Nutrition

Success in mountain operations depends on proper nutrition. Because higher altitudes affect eating habits, precautions must be taken. If possible, at least one hot meal each day should be eaten, which may require personnel to heat their individual rations.

a. The following elements are characteristic of nutritional acclimatization in mountain operations:

• Weight loss during the first two to three days at high elevation.

• A loss of appetite with symptoms of mountain sickness.

• Loss of weight usually stops with acclimatization.

• At progressively higher elevations (greater than 14,000 feet), the tolerance of fatty/high-protein foods rapidly decreases. A high carbohydrate diet may lessen the symptoms of acute mountain sickness and is digested better than fat at high altitudes.

b. Increased fatigue may cause soldiers to become disinterested in eating properly. Decreased consumption may result in malnutrition because of the unpleasant taste of cold rations. Leaders should ensure that fuel tablets and squad stoves are available, or that natural flammable materials are used if possible. Although there is no physiological need for hot food, it does increase morale and a sense of well being. Loss of weight in the first few days occurs because of dehydration, metabolic changes, and loss of appetite. Carbohydrate-containing beverages, such as fruit juices and sports drinks, are an effective means of increasing carbohydrates, energy, and liquid intake when the normal appetite response is blunted at altitude.

c. Three major food components are required to maintain a well-functioning body: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These food components provide energy, amino acids, vitamins, fiber, and minerals. All three components must be provided in the correct proportions to maintain a healthy body.

(1) Protein. Proteins consist of a large number of amino acid units that are linked together to form the protein. The amino acids, resulting from digestion of protein, are absorbed through the intestine into the blood, and are used to make or replace body proteins (muscle and body tissue). Sources of readily useable animal proteins include eggs, milk, cheese, poultry, fish, and meats. Other foods such as cereals, vegetables, and legumes also provide amino acids. These proteins are not as balanced in essential amino acid composition as meat, eggs, or milk proteins. The minimum daily protein requirement, regardless of physical activity, is 8 ounces for a 154-pound man. Since amino acids are either oxidized for energy or stored as fats, consuming excess protein is inefficient and may increase the water intake needed for urea nitrogen excretion. Protein requires water for digestion and may facilitate dehydration. Proteins provide the body about four kilocalories of energy per gram and require the most energy for the body to digest.

(2) Fats. Fats are the most concentrated form of food energy. Of the total daily caloric intake, 25 to 30 percent may be supplied as fats. Main sources of fats are meats, nuts, butter, eggs, milk, and cheese. Fats require more water and oxygen, and are harder to digest at higher altitudes. Fats are the body's natural stored source of energy. Fats provide the body around 9 kilocalories of energy per gram and require less energy for the body to digest than protein but more than carbohydrates.

(3) Carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are an important source of calories. In the form of glucose, carbohydrates are found in the most important energy-producing cycles in the body's cells. If carbohydrate intake exceeds energy needs, moderate amounts are stored in the muscles and liver. Larger amounts are converted into fats and stored in that form. Carbohydrates should compose up to 50 percent of the total daily caloric intake. Nutritionally, the most useful sources of carbohydrates are foods such as unrefined grains, vegetables, and fruit. Carbohydrates provide the body around four kilocalories of energy per gram and are the easiest to digest.

(4) Vitamins. Vitamins are classified into two groups on the basis of their ability to dissolve in fat or water. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. The water-soluble vitamins include the B vitamins and vitamin C, which are found in cereals, vegetables, fruits, and meats. A well-balanced diet provides all of the required vitamins. Since most water-soluble vitamins are not stored, a proper diet is necessary to ensure adequate levels of these vitamins. If an improper and unbalanced diet is likely to occur during a deployment, vitamin supplements should be considered, especially if this period is to exceed 10 days.

(5) Minerals. Mineral elements can be divided into two groups: those needed in the diet in amounts of 100 milligrams or more a day such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium; and trace elements needed in amounts of only a few milligrams a day such as iodine, iron, and zinc. Required minerals are contained in a balanced diet (meats, vegetables, fruits).

d. Eating a balanced diet provides the energy needed to conduct daily activities and to maintain the internal body processes. A balanced diet containing adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals ensures an efficient metabolism. Since climbing is a strenuous activity and demands high-energy use, a balanced diet is a necessity.

(1) The efficiency of the body to work above the basal metabolism varies from 20 to 40 percent, depending on the soldier. Over 50 percent of caloric intake is released as heat and is not available when the soldier works. (About 4,500 calories are expended for strenuous work and 3,500 calories for garrison activity.) Heat is a by-product of exertion. Exertion causes excessive bodily heat loss through perspiration and increased radiation. During inactivity in cold weather, the metabolism may not provide enough heat. The "internal thermostat" initiates and causes the muscles to shiver, thus releasing heat. Shivering also requires energy and burns up to 220 calories per hour (estimated for a 100-pound man).

(2) With an abrupt ascent to high altitudes, the soldier experiences physiological acclimatization. The circulatory system labors to provide the needed oxygen to the body. Large meals require the digestive system to work harder than usual to assimilate food. Large meals may be accompanied by indigestion, shortness of breath, cramps, and illness. Therefore, relatively light meals that are high in carbohydrates are best while acclimatizing at higher elevations. Personnel should eat moderately and rest before strenuous physical activity. Since fats and protein are harder to digest, less digestive disturbances may occur if meals are eaten before resting. A diet high in carbohydrates is not as dense in energy and may require eating more often. Carbohydrates, beginning in the morning and continuing through mid-afternoon, are important in maintaining energy levels.

(3) Extra food should be carried in case resupply operations fail. Food should be lightweight and easy to digest, and be eaten hot or cold. Meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) meet these criteria and provide all of the basic food groups. Commanders may consider supplementing MREs with breakfast bars, fruits, juices, candies, cereal bars, and chocolate. Bouillon cubes can replace water and salt as well as warming cold bodies and stimulating the appetite. Hot beverages of soup, juices, powdered milk, and cider should also be considered. Since coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are diuretics, the consumption of these beverages should not be relied upon for hydration.

(4) Warm meals should be provided when possible. When cooking, the heat source must be kept away from equipment and ammunition. At higher elevations, the cooking time may be doubled. To conserve fuel, stoves, fires, and fuel tablets should be protected from the wind. Extra fuel should be stored in tightly sealed, marked, metal containers. Use stoves and heat tabs for warming food and boiling water. Canteen cups and utensils should be cleaned after use. All food items and garbage are carried with the unit. If possible, garbage should be burned or deep buried. Caution must be taken to prevent animals from foraging through rucksacks, ahkios, and burial sites. As all missions are tactical, no trace of a unit should be detected.

(5) Certain drugs, medications, alcohol, and smoking have adverse effects on the circulation, perspiration, hydration, and judgment of soldiers. Therefore, they should be avoided when operating in extremely cold conditions or at high altitudes.

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