Dietary Supplements and Energy Drinks

LAST UPDATED: October 18, 2017
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Many Soldiers use dietary supplements to enhance their performance or for weight loss. Dietary supplements are products taken that contain a “dietary ingredient” such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and herbs or botanicals. They come in many forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, energy bars, and liquids.

Supplements are NOT a substitute for healthy food

Dietary supplements cannot offset the unfavorable effects of poor food choices. Consume whole foods as the best source for an edge on performance.

If you do decide to take a supplement, be smart! Educate yourself and seek advice from a healthcare professional first.

Choose whole fruits and vegetables instead of supplements

Eating a colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables ensures that you receive a full range of essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. These substances all work together to provide you with positive health benefits, which is why eating a whole fruit and/or vegetable is much more advantageous than taking a supplement.

Phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their vibrant hues (e.g. yellow, orange, red, green, purple), and these compounds cannot be duplicated in a supplement. There are literally thousands of these compounds found in produce, and researchers are discovering more information about their health benefits every single day.

Supplement safety

Dietary supplements are not tested or approved by the FDA prior to market, are often unnecessary, and can be dangerous and expensive. The most commonly tainted dietary supplements are those intended for bodybuilding, weight loss, diabetes, and sexual enhancement.

Helpful dietary supplement resources:

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is an initiative of the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and the DoD to inform military personnel, their families, and retirees about dietary supplements and how to choose them wisely. Here you'll find information sheets, videos, answers to frequently asked questions about supplements, print materials and more.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database provides scientifically reliable answers to questions about dietary supplements and alternative therapies. The database includes information on the safety, benefits, side effects, and drug interactions of dietary supplements. You can access the database via HPRC-online or OPSS website.

Energy drinks

Many Soldiers reach for energy drinks for a mid-day pick-me-up or to make it through a long night shift. But do energy drinks help Soldiers do their job, or do they hinder their ability to perform?

What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks and should never be used for hydration—cool, plain water should always be a first choice for hydration. Energy drinks generally contain large quantities of caffeine and may contain other ingredients, most of which do absolutely nothing to enhance health. Also, the large quantities of caffeine and other stimulants many energy drinks contain can actually increase dehydration, and may also lead to increased anxiety, upset stomach, shakiness, headaches, and sleep issues. These potential side effects can actually reduce Soldiers’ ability to perform, NOT enhance it.

How do energy drinks work?

If you are consuming something that advertises itself as an energy product, such as energy drinks or energy shots, you are probably helping yourself to a hefty dose of stimulants.

The main active ingredient in these products is caffeine. Caffeine is a drug and should be respected, not abused. Caffeine can be used to enhance and extend performance however, too much can degrade performance.

These products can contain other stimulants besides caffeine, such as guarana, taurine, ginseng, i-carnitine, creatine and/or glucuronalctone.

Stimulants can degrade performance and cause…

  • Dehydration and upset stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Death from overdose (some people may not vomit before they reach toxic levels)

Maintain your energy without stimulants

  • Snack on carbohydrates and energy-rich foods such as dried fruits, nuts, trail mix, a commercial sports bar or low-fat chocolate milk.
  • Drink cool, plain water frequently, even if you aren’t thirsty.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep if you anticipate a long work day or a late night shift the following day. With a full sleep bank, you’ll feel more alert and able to stay awake naturally.

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