Filed under: Diet
Many factors affect your sleep, including stress and exercise, but your diet can also have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, particularly in the hours before you go to bed. By improving your evening food habits you can sleep better, which can have a positive impact on your mental and physical performance, immune function, relationships, and overall health and well-being. Try these tips to be on your way to a better night’s sleep:
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine can disturb your sleep even many hours later. If you typically drink coffee or tea in the afternoon or after dinner, opt for a decaffeinated version. And be wary of hidden sources of caffeine.
- Avoid alcohol. Some people think of alcoholic beverages as a nightcap to help you sleep better. While it may help you go to sleep faster, it also reduces sleep quality by waking you up in the middle of the night.
- Eat balanced meals. Eating balanced meals daily will help you get all the nutrients you need, such as B vitamins and magnesium, to promote better sleep. A balanced plate is ½ a plate of fruits and vegetables, ¼ plate of whole grains or starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes), and ¼ protein, plus a serving of healthy fat (oil, avocado). In addition, your body takes long to digest fats, so eating too much fat may keep you from falling asleep.
For more strategies on how to improve your sleep, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.
You missed a meal and plan to exercise soon or your next meal is hours away, but your stomach is rumbling – what can you do? One way to fill your nutritional gaps is with nutrient-packed snacks.
Nutrient-packed snacks should consist of both “plants” and protein. Plants—such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains—contribute carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Protein—including low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts, and seeds—contribute to muscle building and repair. Here are some simple snack ideas to have on hand during your workday, at the gym, and during missions to keep you at the top of your game, both mentally and physically:
- Apple or pear with 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter or almond butter
- Homemade trail mix –2 tbsp of dried fruit (any kind) mixed with a handful of nuts or seeds (any kind)
- Whole-grain crackers with 1 oz of cheese
- Whole-grain English muffin with 2 slices of turkey
- Slice peaches or plums, add to 1 cup of cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with cinnamon
- Cut-up veggies like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas; dip in hummus or bean dip
Low glucose (blood sugar) from lack of food can affect memory, learning, and attention. In addition, inadequate fuel can slow down your physical performance and your ability to recover from injuries, strenuous exercise, or difficult missions. Snacking can be a great way to fuel your body between meals and provide extra nutrition if you’re highly active.
But don’t forget to look at your portion sizes! Remember, this is a snack, not a meal. Snacking when you’re not truly hungry or large portion sizes can result in weight gain. Learn more about stocking your snack drawer.
Carbohydrates are essential fuel for muscles and provide a source of quick energy. But is it true that eating extra carbs before an athletic event or mission will improve your performance? Carbs becomes especially important when you put your body to test during athletic competitions and events. If your body’s available carbs run out, fatigue sets in and you can “hit the wall.” To avoid this, many athletes load up on extra carbs such as bread, pasta, and rice. Read more about the concept behind carb loading and how it can affect your performance.
Granola bars are great for a quick, convenient snack, but some are more like candy bars in disguise. They can be high in sugar, fat, and calories. There are plenty of healthy variations of granola bars, though. You just have to know what to look for. Next time you’re in a store or in the commissary, compare Nutrition Facts labels and follow these tips:
- Look for a granola bar that has at least 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and less than 200 calories. This will help you stay full longer while keeping your nutrition in check.
- Find a granola bar with less than 10 grams of sugar. Most of it is added sugar. And watch out for hidden sources of sugar such as brown rice syrup and honey.
- When it comes to ingredients, look for ones you recognize or can pronounce. Remember, a granola bar with fewer ingredients is often better.
For information on how to read Nutrition Facts labels, check out this guide from the Food and Drug Administration.
Need a great post-workout beverage? Try drinking a glass of chocolate milk within 45 minutes after exercise to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles.
Why chocolate milk? One 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk provides about 200 calories and the right ratio of carbohydrate to protein. It also provides electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, along with essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and calcium in an easily digestible liquid form. And even better, it’s inexpensive, readily available, and tastes good! But be sure to choose heart-healthy low-fat versions.
For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, or for those who simply prefer a plant-based diet, fortified chocolate soymilk is a great alternative (but note that almond, cashew, and rice milk are not as high in protein).
Man up and eat your greens! (And your reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and whites). What can eating more fruits and veggies do for you?
- Reduce your risk! Eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
- Fill you up. Fiber-filled fruits and vegetables fiber can help lower your risk of obesity.
- Provide phytochemicals. Vegetables and fruits pack a powerful punch of these chemicals, which may reduce the chance you will experience chronic disease.
- Pump up your performance. Fruits and veggies contain water, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates, all essential nutrients for top performance in the gym or on the field.
What’s a great way to ensure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies? At meals, fill half your plate with fruit and/vegetables. Remember that raw, cooked, steamed, chopped, whole, sliced, and diced all count. Eat your way to health by making fruits and vegetables a colorful part of every meal. For more colorful tips, read HPRC’s articles on pink, orange, white, and purple produce.
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.
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.
If you’ve ever eaten something spicy and felt a burning sensation on your tongue, then you’ve eaten capsaicin. Capsaicin is the substance found in chili peppers such as jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros that gives them their spiciness. Although humans have been eating peppers for thousands of years, capsaicin has only recently come into the supplement spotlight. As an isolated ingredient, it is usually sold as capsules labeled “cayenne pepper” or “capsicum” after the family of peppers that naturally contain capsaicin.
Capsaicin supplements are marketed to aid with weight loss in three ways: increase energy use, burn fat, and decrease appetite. Some scientific evidence supports these statements, but the results of most studies were inconsistent, short-lived, and didn’t always result in weight loss. Long-term effects of taking capsaicin supplements, especially at high doses, are still unknown, so their safety over time needs further investigation.
Although capsaicin is considered safe to consume in food, capsaicin supplements can cause gastrointestinal issues (gas, stomach pain, and diarrhea) for some people. They also can interact with certain medications and other herbal supplements, so you should consult a healthcare provider before taking it. Capsaicin supplements also may not be safe if you are allergic to peppers or if you‘re pregnant or lactating.
Visit Operation Supplement Safety for more OPSS FAQs about weight loss.
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!)