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New snack bar gives recruits extra boost to protect bones

New snack bar gives recruits extra boost to protect bones

A new fortified snack bar developed by the Military Nutrition Division at the U.S. Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine boosts calcium and vitamin D levels, making trainees less vulnerable to fractures. 

By Rindi White

Basic training is grueling. For some, the extreme workouts result in stress fractures, which lead some recruits to drop out of the military and others to suffer long-term pain.

The Military Health System, or MHS, might have the answer: a vitamin-fortified snack bar that, when eaten at bedtime, gives recruits’ bodies a little bedtime bone-building boost.

According to an article from the Military Health System, MHS nutrition experts say many recruits arrive with low levels of vitamin D, which might make their bones more vulnerable to stress fractures.

“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,” he said. 

According to McClung, about 60 percent of those who suffer stress fractures end up dropping out of the military. Those who push on through the pain can suffer long-term health effects.

That’s where the snack bar comes in. Developed at Natick, the fortified snack bar boosts calcium and vitamin D levels, making trainees less vulnerable to the fractures.

“Our test soldiers eat these bars each evening, and we are seeing marked improvements in their nutritional status and their bone health,” McClung said. “An added benefit may be better performance during physical training before the next morning’s breakfast.”

Eating the bars also reinforces education for choosing the right foods and learning when to eat them for the best performance.

The snack bar concept is rolling out this year and will be fully implemented at all four Army basic training locations in 2018. Best of all, it feels like a little indulgence during an otherwise monastic period of life.

“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,” said Army Maj. Kayla Ramotar, a dietician with the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees all initial military training for the Army.

Ramotar said the army will share outcomes with other military services. The Air Force currently gives trainees a commercial protein bar after dinner and before lights out. Results show the extra nutrients help with morning physical training and improves morale. Ramotar said no specific goals or expectations have been set to reduce the number or severity of injuries, but any reduction is welcome.

“It’s like getting a flu shot; you take action to prevent something from happening. 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?”

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