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Should I carb load?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Will loading up on carbs before an athletic event or mission improve my performance?

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. 

Free summer meals for kids

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Children, Diet, Nutrition
Kids can get free, nutritious meals even when school is out. Read more to learn how.

Children and teens are vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition, especially during the summer months when school is out. This can lead to lower academic performance once school begins again. Poor nutrition also makes kids more prone to illness and other health issues.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to fill this nutrition gap by providing summer meals for children up to age 18. What’s more, it’s free, and children don’t have to enroll to be eligible. They just have to show up and enjoy a healthy meal. (In fact, more than one meal may be available.)

Summer meal sites are located in many communities across the country at places such as schools, community centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, and faith-based centers. To find a summer meal site in your community, check out USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder.

Choose a better granola bar

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
There are hundreds of granola bars on the market, but not all are created equal. “Raise the bar” on yours for better nutrition and satisfaction.

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.

Got (chocolate) milk?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
It’s important to replenish your body after working out. Chocolate milk provides essential nutrients and is inexpensive, easy to find, and tasty.

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).

Separating fact from fiction online

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Education, Nutrition
There are thousands of websites that report on nutrition topics, tips, and trends. Which ones are questionable, and how do you spot the reputable sources?

How do you tell the good from the bad online? The Internet can be a great resource when you want to learn about a health condition or nutrition topic. But some websites provide nutrition-related information backed by sound research, while others base their information on myths and half-truths. HPRC offers some tips on what to avoid and what to look for instead to help you find accurate health and nutrition information on the Internet. Read more here

How to eat for endurance events

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Eating right goes hand-in-hand with preparing for an endurance event such as a marathon. Learn more about nutrition for endurance events.

Training for a marathon or some other endurance event? Building your endurance—by making the right nutrition choices—can make the difference between failure and success. HPRC’s performance nutrition strategies—“Going the distance”—provide the information you need to know what and when to eat for endurance.

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.

The battle with eating disorders

May is Mental Health Month. Eating disorders are nutrition-related mental health conditions with serious consequences for a service member, spouse, child, or an entire family.

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.

For more information on eating disorders and links to other helpful resources, visit Military OneSource and HPRC’s Eating disorders: Know the symptoms and risks

The power of purple produce

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Purple fruits and vegetables make up only a tiny portion of most Americans’ diets, but they can play a huge part in your health.

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!)

Think pink for lycopene

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition
Lycopene gives color to food and provides health benefits to your body. You’ll be surprised at how at how many ways you can get lycopene in your meals and snacks.

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.

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