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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.
By G. A. Volb | Army News Service
May 24, 2010
As Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. stresses the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy finds itself at the tip of the spear in offering health and fitness insight to its enlisted members.
Senior Army leadership not only wants a broadly-skilled NCO treading the battlefields of tomorrow, but one that is both physically and spiritually fit. The former is a product of fitness regimens designed to enhance Soldier's ability to withstand the stresses and challenges of today's real - world operations tempo – and diet, not surprisingly, is a major piece to the puzzle.
Dietician Mrs. Jennifer Eiland, left, discusses possible changes Master Sgt. Anthony Jones may want to consider regarding his diet to help better his overall fitness. Jones, a Philadelphia, Pa., native lost nine pounds in just over a month following his initial meetings with Eiland. "I just used a few common sense diet and lifestyle changes that Jennifer suggested," the 44-year-old Jones said. (Photo Credit: G.A. Volb)"The food choices you make and when you eat have a direct impact on your energy level, ability to concentrate, overall feeling of well-being and gut function," said Jennifer Eiland, a dietician and part of the Army Physical Fitness Research Institute's staff at their USASMA annex. "It also affects your ability to complete an exercise session."
Casey, it should be noted, is so big on Soldier fitness that he's made the CSF Program, established in 2009, a priority as the Army tries to focus on the five dimensions of strength: Physical, Emotional, Social, Spiritual and Family.
The general's intent is to increase the strength, resilience and enhance performance of all Soldiers, family members, and Department of the Army civilians. None of it is possible if the old quip, "You are what you eat" makes sense and everyone is shoveling junk food down their necks.
"Diet is extremely important to realizing health and fitness goals," said the 25-year dietitian from Roy, Utah. "It influences almost three-quarters of the results of our health assessments. It can also influence a person's aerobic capacity; heavier participants typically have lower V02 or lung efficiency as a result. Mood and alertness are also affected by diet."
She stressed that eating a diet full of sugar, salt and fat lowers one's energy level and ability to concentrate, which in turn, can negatively affect school work and a Soldier's performance.
"It affects chronic disease risk on a number of levels as well," she offered. "Obesity increases the odds of contracting cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. Excessive sodium intake can increase blood pressure in over two-thirds of the population and risk of stroke and heart attacks according to the latest from the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control."
In a recent letter to the troops, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston emphasized the need for Soldiers to work on all five areas stressed by the CSF Program; most of which can be affected by diet.
"We want CSF activities to become a part of our daily lives, just as we do physical training every day to build and strengthen the physical dimensions of CSF," said Preston in his letter. "We want the members of our team to do more than just cope with adversity; we want them to grow from their life experiences."
"Reflecting on the past eight years of war and our deployment experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, we can now begin to understand the individual health and resilience problems associated with our deployment tempo," he said.
An unhealthy Soldier is less effective," said Eiland. "A sergeant major's overall health, including how he or she eats, influences their ability as leaders ... and the influence they have on the health choices of their young Soldiers."
Eiland pointed out that a prominent group of retired military leaders want junk food taken out of America's schools because the obesity epidemic, especially in young people, is limiting the number of people who can be recruited into the military, making obesity a national security issue.
On a positive note, she added that many Soldiers have a sincere interest in improving their eating habits.
"A good majority tend to eat more meat and fewer fruits and vegetables than is considered optimal for good health," said Eiland. "Including more whole grains and less processed foods is also an area I frequently discuss with Soldiers. Sugary beverages seem to be a favorite as is eating fast food and microwave meals given their busy schedules. However, if dietary changes are presented in a practical and doable way to them, most will make changes."
The major challenges, according to the dietitian, are getting organized and planning ahead.
"Enlisting uncooperative family members, finding time to cook their own meals and changing an old mindset are also challenges," she said.
Researchers at USARIEM conduct research on military performance in high altitude environments and published their findings in Altitude Acclimatization and Illness Management Guidelines this year.
Their recommendations? Staying hydrated, healthy eating and refraining from smoking helps Warfighters to perform in high altitude environments. Click here for more information and recommendations for performing optimally in high altitudes.
Welcome to the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) website, and our blog, which we are calling "Reloaded."
Welcome to the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) website, and our blog, which we are calling "Reloaded." Our mission is to provide timely and accurate Human Performance Optimization (HPO) information for Warfighters, family members, health care providers, and commanders. The HPRC is aligned under Force Health Protection and Readiness for strategic direction and policy guidance, and part of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Under CHAMP leadership, we have access to a wide range of experts in human performance.
The Reloaded blog is written by HPRC staff members and covers HPO topics and questions of current interest. Guests bloggers are also invited to contribute with special topics of interest. We encourage you to check out the blog on a regular basis, join the discussions, and raise any performance questions you may have. We're here to serve!