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HPRC Blog

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.

Stay active and reduce stress

Stressed out? Try getting more exercise, and you may find your high blood pressure dropping along with your stress level.

Many who suffer from a lot of stress also have high blood pressure and do not exercise. People who practice some form of activity or exercise benefit from less stress associated with personal, family, and work situations. Reducing stress will improve your health. Exercise helps improve your stress tolerance and also can strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase endorphin levels, and keep you mentally focused. Bike rides, power walking, and yoga are some of the many inexpensive, time-efficient ways to improve your general fitness and reduce stress. The Mayo Clinic has more good advice on how and why to reduce stress.

Exercise safely in the cold

If you exercise in the cold, consider these tips from the American Council of Exercise (ACE; Exercising in the Cold) to stay safe.

If you exercise in the cold, consider these tips from the American Council of Exercise (ACE; Exercising in the Cold) to stay safe. Check how cold it is before you go out, and do not exercise if the conditions are too extreme. Be sure to dress warmly (keep your head, hands, and feet warm) and dress in layers that can trap insulating dry air near your skin. In addition, avoid blowing air into your gloves and mittens because it will add moisture, which will cause your hands to be colder. For more detailed information, you can read the original American College of Sports Medicine position stand: prevention of cold injuries during exercise.

Nutrition for fitness

Exercise isn’t enough—you need to give your body the right kind of fuel to optimize your fitness. The new 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines focus on balancing healthy eating with physical activity.

In order to optimize your health and physical fitness, you should consume a balanced diet as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the USDA, you should limit consumption of sodas and trans-fat foods; replace solid fats with oils such as olive, canola, and safflower oils; reduce intake of added sugars and sodium; replace refined grains with whole grains; limit your alcohol intake; increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and fat-free or low-fat milk; and replace some of the meat or poultry in your diet with seafood. More details and guidelines can be found on HPRC’s Nutrition domain, especially the recent articles on the new USDA MyPlate program and online availability of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Paleo Diet: Implications for the athlete

The Paleo Diet is based on what hunters/gatherers ate during the Paleolithic Era. But how might this affect athletes today?

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Paleolithic or Caveman Diet, is based on the notion that by consuming what humans ate during the Paleolithic Era—wild animals, plants, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruits, and berries—we will be healthier, have lower disease risk, and live longer. Hunters/gatherers during that time had to rely on what was available and had no agriculture. But what are the implications of this type of diet for the athlete, let alone the average individual?

Foods that were grown and introduced after the Agricultural Revolution (roughly 10,000 years ago) are not allowed in the Paleo Diet. That means dairy and dairy products, grains, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are excluded. Proponents of the Paleo Diet believe that we are “genetically programmed” to follow the diet of the hunters/gatherers. A specific book has been written for athletes who want to follow this diet, which accommodate athletes by allowing some carbohydrates: The authors present five stages of eating for the athlete to follow, based on the glycemic index (GI; how quickly food raises blood glucose levels). The stages are: (1) eating before exercise, (2) during exercise, (3) and 30 minutes after exercise, and (4) during post-exercise extended recovery and (5) long-term recovery. Low- to moderate-GI carbohydrates are recommended at least two hours prior to exercise. Sports drinks or high-GI carbohydrates are recommended for exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes. Immediately after exercise a recovery drink with carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 to 5:1 ratio is recommended. Stage IV recovery foods (extended recovery) should be a 4:1 to 5:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, with carbohydrates such as raisins, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams. Stage V recommends focusing on eating from the main Paleo Diet, with carbohydrates coming from fruits and vegetables. So one could argue that the Paleo Diet for Athletes is like most diets for athletes in that it requires carbohydrates. However, the Paleo Diet for Athletes is higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrates than what is recommended for athletes by most health professionals.

What we do know from scientific research is that carbohydrates provide the energy needed for endurance and resistance training, competitive athletic events, mental agility, and healthy living. Complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain pasta, rice and grains, beans, and other legumes contribute to an overall healthy eating plan. By limiting consumption of some of these to only a brief time after exercise, the athlete runs the risk of not having enough fuel for the body, so the body will use protein for energy. Low-fat dairy products also contribute to a healthy lifestyle, providing much-needed calcium and vitamin D as well as probiotics. The Paleo Diet eliminates dairy entirely, even for athletes.

