Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
When your body simply refuses to perform a well-learned skill, it’s called “choking.” For Warfighters, the results could be disastrous. Recent research focused on the theory that it involves a disconnection—or loss of focus—between the muscles and the part of the brain responsible for motor skills (for most people, the right side of the brain).
The study tested a small group of athletes to see if better physical performance would result from stimulating the right brain. They found that those who did so—by squeezing a ball with the left hand to stimulate the right brain before a high-pressure situation—performed better than those who squeezed a ball with the right hand or not at all and almost as well as in a low-pressure situation. Although more work is needed to verify the concept, it is something you can try on your own.
Body armor, in addition to necessary equipment and supplies, well exceeds the recommended carrying maximum of 50 pounds. The DoD was asked by Congress to conduct a research project to explore the possibility of lightening body armor without sacrificing protection. Currently, the research shows it does not seem possible to make body armor out of a lighter material while still adequately protecting the individual. However, leaders are taking a more preventative approach to reducing injuries on the battlefield. These include changes in pre-deployment training, as well as an increased number of deployed physical and occupational therapists and improvements in forward-deployed care centers.
“Garbage in, garbage out.” - George Fuechsel, IBM Programmer and Instructor
What you put in your mind and body has an impact on your performance. Surround yourself with positive people who can encourage you to build the motivation you need to maintain high performance during hard times. Replace negative thoughts and conversations with “I can…” statements. Nutrition also has an impact on your performance. Fueling yourself with high-performance foods can help you perform at your best consistently. Like a car, you cannot run on empty nor fuel yourself with empty calories. The Warfighter Nutrition Guide is an excellent resource for information about performance nutrition. For even more information on fueling performance, explore HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
Having a strong ”core”—a common term for the muscles of your abdomen, hips, glutes, back, and quads—can improve your balance, posture, and performance. There are a number of different core exercises other than the traditional sit-up that can give you these benefits and decrease your risk for injury. Back injuries are the most common reason for lost duty days in the military and are sometimes the result of a weak core. Strengthening the whole core muscle group is important and can be achieved through alternative core exercises. Test out new exercises to see what you enjoy!
Check out our Performance Strategies for more ideas on alternative methods to strengthen your core.
Having something to keep children’s minds and bodies busy can make time pass faster and give them a sense of pride while their mom or dad is away. There are various organizations to help support children of deployed parents and keep them active and involved in their community. The U.S. Army has Operation Military Kid, which connects families to local resources to achieve a sense of community. Our Military Kids specifically reaches out to dependents of the National Guard, reservists, and active-duty wounded warriors. The Department of Defense has a new campaign, Operation Live Well, which includes resources to keep military children active and resilient during their guardian’s deployments. There are also numerous non-profit organizations that offer programming for military children—check out the National Resource Directory section for children’s programs near you.
Two just-released government reports show that many supplements are illegally labeled and some companies are not including their phone number or address on the labels of products as the FDA requires. The first report explains that some of the structure/function claims on labels (such as “promotes weight loss” or “supports healthy immune function”) could not be backed up. The second report explained that 28% of companies tested did not register with FDA as required, and 72% of the companies whose products were examined did not provide the appropriate company information to the FDA. At both of the links above you also can listen to a podcast discussing the reports.
A working group of military chaplains makes time each month to discuss new research, practical strategies, and frontline experiences around topics like PTSD, spirituality, moral injury, and sexual assault. The September 2012 meeting focused on PTSD. From participant LTC Dave Grossman came this advice: “We are all going to have bad days as we walk our warrior path. Do not destroy yourself because of the bad days and never judge yourself by your worst day.” The article from the Defense Centers of Excellence highlights some advice from this group for tackling tough issues from a spiritual perspective.
If you would like more information on the Chaplain Working Group, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the war against childhood obesity, senior military leaders are taking a stand in the name of national security. The retired generals and admirals of “Mission: Readiness” are doing their part to combat childhood obesity by calling on Congress to remove junk food and high-calorie drinks from schools by adopting the Institute of Medicine standards for what can be served in schools, increasing funding for more nutritious meals, and supporting the development of public health interventions. The group is concerned that current school policies and lack of high nutritional standards are leading to unhealthy food choices in the form of vending machine snacks and sugary drinks. As much as 40% of children’s caloric intake occurs at school, so clearly schools have an important role to play. Retired U.S. Army General Johnnie E. Wilson points out that “We need America’s service members to be in excellent physical condition because they have such an important job to do.” The most recent report by the Mission: Readiness organization estimates that 27% of young Americans are still too fat to fight and not healthy enough to serve their country. In an analysis of military standards, being overweight was the leading medical reason for being rejected from the military between 1995 and 2008. While these military leaders may be fighting for your kids, the real battle begins at home. Encourage healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors by staying fit as a family.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Supertracker has added a unique and helpful feature that allows users to set calorie target recommendations prescribed by nutritionists, dietitians, and healthcare providers. SuperTracker, a free online tool released in 2011, allows users to assess daily healthy food and lifestyle choices and track their progress. With the newly added feature, users will be able to tailor their unique needs.
About half of all military personnel use some dietary supplements, and military women most commonly use weight-loss supplements. But is there a place for dietary supplements in enhancing women’s health? Dietary supplements, by definition, are intended to “supplement the diet” and can contain a dietary ingredient such as a vitamin, mineral, herb or other botanical, amino acid, or combinations of these and/or other substances or constituents intended to be consumed by mouth.
Active women may require more nutrients, but vitamin and mineral needs normally can be met by eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus largely on the recommendation that nutrient-dense foods and beverages—such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds—can provide all the nutrients needed by most everyone. These recommendations are based on research that shows a varied, healthy diet lowers the risk of most diseases.
Some dietary supplements have been found to be beneficial for women’s health, such as folic acid, iron, and calcium. Folic acid, a B vitamin involved in the production of new cells in the body, has been shown to help prevent birth defects. Women who are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant should take a supplement that includes 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Fortified foods such as green, leafy vegetables, enriched whole grain breads, flour, pasta, rice, and most ready-to-eat cereals also contain folic acid. Adolescent girls, women of childbearing age, and especially pregnant women also need more iron, which is a mineral involved in the transport of oxygen in the body. Women in these groups should choose iron-rich foods, particularly red meat, fish, and poultry, as well as iron-fortified foods. When iron levels are low, symptoms may include feeling extra tired and weak, along with a decrease in immune function. A healthcare provider or dietitian can determine the need for supplementation if diet alone cannot maintain iron levels or for those who have iron-deficiency anemia. Calcium is an important mineral that helps maintain strong bones, healthy teeth, and proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves. All women should strive to get their calcium from foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, dark-green, leafy vegetables, and foods such as orange juice and soy milk that have been calcium-fortified. Those who may need more should discuss calcium supplement options with a dietitian, since there are many forms available and it is important to determine how much and which kind is suitable for your particular needs.
Some dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss are targeted toward women. Do they work? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some weight-loss supplements contain hidden prescription drug ingredients. For additional information, see Operation Supplement Safety’s (OPSS) “Are there any safe supplements to help me lose weight?” Furthermore, women looking to enhance their performance may turn to dietary supplement products. OPSS has additional resources for competitive athletes to search for particular products that are certified, as well as helpful red flags on what to avoid.
Some women’s nutrient needs differ from those of men, and they can vary over the course of a lifetime. From adolescent girls, to women of childbearing age, to women over 50, these needs change based on the demands of the physiological changes that occur in the body. One thing is certain: A variety of nutritious food is really the spice of life and should be the basis for fueling all of life’s stages.