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Peak nutrition in cold weather

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Just because the outside temperature is dropping doesn’t mean your performance has to tumble too.

Daily exposure to cold weather increases your nutritional needs. But if you only PT outside for an hour or so a day, workout in a gym, and spend the rest of your time indoors, your daily food and fluid needs don’t change much—even when it’s cold outside. If you’re training in the cold for long periods of time, such as during field deployment or cold weather operations, here are a few ways to help maintain peak performance:

  • Calories. Moving through snow and icy terrain while wearing heavy gear causes your body to use more energy. Consume three to four standard MREs or three MCW/LRP rations per day to meet your energy needs. (At times you may have to force yourself to eat.)
  • Carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s first choice for energy. When your caloric needs increase, you’ll need to eat more carbs. Be sure to eat high-carb foods such as rice, noodles, bread, First Strike Bar, fruit or sports bars, crackers, granola, pretzels, and carb-fortified drink mixes from your MRE or MCW/LRP rations. Store snacks in your pockets so you can fuel on the go, between meals, and before bed.
  • Hydration. Yes, you can still get dehydrated in the cold. Cold temperatures increase your fluid loss through increased urine output, breathing, and sweating (due to insulated clothing and intensity and duration of exercise). Fuel with fluids (excluding alcohol) even when you’re not thirsty. Make sure to monitor your hydration status by checking your urine color.

Remember, this isn’t the time to start a new diet (such as a low-carb diet) or lose weight, so fuel up to perform well.


There is (almost) free lunch!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
Whip up these “tried and true” soups for pennies.

We all want to use our food resources and time wisely. Let’s talk about ways to save minutes and money. As the holidays approach, we want quick, easy meals to fortify us. Using the bones from our holiday meats can make an almost “free” extra meal or two. Helpful hint: store the bones in the freezer until you are ready to get cooking!

These tasty soups are healthy and affordable:

  • Bean Soup. Put a ham bone in a crockpot. Cover with 8 cups of water. Add one pound of rinsed, dried pinto beans. Season as desired—jalapeno peppers and cilantro are especially good. Cook on High for 5–6 hours or Low for 11–12 hours. Skim the layer of fat from the top. Chop and add any leftover ham to the soup.
  • Turkey Vegetable Soup. Put turkey bones in a large pot. Cover with 6­–8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bones and strain the broth. Add frozen corn, green beans, grated carrots, and instant brown rice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add chopped pieces of turkey meat if desired. Season with black pepper.

Who knew making soups could be so simple? These meals just might become a mainstay of your recipe toolkit! 

Eating on the road again

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition, Travel
Taking a holiday road trip? Make sure your car isn’t the only “vehicle” that’s properly fueled.

A critical part of any road trip is making sure you are nourished for the journey. Vacation leave is approved, your pet is at the sitter, and suitcases are in the trunk. Are you ready to get in your car and drive? Your car is fueled but you are not. BIG mistake! As you prepare to travel, here are some ways to help you go the distance:

  • Eat before you go. However, foods such as coffee, doughnuts, energy drinks, and candy bars aren’t the right fuel. These types of foods can cause your energy levels to crash.
  • Pack a travel meal if you are going to be on the road for a while. It can be as easy as a peanut-butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread plus a banana.
  • Bring tasty snacks. Examples include popcorn, homemade trail mix (whole-wheat cereals such as wheat squares or toasty oats, nuts, dried fruit, cheese crackers, and chocolate pieces), fruit, and nuts. Sugar-free gum makes a great addition to your stash.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring along a water supply for each traveler.
  • Eat small amounts of food every 2–3 hours to stave off sleepiness. Instead of eating while you drive, take a break at a rest stop. You can also switch drivers if needed.

These tips can help you save money and time. In addition, you won’t be as tempted by the high-calorie, fatty, sugary foods offered at travel centers and gas stations. What’s more, you’ll arrive feeling refreshed and ready for the next adventure!

Cooking with herbs for health

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Need a way to spice up your meals? Learn more about the benefits of cooking with herbs.

Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and basil add a flavorful punch to meals, but they also may provide health benefits. Many herbs contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components. As plants, herbs contain beneficial phytochemicals, which are being researched for their role in cancer prevention. Here are some tips on using culinary herbs to make your meals both tastier and healthier.

  • Pre-seasoned, pre-flavored foods (such as rice) often cost more than the basics. Buy unseasoned, plain staples for your pantry, and then add your own variety by using different herbs.
  • If you’re trying to follow a low-sodium eating plan, substitute herbs in place of or in addition to a small amount of salt to season your meal.
  • Can’t use up fresh herbs fast enough? Purchase dried or frozen herbs, which have a longer shelf life. Just check your recipe, as you probably need to use less of dried herbs than fresh.

Ready to test your green thumb? Place potted herbs on your patio, deck, or windowsill for fresh herbs whenever you need them. Adding herbs to your meat, fish, vegetable, and grains not only adds color and flavor, but it also may be good for your health. Learn more about herb and food combinations.  

Fast food fix

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
If you’re going to eat fast food, have it your way for better health.

