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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: Physical Fitness

Underfueling can lead to underperformance

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel for performance, so what happens when you skimp on carbohydrates?

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.

Too loud for you to hear?

There are some tips you can use to prevent exposure to hazardous noise levels recreationally and occupationally.

A staggering number of Americans (approximately 36 million) have hearing loss, and one-third of those probably could have been prevented. Hearing loss continues to be a safety hazard for Warfighters at home and in the field. So how do we combat this not-so-silent epidemic?  Here are a few tips to help you protect your hearing.

  • Wear a hearing protective device (HPD). HPDs should be worn for noise levels at or above 85dB. Not sure what 85dB really means? Check out this guide to occupational noise levels.  Also check out “How Loud is Too Loud?,” a graphic designed to inform Warfighters about how and when to choose the proper HPD for their jobs.
  • Learn how to wear your HPD correctly. Even if you have the correct protection, it may not be effective if you’re not wearing it correctly.
  • Always have disposable HPDs handy. Disposable HPDs are lightweight and easily portable. Make them a part of your everyday gear.

For more information about how to protect yourself against or to seek help for hearing loss check out the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence website or make an appointment with your local hearing loss treatment center.

High-intensity exercise for your teen

April is the “Month of the Military Child.” Learn how to help your child stay fit for a healthier tomorrow.

High-intensity exercise is no longer a new fitness fad, and your children can benefit from this type of exercise too. It’s established as the most efficient way to improve overall fitness. And with this month’s focus on military children’s health, now is the time to teach yours good habits for the future.

This doesn’t mean that you need to take your children to a trainer for high-intensity interval training. What it does mean is that they should be getting the type of exercise or play that makes them breathe hard and gets their heart thumping. Both traditional and high-intensity exercise improve fitness in children and teens. This can be useful if you find your children getting bored doing the same kind of exercise or play all the time.

Remember when encouraging your child or teen to be active to let them find the kinds of activities and play that are most enjoyable for them. If your child is a competitive athlete and/or being trained by a professional, keep an eye out for symptoms of overuse, overtraining, and other injuries. Developing kids can experience the same kinds of injuries as adults. Help your child stay fit and healthy, and keep your family ready and resilient. 

National Veterans Wheelchair Games

April 15th is the registration deadline for the National Veterans Wheelchair games. The event is open to veterans who need a wheelchair to participate in sporting events.

April 15th brings to mind the dreaded tax deadline. But it’s also the registration deadline for a much more enjoyable event: The 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. The games will be held in Dallas, Texas, June 21–26, 2015. Participation in the games is open to veterans who require a wheelchair for athletic competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis, or other neurologic conditions. Events include air pistols, air rifle, archery, basketball, bowling, hand cycling, motor rally, power soccer, quad rugby, and more! To register and get more information, go to wheelchairgames.org/registration/. And for those of you not competing, consider volunteering. See the website’s volunteer page to learn how.

Listen to your heart

With special equipment, you can manage your emotional stress as well as the timing and intensity of your physical training.

As your heart beats, the amount of time between these beats varies. In other words, your heart rate is constantly changing—speeding up and slowing down. Though it might seem counterintuitive, more of this “heart rate variability” (HRV) is better for both your physical health and how you cope with stress. And you can learn to listen and use it.

Some heart-rate monitors allow you to monitor your HRV and the effects of different training routines on it. Or you can check out biofeedback to help you master stress-management techniques such as paced breathing by giving you immediate feedback about your heart rate. Either way, HRV is a tool that can help you find the optimal timing for recovery or lighter training within your long-term workout regimen. In fact, HRV can even show when you’re at greatest risk for injury.

Pushing yourself is an important part of performance optimization, but you also need to regulate your emotional and physical stress. Biofeedback can help with your emotions, and heart-rate monitors that measure HRV can help optimize your physical training over months and years. Visit “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best” to learn more about how you can use HRV.

Is your Achilles tendon an uphill battle?

The Achilles tendon is stronger than you think, even when running hills.

