Caffeine usage and the military go together like peanut butter and jelly. After all, just look at those World War Two posters with the soldier smiling after a battle, enjoying a cup of coffee. However, in the 21st century, US soldiers are more likely to reach for an energy drink can than a cup of joe. One of the newest energy drinks to hit the force is “Bang,” a highly caffeinated beverage containing an astonishing 300 mg of caffeine, almost double the amount in a similarly sized can of Rip It or Monster.
Although the drink is now popular among the military, the makers of Bang — VPX Sports — originally concocted the beverage as a type of pre-workout/fat burning fusion drink. The company was founded more than 20 years ago as a supplement manufacturing firm committed to mimicking the same production standards pharmaceutical makers are held to. For their part, VPX clearly lists all of Bang’s ingredients — including the caffeine content, along with a warning.
While it’s true caffeine consumption has long been a tradition amongst service members, the amount of caffeine in one can of Bang has some Army health professionals concerned. I spoke with 1st Lieutenant Davis Spielbauer, a Physician Assistant assigned to HHT Troop, 2-108th Cavalry Squadron of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), about the effects that such high levels of caffeine have on soldiers.
“The American Diabetic Association recommends people not exceed 400 mg of caffeine per day. The issue with these new drinks isn’t the fact that soldiers are drinking one, it’s when you have two or three, and that’s the first issue,” explains 1LT Spielbauer. “The second is some soldiers have underlying heart issues that can become exasperated. It’s a central nervous system stimulant, so caffeine gets your heart beating faster, brings your blood pressure up. If you are constantly staying over caffeinated, you can start seeing some adverse effects like tremors and muscle spasms.”
While muscle spasms and heart conditions are bad, the biggest danger an overly caffeinated soldier is likely to face is dehydration, which can be deadly. “Caffeine is a natural diuretic, and that means the body creates more urine to excrete it. That causes you to dehydrate. Couple that with 100 plus degree temperatures and around 10-15 pounds of gear and that’s a recipe for disaster,” said Spielbauer.
Energy drinks have also been found to make mental health issues worse. A recent study published in the Military Medicine journal titled “Energy Drink Use in U.S. Service Members After Deployment: Associations With Mental Health Problems, Aggression, and Fatigue,” found correlations between excessive energy drink consumption and mental health issues. According to the study, “High energy drink use was reported by one in six soldiers and was significantly related to mental health problems, aggressive behaviors, and fatigue in a military population following a combat deployment.” The authors also recommended commanders offer guidance and education about the adverse effects of energy drink usage.
Not every unit in the military is falling victim to energy drink usage. During their rotation to the Exportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC), the 2-108th banned the soldiers from consuming the beverages, and as a result, the unit suffered much fewer heat casualties and remained more combat ready than the rest of the Brigade. The temperatures during XCTC topped 108 degrees Fahrenheit, and soldiers were wearing their “full battle rattle” — which includes chest rigs with plates and Kevlar helmets. While wearing all of this gear, soldiers feel up to 10 degrees hotter than the outside temperature, according to 1LT Spielbauer. It is unknown at this time if other units have instituted similar policies, but clearly in this one example the prohibition of energy drinks seemed to work.
*VPX Sports declined comment for this report*