Fast food is often overloaded with calories, fat, and sodium, so it’s best to choose it less often and eat nutritious meals made at home or in the dining facilities. But juggling the demands of active-duty service, family, friends, and life in general can leave little time to shop, cook, and clean. Sometimes fast food might be your only option, so follow these tips to avoid the pitfalls:

  • Make substitutions. Choose grilled chicken for your sandwich instead of fried chicken, and ask for a wheat bun. For your sides, trade in fries or onion rings for a side salad, fruit cup, or plain baked potato.
  • Watch your toppings. Toppings such as bacon, cheese, and even sauces provide more fat and calories than you might realize. Skip these toppings and ask for extra veggies on your burger or sandwich. If you want a sauce, stick with ketchup or mustard.
  • Go for greens. More and more restaurants offer salads as entrees, which is a great way to increase your veggie intake. But just beware of high-calorie additions such as bacon bits, croutons, fried tortilla strips, and creamy dressings. Instead, look for nutrient-rich toppings such as nuts, seeds, beans, fruit, and lean protein, and ask for a light dressing such as vinaigrette on the side.
  • Keep your portion sizes small. Bigger portions mean more calories. Opt for the smallest size when it comes to burgers, fries, sodas, and desserts, and avoid value-sized meals. Doing so can save you a couple hundred calories or more! Check out this infographic on portion sizes to help you.

Fueling with fast food every day isn’t ideal, especially if you want to perform well. Just keep in mind that when you do eat it, making small changes such as these can have a big impact on your health.

Coconut oil: health or hype?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition, Weight
Coconut oil is a popular alternative to butter and other oils, but does the research confirm promises of weight loss and improved performance?

Coconut oil is popular for use with everything from moisturizing skin, losing weight, and lowering cholesterol to providing energy and endurance, but research has yet to prove many of these claims. Unlike other oils, which are mostly unsaturated fats, coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. Commonly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it contains different types of saturated fats. One of these is called “medium chain fatty acids” (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than it does other kinds of saturated fats. Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly and absorbed quickly to become available as an energy source. But does this add up to advantages in performance or as a tool for weight loss?

  • Athletic performance. MCFAs help protect and maintain stored glycogen (a form of glucose), which suggests they might improve endurance. However, a 2010 review showed the majority of research did not find performance benefits with MCFAs.  
  • Weight management. MCFAs metabolize quickly, so they’re less likely than other types of fats to be stored as fat. Some research suggests this means MCFAs can lower body mass index (BMI) and improve body composition (percentage of fat).

The bottom line is there isn’t enough scientific evidence at this time to recommend coconut oil for weight loss or performance benefits. Just as with any fat, if you choose to cook with coconut oil, do so in moderation. 

How much protein?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition
Every body’s protein needs are different. Find out how to calculate your own protein needs to optimize your performance.

Whether you’re an endurance athlete, a strength athlete, or doing a bit of both to stay in fighting shape, the optimal amount of protein for your daily needs depends on your activity level and body weight. Regardless of the amounts, the best sources of protein are always whole foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts/seeds, beans, and legumes.

Check out HPRC’s Protein Infosheet and protein calculator to determine the amounts that are right for you. Eating more protein than your body needs isn’t necessarily better. Going beyond these protein recommendations won’t provide any additional benefit to your performance.

Countdown to end childhood obesity

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Millions of kids are overweight or obese, but together we can put an end to that. It’s as easy as “5-2-1-0.”

Roughly one in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, but you can do something about it. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults and at risk for diabetes and other health conditions, so it’s important to act early. September is Childhood Obesity Month, so there’s no better time to start.

Let’s Go! is a childhood obesity prevention program to help kids eat better, be more physically active, and live healthier lives. Just remember their “5-2-1-0” countdown message:

5 – Get your kids to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Make it fun with kid-friendly recipes. Let your kids choose fruits and veggies at the store that they want to try, help prepare meals and snacks in the kitchen, or even plant a vegetable garden together.

2 – Cut down kids’ screen time to 2 hours or less a day. (No screen time for those under 2.) Get them to try other ways to be entertained, such as playing a game or going on a scavenger hunt. These types of activities will get your kids’ bodies and minds working.

1 – Kids need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Sound like a lot? Just think of it as playing instead of exercise! Make it a family affair. Go to the playground, play a sport, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood together.

0Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead, have your kids drink water and fat-free or one-percent milk. If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a little pizazz with some sliced berries, citrus fruits, melons, or kiwis. And they can eat the fruit when they’re finished drinking!

For more information, tips, and resources, please visit Let’s Go!

Healthy eating for healthy joints

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Is what you eat keeping your joints healthy? Find out how nutrition can help your joints carry on.

You can take control of how your daily eating habits help or hurt your body’s joints. The physical demands of training and missions—along with day-to-day exercise, overuse, injury, and aging—can take their toll on your joints over time. There are certain eating habits you can practice to help keep your joints happy and healthy for the long run.

  • Aim for a healthy weight. Extra weight means extra stress on your joints – walking alone can cause your knees to take on 3–6 times your body weight. Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you need to. Visit HPRC’s Fighting Weight Strategies for ideas.
  • Fight inflammation. Include omega-3 fatty acids on your plate to reduce your body’s inflammation. Salmon isn’t your only source; foods such as English walnuts, flaxseeds and their oil, canola oil, and other fish contribute omega-3s to your eating plan. See HPRC’s omega-3 table for more foods rich in omega-3s.
  • Fill up on fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables, all of which are nutrient-heavy, have been linked to a lower incidence of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals, and build snacks around them too.
  • Revive with vitamin C. Because of its role in forming collagen (the main component of connective tissue) and as an antioxidant, foods high in vitamin C are important for joint health. Oranges, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, red peppers, and kiwi are excellent sources.

Focusing on a healthy weight and filling up on nutrient-rich foods, along with regular exercise and stretching, can help optimize the long-term health and performance of your joints. 

How to eat for better sleep

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Food fuels you throughout the day, but did you know that food also has an effect on how well you sleep?

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.

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