Performance Fueling: a new Human Performance Optimization initiative
FORT KNOX, Ky. - Lt. Col. Christine Edwards presented information and answered questions about the new mission-oriented initiative, Performance Fueling, at Waybur Theater here Aug. 25, as part of HRC's monthly officer professional development program. The slide behind her shows the 'Fit Pick' stickers that will appear on approved foods and the 'Go For Green' smart phone application that will allow Soldiers to make better nutritional food choices wherever they are. Edwards is the Performance Nutrition Working Group Lead for the Joint Department of Defense Food & Nutrition Subcommittee which is spearheading the initiative. Photo by Staff Sgt. Danny McCormick, U.S Army Human Resources Command Public Affairs Office.

FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Officers of Human Resources Command learned about Performance Fueling at Waybur Theater as part of HRC's monthly officer professional development program here Aug. 25. Performance Nutrition Working Group Lead Lt. Col. Christine Edwards presented information and answered questions about the new mission-oriented initiative.

Edwards has been working to integrate current research from U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) on Soldier performance and eating habits into the Performance Fueling concept of operations for the Joint Department of Defense Food & Nutrition Subcommittee. The studies include the impact of nutrition status on the immune function, bone biomarkers, and cognitive function - poor nutritional fitness is a significant factor in musculoskeletal injuries, resiliency, cognitive and physical performance of Soldiers.

The website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in America are obese. Recruits must meet certain height
and weight standards, yet many of those who pass the screening are failing the Initial Physical
Fitness Test in alarming numbers, so alarming, that it poses a security risk for the United States. Obesity is one of the most common reasons for people to be disqualified from military service. In 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, 4,555 American Soldiers were discharged for failing to meet military weight standards.

"More than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight. Obesity isn't just a public health threat, it's not just an economic threat, it's a national security threat as well," said Edwards, paraphrasing first lady Michelle Obama.

"Performance Nutrition by definition is nutrition' contributions to the sustainable execution of cognitive and physical actions by the human body to the greatest degree attainable under specified conditions and objectives," Edwards said.

The concept of Performance Nutrition is different from most programs that focus on weight management. Weight management is still important for good health, but the emphasis now is on the fact that a healthy individual can a train at a higher level physically and nutritionally to achieve truly Optimized Human Performance. An important aspect of Performance Nutrition is that it is relative to mission set, Performance Nutrition seeks to incorporate the type of job a Soldier does. The goal is to help optimize Soldier cognitive and physical function throughout any particular mission or job.

"To integrate training programs with nutrition you have to teach how to fuel based on mission sets. For example: how to fuel optimally at each phase before, during, and after a dismounted infantry patrol of 8 hours. Each mission will have different requirements that are unique this is why teaching will have to be scenario based," Edwards said.

Soldiers may find themselves on different missions at different times so a scenario based application for smart phones is one way Soldiers could determine their fueling options for a particular mission.

"A smart phone application can have algorithms to make it interactive and individualized. You could put in your age, height, weight, and mission type and duration to learn your fuel needs and current ration choices or availability," Edwards said.

Soldier Fueling is what the Army is calling this initiative. The other services will have their own names for the joint program, but the purpose will be the same: to provide Servicemembers with nutritional guidelines based on the jobs that they do.

"What works well for an Army Ranger or a Navy Seal doesn't work so well for a Soldier or Sailor with a job that ties them to a desk all day," Edwards said.

A key part of performance nutrition is the tactical timing of fuel (nutrients and fluids) according to the work being performed and the tasks demanded. The optimal time for refueling after a strenuous mission is within 30-45 minutes after the activity. Carbohydrates and protein are key stimuli during this anabolic (building) recovery stage and allow the Soldier to rapidly re-engage with more energy. Soldiers running on "empty tanks" are less effective than those who have taken the time to fuel. This type of refueling, referred to as rapid refueling, is an important tool for Soldiers with limited time between engagements. Ideally, Soldier would be able to get three meals and snacks to meet his total nutrient needs throughout the day; however enemy action may interfere making it necessary to rapidly refuel at key intervals to sustain performance.

The desired end state of performance fueling is to match the tactical timing of fuel to the work being performed for enhanced mission performance and recovery. Some jobs are more cognitive than physical and therefore require different performance fueling methods.

According to Edwards, to develop the Performance Nutrition Concept they created two broad models the Physical Cognitive Athlete and the Cognitive Physical Athlete. Each of these models will have subset mission profiles, but includes a cognitive and physical aspect. Cognitive performance is critical on the battlefield, but can be severely degraded during many typical military operations. Physical performance is also a critical component of each performance model. The Cognitive Athlete (desk worker) may not require the same physical training program of the Physical Athlete, but they have physical training needs for overall good health.

Another important issue relates to sleep. If a Soldier isn't getting the sleep he/she needs, they are often tired before beginning an operation. Fatigue can lead to a lack of motivation and a bad attitude. Professional Athletes value sleep for performance enhancement. "Sleep is half my training," USA triathlon athlete Jarrod Shoemaker once said.

Lack of sleep can be as debilitating as alcohol-induced intoxication. Being awake for 24 hour is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 %. Sleeping for 3-4 hours will extend physical and mental activity for an extra 4-10 hours a day and taking a 30-40 minute nap can extend physical and mental activity an extra 3-4 hours a day. However, taking a nap during work hours is not a viable solution to overcome sleep deprivation. That's where caffeine dosing can help.

Caffeine at low doses can improve cognitive performance: Drinking 1-2 cups of coffee or approximately 200 mg of caffeine when tired has an operational purpose - it can improve performance for 3-4 hours. However if a Soldier is already consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine a day then additional caffeine will not be as effective. Caffeine's effect may linger for 8-10 hours and can compromise a Soldier's sleep - so time of dosing caffeine is important.

Another factor that can degrade cognitive functions is dehydration. Mild dehydration such as a 2% decrease in body weight (example 150lbs down to 147lbs) affects cognitive function, mood, and fatigue. A Soldier who is mildly dehydrated reacts more slowly, is less able to perform basic math functions, and has decreased word recognition ability.

Dr. Harris R. Lieberman from USARIEM has found that during aerobic intensive activities (ruck
marching 12 miles) the regular consumption of a carbohydrate containing beverage enhances physical and mental performance during sustained physical activity. Carbohydrates also substantially improve key mental states, such as confusion and fatigue. According to Lt. Col. Edwards, the carbohydrate containing beverage did not give enough calories to meet the Soldier's fuel needs during the activity, but substantially mitigated fatigue and sustained mental function enough to allow many to complete the event.

Soldier Fueling has already been fielded, however the Performance Nutrition Working Group hopes to take performance nutrition into the operational battlefield environment for every Soldier. This initiative is about increasing combat power by maximizing the human dimension. Though the program is still in the developmental stage, it hopes to capitalize on the Soldier Fueling lessons learned in the Initial Military Training and Advanced Individual Training posts and apply the concepts throughout the military in the near future.

For more information about U.S. Army Human Resources Command, visit: www.hrc.army.mil

Page last updated Mon September 19th, 2011 at 00:00