Since the early 1940s, Americans have been taking multivitamins and mineral supplements for various reasons. Today, virtually every drug store in the country sells vitamins for expectant mothers, children, exercise lovers, seniors, and more.
But now vitamins have been embraced by an unlikely organization — the nation’s armed forces. The U.S. military plans to boost the performance of female soldiers in the field by using vitamins and superior nutrition.
The military has started to accept women into more close special operations and ground combat jobs, and Army officials wanted to find a way to get the best possible performance out of the troops. This was needed to minimize injury and to boost success.
One of the most startling discoveries was that many women had a chronic iron deficiency that was holding them back. Women tend to be slightly more iron-deficient than men, but the impact of the problem was raising concerns among military officials.
“A quarter of the women who enter the Army training pipeline have an iron deficiency,” said Scott McConnell, who helps improve Army Training and Doctrine Command. “That figure can double.”
This issue was brought up at the quarterly meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services this June.
“That impacts your body’s ability to carry oxygen to the vital organs. And so iron deficiency can actually be reflected in poor aerobic fitness levels and physical performance,” said McConnell.
In February 2016 the Army decided to start providing iron-rich multivitamins to female soldiers, and McConnell noted a difference had been made quite quickly.
“The statistic we have is that the iron supplements can actually shave two minutes off the two-mile run time.”
This insight in how to prepare female soldiers to meet the harsh physical requirements of operations that had been traditionally designed for men has allowed the army to gain more insight as to how to help the service as a whole.
Other aids, such as the calcium-rich performance nutrition bar used as a bedtime supplement for recruits, have also begun to prove useful.
“We have found that when soldiers have food in their stomach, they are actually less susceptible to heat injuries,” McConnell said. “That’s actually one of the other aspects of this nutrition bar, and who would have thought, in the 21st century, that we’re kicking over that rock and understanding something that we did not understand.”