We also know from the scientific literature that during the post-exercise period, within roughly 30-45 minutes of exercise, eating a carbohydrate/protein snack, generally with a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, is essential to stimulate re-synthesis of muscle proteins and replenish glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrate). It doesn’t stop there: It is important to maintain glycogen levels in the muscle and liver to sustain all activities, especially over the course of several days. Eating high-carbohydrate snacks between training sessions is important to replenish glycogen stores. Carbohydrate intake recommendations for athletes are 6 to 10 g/kg body weight per day, or roughly 55% of daily calories from carbohydrates.

What’s the bottom line? Grains and dairy products are staples of modern-day society and provide essential nutrients to an overall healthy diet. By eliminating one or more food groups, you run the risk of missing important nutrients. And can we really eat as humans did during the Paleolithic era? Their life expectancy was about one quarter to one half of what ours is, and we benefit from research showing that eating a variety of foods over the course of time provides us with energy and the important vitamins and minerals needed to sustain us in daily activities and exercise.

Use it or lose it!

Once you start exercising, don’t stop. If you do, you will lose what you worked so hard to get.

Continuing to work out is important because you do not want to lose the strength and endurance you have built up. Reversibility occurs when training stops or decreases. To ensure that you don’t lose your progress, you must “use it,” or else you will “lose it."

Alternate hard and easy

Alternate days of more and less intense training for best results.

In any training program, you should follow a day of hard, intense exercise with one or even two days of “easy” training. This gives the body and mind time to recover before the next “hard” day. In addition, this helps prevent overtraining and encourages variation in your workouts.

Reconnecting with your teenager

Teenagers can sometimes have difficulty with a deployed parent's return.

Once the initial excitement of returning home wears off, getting back into the family routine after deployment can often be difficult. Teenagers, who already have a lot of changes to worry about, can sometimes have a difficult time accepting the return of a family member from deployment. As the returning parent, you can do several things to help ease the transition back home:

  • Let your teen know that you are sad to have missed important events in his or her life.
  • Ask questions about what is going on in his or her life. Make an effort to get to know his or her friends.
  • Finally, be sure to listen when he or she tells you about his or her feelings.

Taking these steps will allow your teen to open up to you and eventually will strengthen your relationship. For more tips, visit Real Warriors.

The family of combat rations

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Combat rations feed our Warfighters around the world, offering variety and nutritious alternatives to food service facilities in a wide range of deployed and combat conditions.

The Department of Defense (DoD) Combat Feeding Program (CFP) is responsible for all of the combat rations that feed service members and for the research, development, engineering, integration, and technical support of those rations. Their mission is to ensure that United States Warfighters are the best-fed in the world. It’s important that any new combat ration developed is fueled by the wants and needs of Warfighters themselves; they even field-test new rations to make sure that their requirements are being met. Items that pass their standards are then incorporated into ration menus so that they have a variety of nutritional meals to choose from.

The Meal, Ready to Eat™ (MRE™) is used by all military services to feed Warfighters during operations where food service facilities are not available. MREs are essential to military subsistence; they’re intended to provide a Warfighter’s sole sustenance for up to 21 days of deployment (in accordance with AR 40-25) and are still nutritionally adequate for longer periods if necessary. MREs™ are shelf stable for 36 months at 80˚F.

The Unitized Group Ration – Heat & Serve™ (UGR-H&S™) is designed to feed 50 Warfighters per module and is the first group meal consumed in early deployment, as soon as field kitchens (without refrigeration capability) are available. All components of the ration are pre-cooked and shelf stable for 18 months at 80˚F.

The UGR-A™ is also designed to feed 50 Warfighters per module and consists of high-quality group meals.  The UGR-A™ is the only military operational ration that contains frozen food components. It’s based on a build to-order assembly process that requires refrigerated/ frozen storage and a field kitchen for preparation.

The UGR-B™ is used primarily by the Marine Corps to provide high-quality group rations that don’t require refrigeration and are quick and easy to prepare.

The UGR-Express™ (UGR-E™) is designed to provide a complete, hot meal for 18 Warfighters in remote locations where group field feeding wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It’s a compact, self-contained, self-heating module that doesn’t require cooks or a field kitchen for preparation. With the simple pull of a tab, the food is heated in 30-45 minutes and is served in trays to Warfighters like a cook-prepared meal.

The First Strike Ration® (FSR™) is a compact, eat-on-the-move assault ration intended to be consumed during initial assault by forward-deployed Warfighters. The FSR™ is shelf stable for 24 months at 80˚F and provides a new capability in that it is 50% lighter, smaller, and easier to prepare when compared to the MRE™.

