Falls Church, Virginia
Being a Soldier is as physically demanding, at times, as being a professional athlete. As a result, Soldiers are especially conscious of physical training requirements and the need to remain fit and ready. In recent years, a larger percentage of Soldiers have begun to rely on dietary supplements to help them stay at a peak level of performance. In a few cases, the use of dietary supplements has led to unwanted and serious consequences.
In late 2011, the Department of Defense ordered workout supplements that contained 1,3 Dimethylamylamine, better known as DMAA, removed from the shelves of on-post stores while the Army led a safety review after it was linked to deaths among otherwise healthy Soldiers. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to companies, notifying them that products with DMAA needed to be taken off the market or reformulated to remove this substance.
Recently, the use of powdered caffeine as a performance supplement has also drawn attention. Caffeine is readily available in coffee, soft drinks and other products, and millions worldwide ingest these beverages. Last year, the FDA issued a warning about powdered caffeine, which is likely to be 100 percent pure caffeine, with a recommendation to avoid it.
Pure caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and even very small amounts may lead to an accidental overdose. A single teaspoon of pure caffeine, for example, is roughly equivalent to the amount of caffeine in 25 cups of coffee. Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, vomiting, stupor and disorientation. These symptoms are unlikely to be caused by drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated drinks and are more commonly observed when concentrated sources of caffeine are used.
Fitness is indispensable to being a Soldier, and there are safe ways to promote health and fitness over the long run. For example, proper management of the components of the Performance Triad — sleep, activity and nutrition — remains the best way for Soldiers and families to meet their fitness and training requirements. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours is critical in achieving optimal physical, mental and emotional health.
Practicing principles of safe and effective training are vital to maintaining physical readiness, preventing injuries and improving general health. Fueling for performance enables top-level training, increases energy and endurance, shortens recovery time between activities, and improves focus and concentration. There is overwhelming proof that sleep, activity and nutrition, when optimally managed, comprise the best approach to promote peak physical and emotional well-being, and ensure rapid and clear decision making under pressure, which is exactly what is required by professional athletes and Soldiers alike. In war, a well-focused Soldier is a combat advantage.
It is important to get the facts before using dietary supplements. Soldiers should be knowledgeable of what they are taking and the possible side effects of those substances. The FDA continues to examine dietary supplements and reminds users that certain ones, specifically those for weight-loss and bodybuilding, have potentially dangerous ingredients. Soldiers and families should be particularly careful when using these types of supplements.
Under no circumstances are supplements a replacement for the triad of proper nutrition, physical activity and adequate sleep. Hard work remains the safest and most effective way to stay fit and improve stamina, which are needed on both the playing field and battlefield.
The DoD Human Performance Resource Center discusses the risk and benefits of supplements in an evidenced-based manner at http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements