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Natick’s Performance Readiness Bar

The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) is a U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command laboratory based at Natick, Massachusetts, also the home of the Soldier Systems Center. USARIEM’s Military Nutrition Division has developed the Performance Readiness Bar, fortified with calcium and vitamin D, to promote muscle growth and create stronger bones in order to prevent injuries for personnel in training environments.

US Army photo by Mallory Roussel

According to Army research physiologist Dr. Erin Gaffney-Stomberg they have been working on the bar for sbout six years. She characterized their initial research, “The results of the first randomized, controlled trial were that those who consumed a bar containing calcium and vitamin D daily throughout basic training experienced greater increases in bone density compared to those who got the placebo.”

Then they worked with Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Combat Feeding Directorate to make a bar that Soldiers could eat while in a rigorous training environment. So far, the PRB has been rolled out to four basic training sites and is offered as a fourth meal, somewhere between dinner and bedtime.

Data is being collected and analyzed from 4,000 recruits who consume the PRB in order to determine exactly how such a supplement affects their performance during Basic Combat Training and into the first four years of their service.

Interestingly enough, the PRB replaces an under utilized commercial protien bar offered on Dining Facilities. The Air Force is also conducting a similar study, with Special Warfare candidates offered nutritional supplements.

12 Responses to “Natick’s Performance Readiness Bar”

  1. James says:

    This has been heavily researched in the elderly and female population for many years( vitamin D and calcium). There are many other supplements that will show themselves useful when used in readily absorbed forms. Not knowing the calorie count on the bars – did a few hundred extra calories make a difference in the muscle growth? Prevent wasting? Weight difference? Micro or macro nutrients at work here? Maybe a calorie neutral test?

  2. Kirk says:

    The pressure-cooker environment of IET is something we should have been studying years ago, particularly as we enter an era when about all we really have to recruit are the modern couch potatoes we get these days. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if we ever do the longitudinal career-length data-gathering and analysis that I think we need to be doing, there are going to be a bunch of things that are directly traceable right back to how we conduct IET physical fitness training.

    I’m of the opinion that while it is possible to take one, each potato, couch, and turn them into a reasonable facsimile of a soldier in eight to twelve weeks, doing so probably has some long-term health and fitness consequences for the individual. There are a lot of folks who acquire things like stress fractures in basic and who never quite overcome those issues throughout their careers, which leads me to think that maybe, just maybe, we ought to be taking things a little slower in terms of turning that couch tuber into a soldier. Especially with the females–The issues with bone density aren’t a joke, especially when looked at over a twenty-year span.

    The armed forces need to start looking at the long-term health issues they are creating, and figure out whether those issues are really necessary or conducive to long and effective service. If it takes another four weeks of conditioning training before starting basic, and you reduce the amount of time that soldier spends on profile later in their careers from legit injuries like stress fractures… Maybe the time and money expended on that extra conditioning training is worth it.

    I don’t think we know enough about all this, and I’m really disturbed that we don’t seem to be interested in finding these things out. Right now, there simply aren’t good numbers we can apply towards answering questions like “What’s the most effective way to develop physical fitness in the troops, over the course of a 20-year career…?”. The data simply hasn’t been gathered, which stems from the attitude that we don’t need to bother.

    Unfortunately, we do. Trained and effective soldiers don’t just appear out of the blue when called for by circumstance, and they’re damned expensive to pay for over the long haul–Especially when what you’re doing to get them isn’t carefully examined to see whether or not it actually, y’know… Works.

    • Joe says:

      Department of Defense Medical Science knows exactly what to give soldiers to maximize human performance. It’s another thing to actually make it happen.

      I remember a study that showed giving Marine recruits protein supplements made him faster stronger with less sick call visits. can you imagine the drill sergeants allowing boots to down Muscle Milk before bed?

      Maybe you can start with letting the recruits actually finish meals and not puking it up afterwards.

      • James says:

        Treat it the same way as hydration-find a decent non soy protien, ” everyone grab your supplements, DRINK, SHOW EMPTY”

        • jbgleason says:

          Someday (soon I hope) people will learn that gulping down a liter of water is entirely different than sipping a liter of water over a period of time. Just getting the water en masse into the gut sounds good and gets people peeing but is wholly insufficient for promoting absorption and hydration. Make recruits wear a camelbak and let them sip water as needed. You can still monitor total input by gauging when they refill but just making them slam the fluids isn’t optimal.

          • James says:

            Agree it’s not ideal for the water if nothing nelse it can make you feel like crap. Think the problem with a large CamelBak would be being 3liters or more in deficit before anyone noticed, could use the 1liter Joey’s I suppose

            • Aun says:

              Make a wirelessly networked flow gauge to be attached to all of the units and have it report to smart phones for the DIs/DSs. There is an existing flow meter, but I don’t know how well it works.

      • Kirk says:

        If you have any pointers to actual research on what I’m talking about, which is not short-term “enhancement”, but long-term studies of effects over the course of a career, I’d be interested.

        Try as I might, I’ve never been able to find where anyone is even asking these questions, let alone gathering the data. The place to be starting is at the MEPS, and maybe even before that. Figure out what body types last, and what went into that longevity in the force, and I think we’d be on to something.

        One of the big fallacies I think we’ve bought into is that there’s a quick and easy solution to a lot of this stuff–Take a guy who’s out of shape, run him through hard training, and then when he meets the standard…? We quit training him, or supervising. How many of our guys relapse into sloth and fat, after IET? Or, worse, get on a yo-yo track, and go up and down the fitness curve? What are the long-term effects of that?

        A big question I have is just how much effect do things have, over the long haul? I noticed at retirement that every single one of the combat arms guys who were retiring around that time, and who had skinny medical records were all around 5’9″ and possessed wiry little builds–Especially from over at 1st Group. The big guys all seemed to break a lot more, and had voluminous health records, mostly from injuries. I think that observation might be what they call a “clue”, but then I’m just a dumbass leg Engineer. I think there may be some value into looking into what physical features last, and then trying to figure out how to compensate for that. I also remember an awful lot of big, broken dudes coming to us out of Airborne, and who wound up taking early medical retirement when they didn’t heal right…

  3. Steve says:

    I’d be interested to see if one gender reaped far greater benefit from this supplement bar than the other.

  4. b_rawrd says:

    It is only a matter of time IMO before the Military begins improving soldiers w/ HGH or stuff like that.

    If society wouldn’t be morally outraged I’m sure we’d be doing it already. Kinda surprised out near peer counterparts haven’t started doing it yet. I’d imagine it is especially necessary in a time when 18yr olds are collectively less in shape than over.