Filed under: Nutrition
Carnitine is a naturally occurring substance in the human body that helps cells use fat for energy. The liver and kidneys can produce carnitine from amino acids provided by the diet, but carnitine also comes from many foods, especially red meat, and is an ingredient in many dietary supplements and energy drinks.
Sometimes doctors use carnitine to treat certain heart conditions. Recent clinical trials suggest that carnitine supplements may help reduce many of the complications associated with heart attacks, such as chest pain and irregular heart rhythms.
But new research suggests that long-term consumption of dietary carnitine also may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis—“hardening of the arteries”—especially in people who eat red meat regularly. So what’s the bottom line? More research is needed to determine the risks and benefits associated with carnitine.
You can learn more about carnitine in HPRC’s Dietary Supplement Classification System.
Energy drinks have been in the news lately, mostly due to media reporting on a group (doctors, researchers, scientists, and politicians) writing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to express concern over the use of these drinks by adolescents. Much of the concern has to do with the amounts of caffeine in these drinks, among other issues. Energy drinks also may contain large amounts of other stimulants, including guarana, yohimbe, yerba mate, kola nut, methylsynephrine, Citrus aurantium (Bitter Orange), and Ma Huang (ephedra). Although listing the total amount of caffeine on the label would help, consumers should be aware that there are often other stimulants in energy drinks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has written several articles over the last year about the potential risks associated with the adolescent population using energy drinks. One very recent article outlines the harmful effects of energy drinks on adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and dehydration. The withdrawal effects after habitually consuming energy drinks is also an issue, as it can lead to headaches and attention problems. Also, the ingestion of energy drinks by adolescents who take prescription drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have eating disorders or diabetes is another topic of concern.
The amount of caffeine contained in energy drinks is not regulated, as the FDA does not regulate caffeine in foods or beverages, except that the maximum concentration for caffeine in cola beverages is 71 mg per 12 oz. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks ranges from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens drink no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day. To put that in perspective, an eight-ounce cup of coffee typically contains about 100 mg of caffeine (or more), and the most popular caffeine-containing sodas contain around 30 to 55 mg in a 12 oz. can. Not knowing how much caffeine and other stimulants are contained in energy drinks is a potential health threat.
Furthermore, the caffeine and other stimulants contained in the energy drinks, when combined with alcohol, can mask the symptoms of alcohol intoxication, potentially leading to risky behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents and doctors to talk to children about the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet on the potential risks.
Parents, educators, and healthcare professionals need to focus on educating adolescents about potential problems associated with consuming these high-stimulant products. Companies are heavily marketing their products by featuring athletic superstars, which causes children and adolescents to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. Generally speaking, adolescents don’t need energy drinks, and they should be made aware of the potential dangers. It’s definitely a case of “buyer beware.”
Visit HPRC’s Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) to access resources on the informed use of dietary supplements.
Warfighters and family members looking to track their food choices now can use the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (called The Standard Reference or SR). This nutrient data is widely used and has been incorporated into many smart phone “apps” and interactive websites. Of particular interest is the USDA’s SuperTracker, where users can customize their dietary plan and physical activity. For more information, read how to access this nutritional data.
Army researchers have developed a special method of meal delivery for U-2 pilots on long flight missions, which can sometimes last up to 12 hours. Pressurized suits and bulky equipment limit pilot movement and prevent them from opening their helmet visors—so feeding themselves until now has been impossible. Chefs and nutritionists in Natick, MA, teamed up to create meals that meet a pilot’s calorie and nutrition needs. The meals are turned into a consistency similar to baby food and delivered to the pilot by way of a metallic tube about the size of a tube of toothpaste. The containers fit into a port on the pilot’s helmet in a way that doesn’t interfere with the suit’s pressure. Watch this video to see these tube meals in action!
What are the favorites among pilots? Caffeinated chocolate pudding and chicken-à-la-king are the most popular. Other meals include beef stroganoff, key lime pie, applesauce, and sloppy joe.
Raspberry ketone, touted to be an effective fat-loss and weight-loss supplement, occurs naturally in various red raspberries. The raspberry ketone in supplements is probably produced in the laboratory, as it would be too expensive to extract it from real raspberries. FDA recognizes that raspberry ketone as a food additive is “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) to consume in small amounts. However, the long-term effects in humans who consume it as a supplement are unknown. For more information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal on “Raspberry ketone.”
Both deer velvet and IGF-1 have been in the news lately, and HPRC has received many questions about what these are and whether they improve athletic performance. Does deer velvet contain IGF-1? Read this OPSS FAQ about deer velvet to find out. To learn what IGF-1 is and whether it is banned in the military, read more in the OPSS FAQ about IGF-1. Be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.
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.
Solid fats are solid at room temperature, come mainly from animal products, and are high in saturated or trans fats. Examples are butter, milk fat, cream, stick margarine, shortening, and beef, chicken, and pork fat. Some saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels in the body. Oils are liquid at room temperature, and come from many different plants, and are good sources of heart healthy unsaturated fats. Examples are olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil. Coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are high in saturated fats and are considered solid fats. When using fats, replacing solid fats with unsaturated oils will provide essential nutrients to the diet and help lower blood cholesterol levels. Read about food preparation to promote health for more information.
A Military Times article reports on a recent study of more than 30 of the most popular dietary supplements (in capsule form) sold on military bases analyzed to determine their caffeine content. Of the 20 supplements that listed caffeine as an ingredient on their labels, six did not specify the amount. These same six contained high amounts of caffeine (210-310 mg per serving)—three or more times the amount permitted by law in soft drinks. Five others revealed significantly different amounts—some more, some less—than the quantity stated on the product label.
Consuming too much caffeine can result in health issues. And if you don’t know how much is in the supplement you’re taking, it could be easy to overdo it if you also drink coffee or energy drinks. Visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ on caffeine for additional information.
In the military, physical activity is probably part of your daily routine, but do you also have a post-workout strategy? Good recovery is just as important as the workout itself. “Recovery” can mean what you do—or don’t do—right after exercise. It also can mean taking a day off from working out altogether. Either way, it’s a critical component of your overall fitness program that can help prevent injuries.
First, it’s important to rehydrate and refuel after exercise to replace the fluids and nutrients lost during exercise, heal damaged muscles, and build more muscle. A combination of protein and carbs are the key for recovery. Some suggestions for post-exercise snacks are:
- Low-fat yogurt with fruit
- Trail mix
- Turkey wrap
- PB&J sandwich
- Chocolate milk (For more information about chocolate milk as a recovery snack, see HPRC’s Healthy Tip.)
Sometimes, after a particularly hard workout, you need a day of rest with no exercise. Listen to your body. If you have some lingering aches and pains that could worsen with exercise, take a day off. Sleep and rest are also important for proper recovery, staying fit and healthy, and achieving overall readiness and resilience. Make sure you get all the important components of your exercise routine in order to achieve peak fitness and keep injuries at bay.