The Meal, Cold Weather™ (MCW™) and Food Packet, Long Range Patrol™ (LRP™), which contain freeze-dehydrated entrees, are designed to meet the nutritional and operational needs for extreme cold environments, special operations, and long-range reconnaissance missions. They are shelf stable for 36 months at 80˚F.

The Modular Operational Ration Enhancement™ (MORE™) is an enhancement pack designed to augment operational rations with additional calories and nutrients when Warfighters are operating in extreme environments such as high altitude in cold or hot weather.

For more information on any of the above, please call (508)-233-4670 or visit the Army’s Natick Soldier Research website.

Optimizing Performance: Common errors in abdominal training

Training your abdominal muscles helps strengthen your core and develop that “six-pack,” but only if you do it correctly. Here are some tips to help.

There’s probably no other body region people work on so hard to get results than the abs. The common goal of sporting a “six-pack” is why abdominal equipment machines make up the largest part of the commercial fitness industry. People are constantly searching for the key to the washboard stomach they desire, whether it’s the newest fad piece of equipment or traditional bodyweight-driven exercises.

Unfortunately, many of these abdominal exercises provide little improvement to the target musculature and inadvertently place the lumbar spine in a position that could lead to lower back pain and injury. Just a few examples of hip-flexor-dominant exercises that can place the exerciser at risk are supine leg lifts, supine leg lifts with partner-assisted push down (a partner pushes down on the raised legs while the exerciser attempts to decelerate leg movement), hanging leg lifts, leg levers (lying supine while maintaining feet six inches off floor), and leg levers with unilateral or “scissor” kicks are.

To understand why these movements are both inefficient and contraindicated, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the abdominal anatomy. The rectus abdominis, the primary “six-pack” muscle responsible for the flexion that occurs during a curl-up, extends from the pelvis to the lower sternum. It is not involved in moving the legs. The hip flexors are responsible for the leg movements in the exercises mentioned above, while the rectus abdominis and associated muscles attempt to stabilize the spine Without adequate stabilization, the strong pull of the hip flexors leads to a marked anterior tilt of the pelvis. The abs are often unable to maintain stability, and the strong pull of the hip flexors causes the pelvis to tilt, creating an increased curvature in the lower back that compresses the lumbar area. Over time, this can lead to back pain and injury.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re unable to maintain a stable spine position, or if you have a history of lower back pain or injury, these exercises should not be performed. There are other abdominal exercises that you can use to train more efficiently and more safely.

Crunches

Even the most novice exerciser will be familiar with this common abdominal exercise: the bent-knee abdominal curl-up, or “crunch.” It has replaced the traditional sit-up as a staple in abdominal training due to its ability to recruit the abs without excessive hip-flexor activity. By varying hand placement—across the chest, behind the head, or extended overhead—the difficulty of the movement can be increased.

Crunches with a stability ball

A popular method to increase the difficulty of crunches is to perform them with a stability ball. Therapists have used stability ball training for years, and they are now becoming a common sight in gyms, as well. By reducing stability, the ball forces the exerciser to use his or her core-stabilizing muscles to maintain position, increasing the challenge to the abs. The result is a significantly greater amount of abdominal activity when compared with regular crunches.

Standing crunches

A method of ab training not used often is the standing crunch, in which you flex and rotate your torso in various ways from a standing position. During the high to low “wood-chop,” for example, the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles are active during both the downward and upward phases. With rotation, emphasis is concentrated on the obliques. These exercises also have more “real-world” functional relevance, as they mimic everyday movements. In addition, various types of resistance—such as medicine balls, cables, resistance bands, and cords—can be used to make these exercises more difficult.

It’s important to be aware that many common abdominal exercises are not only ineffective but, more important, can place stress on the lower back. Try one of the safer alternatives above, focusing on correct form. The right abdominal training can benefit your trunk muscle strength and endurance, increase core stability, and improve functional movement—and can also start you on your way towards developing your “six-pack” abs.

Sibling support

Siblings play an important role in supporting service members.

Strong sibling relationships are tied to good mental and emotional states, and more. A study by the University of Southern California shows that siblings appear to be deeply affected when a brother or sister decides to enlist in the military. While research shows that people in war-zone environments experience many sources of stress, the same sources of stress can in fact help bring family members closer together. As the sibling to a service member, it is important not only to accept the decision your brother or sister has made, but also to provide support—because it truly helps!

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