Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.
Have you ever felt tired, sluggish, or foggy after eating a big meal? Have you seen how kids (and kids at heart) get hyper or seem like they’re not thinking straight after a candy binge? Then you probably know that what you eat affects how you feel.
In a state of optimal nutritional fitness, what you eat supports healing and your immune system, helps prevent injury, improves energy levels, and allows you to achieve optimal emotional, cognitive, and physical performance. When you eat right, you’re likely to feel more energized, less fatigued, and have better focus, judgment, accuracy, and reaction time. The opposite is true when you fuel your body improperly. Whether you’re at home or deployed, follow these tips to help you to stay alert, focused, and performing at your best.
Mental Performance Nutrition Tips
To achieve nutritional fitness, focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Read more on the recommended diet for Military Service Members.
- Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle and nerve functions, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It also helps make protein, bone, and DNA. Nearly half of all Americans over age one are deficient in magnesium, and the deficiency is even greater for some gender and age groups. Foods high in magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, milk, and yogurt.
- Eat plenty of foods high in B vitamins. These nutrients support metabolism, brain development, blood and nerve cell health, DNA production, and the development of serotonin, which impacts mood, memory, and emotions. Foods high in B6 include poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and noncitrus fruits. Foods high in B12 include beef, liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy, and fortified breakfast cereals. Foods high in folate include asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, oranges, nuts, beans, peas, and grains. Food is the best source of most vitamins, but supplements can help if you’re unable to eat some of these foods.
“We don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”
Paul Jacques and Katherine Tucker,
Tufts Human Performance Research Center on Aging
- Fuel your body consistently. Eat meals regularly to maintain blood glucose (sugar) and muscle glycogen (stored energy) levels throughout the day. Balance meals and snacks with whole grains, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help keep your blood sugar steady. Avoid skipping meals, too much sugar, and imbalanced meals that are mainly refined flours (carbohydrates). Dips and spikes in your blood sugar can make you feel tired, shaky, or less focused. If you skip meals or don’t eat enough, your blood sugar can drop, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and a decline in performance. Symptoms of low blood sugar include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, fatigue, sweating, confusion, and fainting. You don’t actually need to have full-blown hypoglycemia to begin feeling these effects.
- Rethink your meal choices on the night shift. At night, your body’s metabolic processes slow down. Eating at night has been shown to be bad for your health, including an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infections. But for night-shift workers, it can mean the difference between staying alert—or not—on the job. The right type and amount of foods and beverages can help keep up your blood sugar to stay alert.
- Get a caffeine boost, but not too much. Caffeine improves alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time when taken in small to moderate amounts. Caffeine can also help mental performance in sleep-deprived situations. But dose and timing matter; refer to Operation Supplement Safety for more information.
- Drink enough water. Water is the most abundant component of the human body—around 50–70% of your weight—so your body needs fluids regularly to function properly. Performance can start to decline once you’ve lost as little as 2% of your body weight. Even mild to moderate dehydration can reduce alertness and cause fatigue, tension, and difficulty concentrating. Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. Aim to drink half your body weight in water each day to stay hydrated (e.g. 100 oz if you weigh 200 lbs). And don’t rely on thirst as a good indicator of your fluid needs. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.
Mental performance is just as important as physical performance. Fortunately, proper nutrition can help with both.
Posted in Physical Fitness, self-care
Tagged eating habits, emotional health, health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyles, mental health, National Nutrition Month, Navy Nutrition Month, Navy Physical Readiness, Nutrition, physical fitness, physical health
Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.
Proper nutrition is vital to maintaining good health and mission readiness.1 In this article, you will find tips on making healthy food choices, whether at home or while deployed. You can also help boost the resilience of your whole family by sharing these tips with loved ones.
Why Nutrition is Important
One of the most important drivers of good physical and psychological health is what we eat.2 Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrients include:3
- Proteins (e.g. fish, chicken, beans)
- Carbohydrates (e.g., bread, fruits, vegetables)
- Fats (e.g., walnuts, olive oils)
- Vitamins (e.g., vitamin D, folic acid)
- Minerals (e.g., potassium, calcium)
In short, healthy food is really fuel for the body. This fuel is key to your physical and mental performance, and helps maintain emotional control during field operations.4 Beyond performance, nutrition also plays an important role in protecting overall health throughout a lifetime. A diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products helps lower the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes.3
While healthy food options may be limited while deployed, the military has long understood the role of nutrition for service members. The military is continually working on improving the food supply for deployed warriors such as introducing the Unitized Group Ration–Express, a nutritionally complete meal-in-a-box group ration, and re-assigning some dietitians at dining facilities to implement education programs and food selection recommendations.1 If you are deployed, keep these helpful nutrition tips in mind:
- To boost energy, consume complex carbohydrates such as fruits and whole grain bread
- To meet the demand for increased energy needs in the field, increase your intake of food to prevent fatigue
- To meet the need for increased energy in cold weather and at high altitudes, try to eat healthy, nutritious snacks in between meals and drink more than your thirst may dictate since the sensation does not keep pace with water loss.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration; even mild dehydration can reduce your physical and mental performance
While home, and when possible while deployed, the following daily nutrition recommendations are important to keep in mind:1,5
|Fruits and vegetables
||Eat at least 3 – 5 servings of colorful vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit each day.
||Aim for 6 or more servings of whole grain products each day.
||20 – 35 grams of dietary fiber are recommended daily, although a low-fiber diet may be preferred during some operations.
||Aim to have 3 cups of low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, each day.
||Eat 7 ounces of meat or beans (legumes) each day, with lean or low-fat choices that are heavy on fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
In addition to these food groups, research is also uncovering the importance of omega-3 fatty acids to a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, certain cancers, circulatory problems and high blood pressure. Researchers have also linked omega-3 deficiencies with increased risk of depression or other psychological health concerns. Some studies indicate that supplements provided to warriors who have low levels of omega-3s might provide a significant boost in their mood and additional resistance to stress.1 Seafood, including oily ocean fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, are among the richest fish sources of DHA, one of the most efficient forms of omega-3 fatty acids. While there is no official recommendation on a recommended daily allowance for omega-3, dietary guidelines call for increasing the amount of seafood consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern.6
Talk to your doctor before using dietary supplements, which may include vitamins, minerals or amino acids. While these products may seem harmless, excessive use of supplements can harm performance and health. Beyond food choices, it is important to maintain a balance of calorie intake and energy expended. While military nutrition efforts have traditionally focused on making sure warriors are eating enough, the concern today is about eating too much.1
Consuming more calories than you need leads to excess weight. Being overweight can impact the success of missions, as well as raise your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes and more.7
What Line Leaders Can Do
As a line leader it is important to stay informed about your service’s nutrition programs. It is also important to educate units about nutrition using guidance from each respective service.1 Finally, you should provide a model for healthy eating behavior and encourage everyone to make nutrition choices that help build resilience and contribute to mission success.
1Scott Montain, Christina Carvey and Mark Stephens. “Nutritional Fitness” [PDF 4.65MB], Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century, Supplement to Military Medicine-Volume 175. Published August 2010.
2The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
3Nutrition, MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
4Module 6: High Caliber Nutrition in the Field [PDF 1.10MB], U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional). Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
5Patricia A. Deuster and others. “Sustaining Health for the Long-Term Warfighter” [PDF 451KB], The Warfighter Nutrition Guide, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
6Covington, Maggie. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” American Family Physician. Published July 1, 2004.
7Health Consequences, Overweight & Obesity, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.