The Military Nutrition Division at the U.S. Army's Research Institute of Environmental Medicine has unveiled a new nutritional snack bar for recruits to consume before bedtime while at basic combat training.

Military health experts have found that recruits often arrive to basic with poor vitamin D status, making their bones more vulnerable to fracture and injury, according to the Military Health System. This subsequently leads to delays in training and increased dropout rates.

Stress fractures can easily occur during basic due to strenuous tasks that the body is unaccustomed to. Wearing boots for long marches, running frequently and carrying heavy loads are just some of the activities that can increase the likelihood of stress fractures, according to 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," said McClung. "Women beginning training with poor vitamin D status are particularly vulnerable," he added.

Roughly 60 percent of those who suffer from stress fractures end up dropping out of the military, while long term injuries can occur later in life for those that push through, according to McClung.

The new nutritional snack bar developed at the Natick facility boosts calcium and vitamin D levels, helping to prevent bone injuries.

"Our test soldiers eat these bars each evening," McClung said, "and we are seeing marked improvements in their nutritional status and their bone health." 

Basic combat training recruits in the Army physically train on most mornings before eating any breakfast. Eating the nutritional bars the night before workouts can potentially allow for better performance during morning exercises, said McClung.

The bar is also intended to help with general nutritional compliance among recruits.

"Research showed compliance was better when calcium and vitamin D were provided in a fortified bar," said Army Maj. Kayla Ramotar, dietitian with the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. "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."
 
The Army will begin rolling out the new nutritional snack bar program this year, implementing the bars at all four basic training locations in 2018. It will also share outcomes with other branches of the armed forces, according to Ramotar.

The Air Force currently provides commercially available nutrition bars to recruits after dinner during basic military training. Results in the Air Force's extra nutrition efforts in the form of snack bars have shown better physical training performance, as well as better morale.

"We recruited them in because we wanted them in; we need to maintain and keep them," said Ramotar. "If that means giving them something to help them succeed, then why not?"