The Achilles tendon (on the back of your ankle) is a common site for injury, especially for runners. And many people think running hills increases the likelihood of injuring their Achilles. Hill running provides many health benefits (cardiovascular endurance, strength, performance, etc.), but do the benefits outweigh the risk to your ankles? For the most part, the answer is, yes! The effects on your Achilles tendon while running on a flat surface, uphill, and downhill are all similar, meaning the risk of injury is no greater when running uphill or downhill than on the flat. Achilles injuries usually happen because of a combination of internal (ankle misalignment, muscle weakness, decreased flexibility) and external factors (footwear, over training, humidity, altitude). With movement, however, the Achilles tendon becomes more flexible, so a proper warm-up before exercise will help prevent injury.

What this suggests is that running hills isn’t necessarily a cause of injury to the Achilles tendon. More likely causes include progressing too quickly as a new athlete or not properly recovering from an injury. If you’re recovering from a previous injury to your Achilles tendon, talk to your doctor or therapist about when it’s safe to run again and how much hill running you are able to do. Be gradual in your return to running, especially hills. Don’t try to sprint up or down anything too steep too soon. But as long as you’re healthy, at your next hill encounter, be confident and take it on; your body is more likely to benefit than not.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Learn how to recognize and prevent eye problems associated with extended computer monitor use.

As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.

Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:

  • Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
    Fix it
    by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
  • Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
    Fix it
    by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
  • Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
    Fix it
    by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.

In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”

Check out Performance Triad’s new materials

Looking for information to help optimize your sleep, activity, and nutrition? Check out the new materials posted by the Army Public Health Command.

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.

National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic

Calling injured veterans to sign up for the National Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, CA, September 13–18, 2015.

Spring is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking about sports and outdoor recreation. In keeping with the Mission ReDefined campaign (a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Paralympics), VA encourages eligible veterans (those injured within the last six years) to apply for the 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.

The purpose of the Clinic program is “early intervention for Veterans battling back from injury, not only strengthening their bodies but improving overall well-being and self-worth.”

Spend a week in San Diego learning about adaptive sport and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking, and cycling (hand and tandem). This is a national event open to Veterans from all across the country with combat injuries ranging from TBI and polytrauma to spinal cord injuries and loss of limbs.

The clinic will be held in San Diego, CA, from Sept 13–18. 2015. The deadline to sign up is May 1, 2015; visit the Registration tab at the Clinic link above for details and forms.

Tackle the obstacles to your goals!

Filed under: Goals, Motivation
People often say, “It’s good to think positive!” But is it always? Learn why you need to think about obstacles too.

When you set lofty goals, it’s exciting to envision lofty results. This should (and can) inspire you to put in the hard work needed to accomplish these goals. But indulging in fantasies of how things could be down the road might make them feel so tangible that you don’t do what’s necessary to get there.

A more realistic approach is to picture not only where you want to go but also the obstacles that might prevent you from actually getting there. You’ll either decide that the goal is out of reach, or you’ll make plans to deal with the obstacles in order to get to where you want to go.

Here are some steps to help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals:

First, identify an important goal that you think you can actually achieve, but one that’s still a bit of a challenge. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to improve your APFT score by 20%.

Next, think what it will really mean to you when you accomplish your fitness goal. Maybe you picture yourself being more active with your family at home and then performing well during a mission to succeed and protect others.

Then consider where you are now and think about what stands between you and your goal. You can still keep your eyes on the prize. But you need to honestly recognize the obstacles. Maybe exercising in the dark makes you nervous, or you’re less organized than you could be, or you’re tired from not getting regular sleep, so it feels like an uphill battle.

Finally, strengthen your awareness and face the obstacles with an “if…then” plan. Here’s an example: “IF my fear of nighttime running creeps up, THEN I’ll put on my high-visibility clothing and stick to well-lit streets.” Here’s another: “IF I find myself disorganized and grasping for time, THEN I’ll walk around the block while planning my day.” Or how about: “IF I feel tired when I come home this evening, THEN I’ll take a short walk or jog and go to sleep right after.” If…then plans help you face your fears instead of hiding from them.

This four-step method can help you shift from just dreaming about important goals to tackling obstacles on the path to accomplishing them. And you may find this works even better if you combine it with other techniques such as setting SMART goals.

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