It’s hard to imagine a place where performance is more crucial than on the battlefield. So when the United States Army recently launched a new tool for optimizing performance, we immediately checked it out. It turns out the tool isn’t about just better performance, but more specifically, how we can optimize our caffeine intake to operate at our best.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Army tool, plus some quick facts about why caffeine can help boost your workout.
The Army’s new tool
Americans love their coffee almost as much as Italians do. More than 60% of Americans drink coffee every day, averaging two cups per person. But as the FDA’s recent ban on concentrated caffeine substances illustrates, too much caffeine can be dangerous. And we’re talking about a lot more than just increased blood pressure; it can also cause death.
So how do you get the most benefits from your coffee, while drinking the least amount? That’s precisely the question that the U.S. Army set out to answer when creating its new caffeine algorithm. The team integrated its algorithm into an existing computer model that gauges how sleep deprivation, caffeine and timing impact alertness at different times of the day.
And it produced some pretty solid results. In a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, the Army’s algorithm was shown to help users enhance their performance of daily tasks by 64%, while reducing their caffeine intake by as much as 65%. The study calls the algorithm the first tool for maximizing neurobehavioral performance while curbing excess caffeine consumption.
These findings will be used to help Army personnel improve their performance by optimizing their caffeine intake. But the Army also plans to make it available to us civilians via the Army’s existing 2b online tool.
So what does this study mean for us? It could open the door for even better use of an already common workout supplement.
Caffeine as workout fuel
Caffeine comes from 60-plus plant sources, from cacao seeds to coffee beans. Within about 15 minutes of consuming caffeine, you’ll feel the stimulation in your body. Back in the 1960s, bodybuilders like Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger would drink coffee before hitting the gym. Why? To increase their energy. Soon after, energy-boosting alternatives hit the market, aiming to give bodybuilders a pre-workout boost.
Today, caffeine is used in many sports nutrition supplements. Pre-workout supplements typically include caffeine as a key ingredient to increase energy. High-quality fat burners also use caffeine in their formulas to suppress the appetite and deliver short bursts of energy.
When it comes to fitness performance, the Army is right about one thing: you shouldn’t overdo it on the caffeine. Too much of a stimulant can quickly cause headaches, nausea and even more serious side effects. But as the researchers noted, caffeine can also deliver some clear benefits.
- As you might have guessed, caffeine can improve your memory and brain function.
- It can also increase your reaction times, whether during a workout or daily tasks.
- When taken before intense exercise, it can trigger the use of fat cells as energy (hence its inclusion in many fat burning supplements).
- One study showed that coffee prior to a run increased a 1500 meter run time by about 4 seconds when compared with a group who didn’t have coffee.
- Researchers have also shown that coffee can reduce pain during a workout. The researchers are now taking a closer look at the biology behind caffeine’s connection to feelings of pain.
Keep in mind that caffeine levels in a supplement can be drastically different than what’s in your cup of coffee. Good quality pre-workout and fat burner blends include caffeine as one ingredient—not the only one—so that you’re not at risk of experiencing the side effects of too much of this stimulant. The concentrated caffeine supplements banned by the FDA should be avoided, as they can contain a life-threatening dose of caffeine in less than 1/10 of a teaspoon.
As for a cup of coffee, that contains between 50mg to 100mg of caffeine. You’d have to drink a ton of coffee rapidly to get into a danger zone for caffeine overdose. Still, the coffee jitters decrease, not increase, your performance. And caffeine should be taken to enhance your workout, not detail it.
All in all, the Army’s ethos—maximize performance with the least amount of caffeine, taken at the appropriate time—is something we can get behind 100%. Check out this top-rated fat burner to see how the right amount of caffeine can enhance your fitness goals.