FORWARD OPERATING BASE PROSPERITY, Iraq (Army News Service, May 30, 2007) - While in Iraq, many Soldiers take the opportunity to focus on getting healthy and working out.
Some Soldiers run, some walk, some hit the basketball court, some play football and some hit the weight rooms. For a small portion of these Soldiers looking to get fit, supplements might seem like an easy way to get fast results. Unfortunately, while some supplements help, others might do more damage than good.
As temperatures in Baghdad easily peak 100 degrees, the need for proper nutrition rises just as quickly as the mercury.
Drinking plenty of water and eating a well-balanced diet are two things important to surviving the heat according to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's surgeon, Lt. Col. Margret Merino.
She said knowing what you're putting in your body can be one of the easiest ways to get through these hot summer months while still achieving your weight loss or body building goals.
"Right now, we're trying to educate leaders and Soldiers to the dangers linked to supplement use in hot weather," Lt. Col. Merino said.
Some supplements can't really hurt you. If taken improperly, the worst that could happen is either nothing at all or a little extra flab around your waist if you don't actually exercise while using them.
Protein is a very popular supplement that's designed to fuel muscles with the food and amino acids necessary to grow and repair themselves. Taking a protein supplement without exercising is basically the same as eating extra food. It amounts to extra calories your body doesn't need. Your body will in turn take these extra calories and store them as fat.
Creatine is another supplement designed to draw water from your bloodstream into your muscles giving you a svelte appearance, more stamina and bigger "pumps" in the weight room. Again, just taking creatine won't help unless you're on a good diet and exercise program.
The downside to creatine, said Lt. Col. Merino, is its design. It takes water vital to the rest of your body and stores it in your muscles, effectively robbing the rest of your body of the hydration it needs.
Some of the most abused supplements of all are the ones that promise to help shed pound after pound of unwanted fat. These types of supplements usually contain copious amounts of caffeine which will dehydrate you faster than wearing your gear all day.
Is a little caffeine bad' Not necessarily, Lt. Col. Merino said.
Caffeine has shown its value by giving a jump start to a routine and decrease pain responsiveness. However, a lot of diet pills contain more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per pill. That's the equivalent of about three cups of the dining facility's best coffee per pill, and some recommended doses are two pills three times a day.
Of all the herbal supplements out there, ephedrine was given the spotlight of shame a few years ago after a pro football player collapsed and died of heat-related injuries directly linked to use of ephedrine-containing supplements.
Lt. Col. Merino said that ephedrine, synepherine and caffeine-containing supplements act as amphetamines, effectively raising the body's core temperature and not letting the body cool itself. This, she said, could lead to a heat injury or worse.
She said Soldiers are much like football players because they both wear a lot of gear, work in the heat and are involved in strenuous activity.
Capt. Ken Murray, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team's medical planner, said when he was working in the emergency room at Fort Bragg, N.C., he witnessed first-hand how taking supplements and too much heat and exertion could lead to serious consequences.
"On numerous occasions I saw guys in the airborne and special forces brought into the emergency room. They needed to be resuscitated because they were taking supplements while being out in the heat," he said.
Both Capt. Murray and Lt. Col. Merino agreed that drinking water, following work and rest cycles and maintaining a good diet are the best ways to combat heat injuries.
Lt. Col. Merino urges anyone considering starting a new diet or thinking about taking supplements to go to their local medical clinic and consult with a health professional to asses the risks and the effects.
(Spc. Alexis Harrison serves with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.)