Energy Drink Overload

By: Jerrick Knippel

Can you imagine what it’s like to work 24 hour shifts for a physically demanding job? Many firefighters across the country have morning workouts, calls throughout the day that require heavy lifting, may wake up in the middle of the night to extinguish a burning building and, yet, they still need to stay alert for the next call. This lifestyle may eventually take a toll on a person’s combat readiness if adequate recovery isn’t implemented, which is often the case. This is why firefighters tend to look to caffeine supplementation to help keep them energized throughout the day.

While my preceptor and I were working with Fairfax Fire and Rescue, it was apparent that energy drink consumption was prominent among this population. Some people that we spoke with were consuming two or three energy drinks in a day. Eventually, many of these firefighters started to ask the question: “how many energy drinks can I have in a day?” This question didn’t have an easy answer as there is minimal existing guidance on the topic. This required a deeper look into the latest research regarding caffeine consumption to provide an evidence based answer.

The answer became more complex as I reviewed the research. I learned that higher doses of caffeine consumption can increase a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. This may be especially problematic for firefighters, many of whom suffer from cardiovascular disease. Though people may feel more alert with caffeine consumption, the research revealed that energy drink consumption only benefits cognition in those who are sleep deprived. Also, caffeine metabolism is variable and depends on the genetic makeup of each person adding another element to the answer. Additionally, the caffeine content of the brands of energy drinks available in the market varies from 80mg to 300mg. The last component I learned through research is the consequence of the timing of energy drink consumption with regards to the individual’s bedtime. There is no doubt that sleep is king; it’s an important part of recovery. Consuming caffeine too close to bedtime may alter the individual’s sleep, which may negatively impact the individual the following day. 

So, after completing my research, I realized there is a lot to consider when providing recommendations for consuming energy drinks. I decided a flowchart was the best way to help people navigate the complexities of these considerations. To start, if the individual has cardiovascular conditions, then it’s recommended the individual avoids energy drinks. If not, then the individual needs to consider if sleep deprivation is present or not. The next step is to consider the amount of caffeine the individual has previously consumed and at what time. The FDA recommends consuming only 200mg of caffeine at a time. It’s important for the individual to consider how much caffeine is left in their body before consuming an energy drink as the average half life of caffeine is about 5 hours. The next step is to choose the most appropriate dosage of caffeine as there is a wide range between all of the brands. The final consideration for the individual is the timing of dosage since it can disrupt sleep. It’s important to have a clear and concise message when conveying scientific information. This flowchart provides an easy way for firefighters to navigate the many considerations to determine how many energy drinks are appropriate for them to optimize both their combat readiness and their health.

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