The United States Army has developed a new nutritional snack for basic trainees to eat before bedtime in an effort to promote healthy service members and prevent injuries.
Nutrition experts with the Military Nutrition Division discovered that recruits frequently arrive to basic with poor vitamin D status, making their bones more vulnerable to fracture and injury, according to the Military Health System. These injuries and health problems lead to higher dropout rates.
“Stress fractures occur after unaccustomed activities or overuse, such as wearing boots or carrying heavy loads — common during basic training,” said James McClung, Ph.D., deputy chief of the Military Nutrition Division at the U.S. Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts. “Up to 18 percent of recruits suffer from these stress fractures. Women beginning training with poor vitamin D status are particularly vulnerable.”
According to McClung, 60 percent of those who suffer from stress fractures end up dropping out of the military and those that continue to work through the injury end up having issues with their health in the long-term.
The new bedtime snack provides the basic trainee with increased vitamin D and calcium levels to prevent injury.
“Our test soldiers eat these bars each evening,” McClung said, “and we are seeing marked improvements in their nutritional status and their bone health.”
McClung added that eating the nutritional snack bars the night before can improve performance the following morning during morning exercises.
“Research showed compliance was better when calcium and vitamin D were provided in a fortified bar,” said Army Maj. Kayla Ramotar, dietitian with the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. “Trainees don’t get a lot of treats during basic training, and since this bar is made of chocolate, we know compliance won’t be an issue. It’s a lot more enticing than having to swallow a bunch of pills.”
The new nutritional snack bar program will begin this year and by 2018, it will be fully implemented at all four Army basic training locations. The results of the program will later be shared with other branches of the armed forces, Ramotar added.
The Air Force currently provides basic trainees with a protein bar after dinner. Results from the snack bars have shown better physical training performance, as well as better morale.
“We want to give our soldiers a fighting chance in basic training,” Ramotar said. “We recruited them in because we wanted them in; we need to maintain and keep them. If that means giving them something to help them succeed, then why not?”