Filed under: Op-Ed
Recent surveys of dietary supplement use indicate that about 20 percent of active duty personnel are using some type of protein powder. The percentage of users is likely higher among special operations personnel, and this is of concern given the July 2010 Consumer Reports® Alert on protein drinks. These powder products are typically mixed with milk, water, or another liquid to make a shake and promoted as a sure way to increase muscle mass. The products often come in different flavors, with strawberry and chocolate the mainstays.
The Consumer Reports® Alert indicated that most of the 15 protein drink products analyzed contained miniscule to concerning amounts of selected contaminants – arsenic, cadmium, lead, and/or mercury – each of which is toxic to various organs in the body. Military personnel commonly use several of the products noted in the report. These include EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shakes; Muscle Milk chocolate, vanilla crème, and nutritional shake beverages; MuscleTech Nitro-Tech Hardcore Pro-Series Vanilla Milkshake; selected GNC products, and BSN and Optimum Nutrition whey protein products.
It is important to note that if three servings of these products were taken per day, consumers could be ingesting amounts of these contaminants in excess of the maximum limits proposed by the United States Pharmacopeia, the authoritative standard for health products. Importantly, toxic effects have been reported from using these products and are of concern because the Food and Drug Administration does not require such products to be tested to confirm the absence of contaminants and other potentially dangerous products before they are sold.
Take Home Message: A chicken breast, three 8-oz glasses of milk, and three eggs are inexpensive sources of high quality protein, whereas protein powders are expensive sources of uncertain quality, and potentially contaminated, protein. It is both better and cheaper to eat real foods.
The book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall has been a primary catalyst for the rapid expansion of the population of “barefoot runners” over the past year. Most barefoot running advocates are in reality minimalist runners – they wear as little on their feet as possible. In most cases they wear just enough to provide a little cushion on concrete or other hard surfaces or to provide a thin layer of protection from glass or other sharp objects. Minimalist footwear is referred to as “barefoot technology,” which, at some level, seems to be an oxymoron. The cynical side of me says the term was coined by those expecting to make money off a new trend.
It is important to first note that there is no evidence-based information to support either side of the debate on the efficacy of being either shod or unshod. The most interesting research pointing toward the possible advantages of the minimalist approach is outlined by a Harvard professor and his colleagues in a January 2010 edition of the journal “Nature.” A counter to the assertion that barefoot running is beneficial can be found on a website titled “Barefoot Running is Bad.” The pro barefoot running community points to initial research that indicates there is more force absorbed by the body by a runner wearing shoes than by barefoot runners. The greatest difference is that barefoot runners have a forefoot strike, while runners wearing modern running shoes tend to have a heel strike. The opposition community points to anecdotal information that there has been a rapid rise in the incidence of stress fractures in the feet of barefoot or minimalist runners.
For me, the jury is still out. I find the concept that we should allow our feet to function as designed intriguing. My advice to those in the military interested in transitioning to a barefoot regimen is to first consult their local provider for advice. In addition, anyone starting a barefoot running program should increase the barefoot component of their normal workout routine gradually. A good rule of thumb is to increase the barefoot part of the program by no more than 10 percent each week. Barefoot adherents should also listen to their bodies and stop any activity that leads to joint or soft tissue pain.
My closing concern: warriors, regardless of where they are assigned, will spend a considerable amount of time in some sort of boot technology while training or deployed. As the sports medicine community debates the value of being barefoot in contrast to lacing up the latest Nike technology, we need to determine if there is any advantage for warriors adopting a partial or full barefoot workout program. This research should include an assessment of the positive or negative effects of frequently transitioning between minimalist footwear and boots. As more warriors get the minimalist footwear bug, it is important that we provide them the best evidence-based information that supports or argues against the practice.