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J Nutr. 2013 Nov;143(11):1852S-1856S. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.176057. Epub 2013 Sep 11.

Increased protein intake in military special operations.

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  • 1Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Little Rock, AR.


Special operations are so designated for the specialized military missions they address. As a result, special operations present some unique metabolic challenges. In particular, soldiers often operate in a negative energy balance in stressful and demanding conditions with little opportunity for rest or recovery. In this framework, findings inferred from the performance literature suggest that increased protein intake may be beneficial. In particular, increased protein intake during negative caloric balance maintains lean body mass and blood glucose production. The addition of protein to mixed macronutrient supplements is beneficial for muscle endurance and power endpoints, and the use of amino acids improves gross and fine motor skills. Increasing protein intake during periods of intense training and/or metabolic demand improves subsequent performance, improves muscular recovery, and reduces symptoms of psychological stress. Consumption of protein before sleep confers the anabolic responses required for the maintenance of lean mass and muscle recovery. A maximal response in muscle protein synthesis is achieved with the consumption of 20-25 g of protein alone. However, higher protein intakes in the context of mixed-nutrient ingestion also confer anabolic benefits by reducing protein breakdown. Restricted rations issued to special operators provide less than the RDA for protein ( ∼ 0.6 g/kg), and these soldiers often rely on commercial products to augment their rations. The provision of reasonable alternatives and/or certification of approved supplements by the U.S. Department of Defense would be prudent.

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