complex and draws on expertise from other fields such as nutrition and medicine.
Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, especially purple fruits and vegetables. But give these foods a second thought: Eating purple fruits and vegetables could improve your diet, lower your blood pressure, and give you a smaller waist.
Purple fruits and vegetables great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and many are also high in plant compounds such as anthocyanins, which give these foods their purplish colors. Anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and help protect against heart disease, cancer, and age-related memory loss.
Power your performance with foods high in anthocyanins such as açai berries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, black raspberries, red cabbage, red and purple grapes, eggplant, and red onions. Try making a parfait with your favorite berries, low-fat Greek yogurt, and granola for a sweet treat. If you’re craving something more savory, how about an eggplant parmesan for dinner? (Bonus: You’ll get another antioxidant—lycopene—from the tomato sauce!)
Lycopene is a chemical that gives some fruits and vegetables their red, pink, and orange hues. Most of the lycopene that people eat comes from ripe tomatoes and tomato products, but other foods high in lycopene include watermelon, red- or pink-fleshed guava, red-fleshed papaya, pink grapefruit, and apricots. These foods are also great sources of vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, and fiber. In addition to being nutritious, foods high in lycopene have been linked to lower risk of cancer (specifically, prostate) and heart disease thanks to lycopene’s antioxidative properties.
If eating a whole, raw tomato doesn’t seem appetizing, don’t fret. There are countless ways to add lycopene-rich foods into your eating plan. You actually get more lycopene from cooked and canned tomatoes and tomato products because cooking makes lycopene easier for your body to absorb. Make a pesto with sun-dried tomatoes or add them to a sandwich for a tangy touch. Instead of stuffed peppers, try stuffed tomatoes; or make a simple pasta dish with marinara sauce. Eat half a grapefruit with your breakfast or use it to top a salad at lunch (but check for interactions if you’re taking any drugs). For dessert, blend some frozen papaya and watermelon to make your own sorbet or smoothie.
For more information on lycopene, visit the American Cancer Society.
If you’re avoiding grains due to a particular diet plan, or if you think you have to exclude grains due to gluten sensitivities, you may want to think again. HPRC has put together a table of grains (with and without gluten) and their basic nutrients to point out how nutritious grains can be. Even for those who are gluten-free or sensitive to gluten, the table shows there are plenty of healthy, gluten-free options to incorporate into your diet.
As the table indicates, whole grains are very nutrient dense: They contain fiber, vitamins such as niacin and folate (and other B vitamins), minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, as well as protein and branched-chain amino acids.
A diet rich in whole grains has been associated with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Paleo diet followers, as well as those who are following a gluten-free diet, need not eliminate whole grains from their diet. The benefits are vast, with many choices for a varied diet. For more information about whole grains, see the ChooseMyPlate.gov resource, “Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains?”
Bright orange fruits and vegetables contain performance-boosting nutrients and should be included as part of your colorful plate. You may just imagine oranges and carrots when you think orange, but orange includes vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, orange peppers, and fruits such as mango (the most widely consumed fruit in the world), peaches, apricots, papayas, cantaloupe, and persimmon.
Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folic acid are just some of the powerful nutrients found in many orange fruits and vegetables. The bright orange color is due to the phytochemicals (plant compounds) carotenoids. Beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, gives yellow and orange vegetables their rich color and supports your immune function, promotes eye and heart health, and reduces the risk of cancer.
There are plenty of ways to incorporate more orange on your plate at any meal. For breakfast, add sliced orange, mango, peach, cantaloupe, or papaya to your cereal or in a homemade smoothie; for lunch, top your salad with chopped orange peppers or shredded carrots; and for a healthy version of fries at dinner slice sweet potatoes, sprinkle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake.
Do you think of white when you hear “make your plate a rainbow of colors?” Think again! White fruits—bananas, pears, white nectarines and peaches, and vegetables such as cauliflower, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, onions, white corn, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, and jicama—are all full of nutrients and count towards your daily fruit and vegetable intake.
White fruits and vegetables contribute fiber, potassium, and magnesium, which most Americans don’t get enough of. Many white fruits and vegetables are also high in flavonoids, which give these plants their white color. Flavonoids are plant compounds shown to be anti-inflammatory and to help protect against heart disease and cancer. And allium, a component found in garlic and onion, has antioxidant properties and cardiovascular benefits.
Incorporating nutrient-dense white fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks is easy. Add sliced bananas or pear to your oatmeal in the morning, or roast hearty root vegetables such as turnips, potatoes, and parsnips with olive oil, dried herbs, and spices for a delicious dish. Sauté onions and garlic to add flavor to pasta, rice, and stir-fry dishes.
For fruit- and vegetable-filled tips, resources, and recipes, visit Fruits & Veggies—More Matters.
Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.
The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.
Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.
Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.
The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.
The Combat Rations Database, or “ComRaD,” offers up-to-date nutrition information on military combat rations, including Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE), First Strike Ration® (FSR), and Cold Weather/Long Range Patrol (MCW/LRP). Warriors, dietitians, food-service officers, and leaders can look up the complete combat ration meals, as well as their individual food components, and obtain information about calories, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
Check out ComRaD on HPRC’s website, and check back often to see new features that will be added in the near future, including a “cart” you can use to add and remove foods eaten and then tally up overall daily nutritional intake.