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: Total Force Fitness
Coconut oil has a sweet taste that lends distinct flavor to foods, and it contains several saturated fats—something the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we eat less of. That is because eating saturated fats has been linked to atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) and increased risk of heart disease.
Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it has different types of saturated fats. One of these—lauric acid—is regularly touted as having performance benefits. Lauric acid is referred to as a “medium chain fatty acid” (MCFA), and the body processes MCFAs differently than it does “long chain” fatty acids (LCFAs). Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly than long chain fatty acids, so they are quickly absorbed and available as an energy source. Some research suggests MCFAs might help to optimize and maintain glycogen stores, thus extending endurance performance. Not only that, MCFAs are less likely than other fats to be stored as fat—a plus if you’re concerned about weight control. The performance claims surrounding MCFAs and coconut oil have not held up, and claims about their weight loss benefits need more research.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics joint guidelines for Nutrition and Athletic Performance indicate that MCFAs do not provide any performance benefit. To date, only two studies have shown improvements in performance. On the other hand, MCFAs have been shown to increase the body’s use of “fats” as fuels, reducing food intake, so such products may promote weight loss. There just isn’t enough information available to make any scientific conclusions.
If you choose to eat coconut oil, do so in moderation for its unique flavor and texture, because its health and performance benefits are still open for consideration.
Reward your loved one this Valentine’s Day. In studies that looked at relationship satisfaction, it’s clear that we’re happiest when we feel rewarded. Think back to when you were a kid and when you did something good – did you get a reward? Studies with more than 12,000 people revealed something you probably already know: As adults, we feel rewarded when we have positive interactions with our significant others and when we hear from them that they value being in a relationship with us. So this year, in addition to the usual flowers or chocolates or whatever you do for each other, try two simple acts: Do or say something loving to your partner, and in your own words tell them you’re happy to be in a relationship with them.
For more information on enhancing your relationship check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
It can be tough figuring out the truth about the health benefits of many natural products. One product that’s getting a lot of attention these days is green coffee beans. As a Warfighter looking for ways to optimize your performance or perhaps drop some weight quickly, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the marketing hype and claims, especially if it’s an appealing message. Make sure you get the facts.
Green coffee beans are the raw, unroasted seeds or “beans” of the Coffea plant. They contain a chemical called chlorogenic acid (CA) that supposedly offers some health benefits. Roasting reduces the amount of CA in coffee beans; as a result, green coffee beans contain more CA than the roasted beans you use for your morning coffee. Some research suggests that CA might prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and help with weight loss. But it’s important to note that most of this research is preliminary, and there just isn’t enough evidence to say that CA will definitely help with any of these health conditions.
Although no serious side effects have been reported from green coffee beans in their natural form, some dietary supplement products containing green coffee beans have been found to contain undeclared drugs, insects, and mold. Of the 126 products containing green coffee beans ranked by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 40 have been assigned a rating of “1” or “2,” which indicates there are serious concerns about their safety and effectiveness. None have a rating in NMCD’s green zone, which suggests that there are some concerns about them all. Note also that green coffee beans are not always the only active ingredient, so be sure to check the product label.
It’s also important to note that green coffee beans contain caffeine. Side effects of consuming too much caffeine are all too familiar—difficulty sleeping, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, nausea, and vomiting. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, or those who have been diagnosed with certain medical conditions (including anxiety, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis) should check with their doctor before consuming green coffee beans. For more information on caffeine, read the OPSS FAQ on caffeine.
Approximately 300 million people around the world have sickle cell trait (SCT), including approximately 9% of African Americans. It is a hereditary condition in which red blood cells are affected, but most people who have it never experience symptoms. (It is important to note that SCT is not the same as sickle cell disease [SCD]. Sickle cell disease [or sickle cell anemia] can lead to other serious clinical risks and can cause severe symptoms. Those with the SCD usually have a shorter lifespan.)
Individuals with SCT usually can participate in normal physical activity and sports, as SCT doesn’t seem to adversely affect performance. In fact, some studies have found that those with SCT excel in short-distance power activities such as sprinting and jumping.
While SCT is largely a benign condition, there have been related complications such as exertional rhabdomyolysis and exercise-related sudden death. They have been found in non-SCT individuals as well, but they occur at higher rates in those with SCT and are a “hot topic” in military, and civilian communities; the National Collegiate Athletic Association even requires screening for all its Division I and II athletes.
It has been suggested that those with SCT may be more prone to sudden death from dehydration, heat illness, and high-intensity exercise; however, these factors and the role of prevention standards, medications, and the use of dietary supplements are still being studied. In both military and civilian SCT populations, collapsing during exercise is most commonly observed during times runs and sprints within the first few weeks of conditioning. SCT Recruits who have difficulty passing the Physical Readiness Test are also at higher risk for collapse. Military leaders should be aware of safe training guidelines and take universal precautions. Effective prevention tactics include heat acclimatization, hydration, gradual physical conditioning, and addressing progressively worse symptoms early on.
