This Performance Bar Could Keep Recruits from Breaking Bones in Basic

The Army and Air Force are feeding recruits Performance Readiness Bars to try to prevent bone fractures. Photo courtesy of the U.S Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center
The Army and Air Force are feeding recruits Performance Readiness Bars to try to prevent bone fractures. Photo courtesy of the U.S Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center

U.S. military nutrition officials are hoping to reduce injury rates in Army and Air Force basic training with a calcium-rich snack bar designed to increase bone density among recruits.

The Defense Department's Combat Feeding Program began issuing the Performance Readiness Bar this year to trainees in Army Basic Combat Training and Air Force Basic Military Training, according to Jeremy Whitsitt, deputy director of the Combat Feeding Program.

"I guess what the services had noticed over the past 10 to 12 years is that, due to the nature of the recruits, they were getting kind a more sedentary individual as opposed to what they have experienced in the past," Whitsitt said.

"They noticed a dramatic increase in stress fractures that would cause either the recruits to get recycled, where they heal and basically start over from the beginning, or they get hurt so severely that ... they are just out of the military," he said.

The Army medical community attempted to combat the issue "using a mixture of calcium and vitamin D, knowing clinically the calcium and vitamin D increases bone density ... so they initially tried to administer it through pill form," Whitsitt said.

The approach was not effective because only about 60 percent of the soldiers in the test took the pills as instructed, he said.

"They said, 'Well, maybe if we put that same dose into a food component like a snack bar, they would get a better compliance rate,' so we developed the bar," Whitsitt said.

The Performance Readiness Bar contains a mix of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium. Recruits are given one bar each night before bed, he said, adding that the program has achieved a 90 percent soldier compliance rate.

So far, Army BCT sites at Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma, have taken delivery of 5.2 million bars, Whitsitt said.

The Defense Logistics Agency awarded a second contract in April for 18 million bars, he said.

"There are clinical studies that show that calcium and vitamin D in certain doses will increase bone strength. The medical command is in the process of collecting the data that shows that this ... scenario is actually decreasing the amount of stress fractures," Whitsitt said. "The anecdotal evidence is very positive."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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