View Full Version : Marines: To carb or not to carb

07-27-04, 05:34 AM
Marines: To carb or not to carb
Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 2004722183159
Story by Cpl. Luis R. Agostini

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (July 22, 2004) -- Carbohydrates, widely accepted by many as the enemy of any weight-loss plan, are essential for the active Marine lifestyle, according to nutritionists and dieticians at the Naval Hospital, Camp Pendleton.

The popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins and South Beach Diets, have skyrocketed due to their quick results in reducing weight and body fat.

"These diets were designed as quick weight loss diets, and are very successful," said Wendy Van Wootten, a dietitian at the Naval Hospital's nutrition clinic."

Low-carb product sales have increased more than 30 percent in the last six months, due to all of the media attention," said Sabrina Nappa, a sales associate at Mainside's General Nutrition Center.

A low-carb diet, recognized as a diet comprised of less than 40 percent carbs, may reduce weight quickly, but numbers in physical fitness tests may drop as well.

"It directly affects physical performance. A low-carb diet does a disservice to the physical capabilities of the body," said Van Wootten.

"When the diet is restricted in carbohydrates, it will begin losing stored water from muscle cells. As that water is eliminated, the result is the weight loss. The dieter is excited about the loss and continues to the point where it is either too boring or too difficult to continue. The weight gain returns, and the yo-yo cycle of weight loss and weight gain begins again," said Van Wootten.

Despite medical claims of the health risks associated with low-carb diets, some Marines continue to display unwavering loyalty to the low-carb solution.

Lance Cpl. Sweta A. Lamichmane, an assistant career planner for Combat Service Support Group 11, 1st Force Service Support Group, weighed 144 pounds in February. At five feet, two inches tall, she was over her maximum weight by seven pounds. This, coupled with the desire to have a better body by summer, prompted her to get on the low-carb diet.

"I started when my husband left for Iraq," said the 21-year-old. "I wanted to get back the body I had in high school."

Over the next four months, Lamichmane put her refrigerator through a drastic makeover, replacing starches and sweets with low-carb breads, milk and other products.

"You can find low-carb products everywhere - in the commissary, at GNC, anywhere," said Lamichmane.

After four months of the low-carb lifestyle, along with physical training, Lamichmane lost 24 pounds, and improved her flexed arm hang by 34 seconds.

Different lifestyles require different caloric and carb intakes.

"A sedentary person's diet needs to be associated with age and body size, because age, muscle structure and height have an influence on the number of calories a person burns throughout the day. As an example, a 20-year-old, six-foot tall Marine with normal body weight (175-190 pounds) would require approximately 2,200 calories a day - at least 50 percent from carbohydrates, converted to grams that equates to about 275 grams a day. These carbs would be spread out over the day to get the most benefit," said Van Wootten.

Caloric needs also vary between different military occupational specialties.

"This also needs to be defined by the job of the Marine. There would be a large requirement difference for a Reconnaissance Marine versus one that works as an administration clerk, even if the admin clerk worked out every day," said Van Wootten. "For a Recon Marine, the calorie requirement could be as high as 4,000 calories a day, or 500 grams of carbs. The admin Marine might only require 2,400 calories a day, or 300 grams of carbs. It's also important to remember the more aerobic type exercise or activity performed, the need for quality carbohydrates may go up as well."

The low-carb lifestyle is nearly impossible in a field environment, according to military and civilian dietitians.

"The nutrient-dense Meal Ready to Eat, based on a 2002 analysis, contains 1,261 calories, 43 grams of protein, 161 carbohydrates and nearly 49 grams of fat," said Van Wooten.

A low-carb diet, usually high in protein and fat, can reduce muscle mass, despite the amount of protein consumed.

"The muscles primary source of fuel is glycogen, easily assimilated from carbohydrate sources. Once the carbs are reduced and sometimes eliminated, the muscle will begin to lose water storage and begin using its own protein storage for fuel. Essentially what could happen is the muscle cell gets smaller in size because of the water loss and the loss of proteins used as fuel for the muscle.

Not all carbohydrates are the same, and different carbs are consumed for different purposes.

"Carbohydrate sources are different depending on what type of food is consumed. Table sugar is a simple carbohydrate in that it doesn't require a lot of digestion to break it down and get it into the blood stream. On the other hand, a slice of whole wheat bread or a cup of broccoli is a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbs require more extensive digestion, and get into the bloodstream slowly, sort of a time released effect. Complex carbohydrates are always the preferred choice," said Van Wootten.

Almost all Marine Corps chow halls have been converted to be a contract run establishment. They develop menus that must offer a predetermined type and variety of foods at each meal.

"If your chow hall doesn't offer you a salad bar, a non-fried entree or a starch side dish that isn't covered in gravy or butter, then I would encourage you to submit a customer satisfaction form and request that the menu include those items. Since all the chow halls operate a little differently, it is difficult for us to determine exactly what problems the menu may or may not have," said Van Wootten.

"I would recommend and encourage the individual to get over to the Naval Hospital and see one of the registered dietitians who can help that person develop a meal and exercise program that will be considerably more successful long term, than following a low-carb diet plan," said Van Wootten. For Marines looking to improve their eating habits, contact any of the five dieticians at the Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital Nutrition Clinic, at 725-1244.


The Atkins diet gets mixed reviews from Marines. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Khang T. Tran