All newborns in the United States are screened for both SCT and SCD as part of a public health imperative. Each military branch has its own policies regarding SCT. The Army does not screen for SCT but promotes universal precautions for all soldiers, whereas the Air Force, Navy, and Marines all screen for SCT after accession. Further testing and counseling may be done for those who are positive for SCT. If you are unsure about SCT and exercise, consult with your physician, especially if you are starting a new exercise routine.
If you’re looking to get healthier, stronger, more energetic, or less injury-prone, setting goals can help you achieve this type of optimal performance. Use the American Psychological Association’s five tips for “Making your New Year's resolutions stick“ regardless of the time of the year.
- 1. One at a time. Doing everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time by breaking your goals into pieces to build on.
- 2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You may be eager to get started on your performance goals, but start with manageable goals and build up to the more challenging ones.
- 3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with family and friends, as they can be your biggest supporters. It may also help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish and might interest them enough to join you.
- 4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to achieve your goals. If you know you are struggling with one aspect of your goal, the best thing to do is seek out advice and support. Use resources such as HPRC's Mind Tactics to get accurate information that can help you progress towards your goals.
- 5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection, if not impossible, is an ever-moving target. Don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being at your best, not achieving perfection. How you recover from mistakes matters—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead and get back to your goals.
For more information on how to become the best that you can be, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies: Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.
The USDA’s SuperTracker is an interactive, online tool that will help you set personal fitness goals as well as log and track your exercise habits and progress. Create a personal profile to manage your weight, record your fitness activities, and keep a food diary. SuperTracker offers tips, support, and detailed feedback to keep you on a healthy path in 2013 and beyond. Start the New Year off on the right foot—and then the left foot, and then the right foot again!
Optimism is a hallmark of resilience, and being optimistic can enhance your performance. Having a positive outlook can also help you harness your mental and physical strength to deliver your best performance, no matter the conditions. Whether you’re facing physical, mental, or emotional challenges, learn how to shift your thinking from negative (pessimistic) to positive (optimistic), and see how an optimistic perspective can help you achieve a greater outcome. For help on how to accomplish this, check out HPRC’s "Reframe your thoughts for peak performance."
Pentagon scientists are hoping to build special gear designed to turn divers into veritable Aquamen (and Aquawomen). Although it’s still in the research phase, the new system would protect divers from the adverse effects of diving too deep or surfacing too fast. Sensors would read and adjust to a diver’s physical signs as well as help control levels of nitric oxide to prevent the decompression sickness known as “the bends.” When a diver ascends too quickly, bubbles form inside the body, which can block the blood vessels in the spinal cord and disrupt the nervous system. It can be very painful and can lead to joint pain, paralysis, and even sudden death if a diver is not careful.
The new diving gear will be a portable and versatile system that can potentially serve for use in other special operations as well as for civilian divers. This system will have to be designed for the most extreme combat dive profiles, which sometimes require a 35,000-meter free-fall from an aircraft, diving 200 feet below the surface for at least two hours, surfacing, and immediately diving again, followed by continued protection after being picked up in an unpressurized aircraft. This is one of DARPA’s most recent Small Business Innovation research proposals for 2013.
Researchers have long been interested in meditation and its potential benefits. A recent study found that regular meditation practice of 20 minutes a day has a lasting effect on how your brain processes emotions. This suggests that meditation could potentially help your brain handle stress, anxiety, and depression, and possibly other feelings. For those individuals dealing with relocation, deployment after-effects, chronic stress overload, recent family changes, or new training assignments, having a strategy to improve your resilience and help process the expected extra doses of emotions can be helpful.
For more information on meditation, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s meditation page. HPRC will be adding a new section on Mind-Body Strategies in the near future that will give you more resources, too—so check back for that.
If you exercise regularly—or plan to start an exercise program—chances are you’ll experience shin splits at least once. That sharp, achy, sore, and/or throbbing feeling that runs down the front of your shin, also known as “tibial stress syndrome,” is a common condition among athletes, especially runners. The pain of shin splits can come from any number of underlying causes, such as overuse injuries, “flat feet,” or a more serious injury—stress fractures—usually from excessive and/or repetitive force on your legs. Usually shin splits will heal on their own with rest and basic self-care treatments, but it’s important to recognize the symptoms early on and to give yourself time to fully heal before easing back into your usual workout. See a doctor if the pain does not seem to improve with rest, if your shin is hot and inflamed, or if the swelling gets worse. To prevent shin splits, make sure that you wear the appropriate shoes for your type of foot, warm up before working out, vary the types of surfaces you run on, and address symptoms of pain early.