Hydration Device Delivers Improved Taste, Performance
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
NATICK, Mass., June 15, 2009 Field troops soon may be treated to tastier drinks, and increased performance, if the Army decides to field a device that can add nutritionally supplemented flavored mixes to their personal hydration packs.
Dr. Scott Montain with the military nutrition division at U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, Mass., talks May 6, 2009, about the Nutrient Delivery System, a device that can add flavored mixes to water and add nutritional supplements, such as carbohydrates or caffeine, to drinks to increase soldiers’ performance. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Scientists at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine here were trying to come up with a way to make poor-tasting water taste good. Drinking water in the field often is warm, and the purification process sometimes leaves foul-tasting chlorine residue.
If, because of the taste, soldiers drink less water than they need, officials here explained, it puts them at risk of dehydration, especially in extreme heat and in heavy fighting. So the idea for an add-on to the hydration system was born, and scientists at the institute soon realized it could have two potential benefits.
Dubbed the Nutrient Delivery System, the device also can help to add nutritional supplements, such as carbohydrates or caffeine, to drinks to increase soldiers’ performance. Studies conducted by the lab have shown that increased carbohydrates consumed throughout the day increase soldiers’ productivity.
“Soldiers who are regularly able to take in carbohydrates while they are doing work will self-select a higher work pace than they would eating sparingly,” said Dr. Scott Montain, who works in the military nutrition division at the lab and helped to created the add-on device.
Also, studies at the lab have shown that caffeine helps to improve critical-thinking skills when sleep deprived. Field rations contain instant coffee packs, but that is good only if soldiers are resting and not on the move. There have been reports of some soldiers simply eating the instant coffee granules to help stay awake, scientists at the lab said. And, in extended operations, the system could help keep soldiers going when rations are not available, they added.
“It’s difficult for them to get the nutrients they need while they are on the move,” Montain said. “And this provides a tool that we can provide nutrition in their liquid so they can better sustain their ability to do work.”
Some soldiers have added beverage powders or sports drinks to the CamelBak personal hydration packs the Army now issues. But that can cause mold and bacteria to build up in the bladder and the tubing. Cleaning the systems is difficult, and replacing them is expensive.
The nutrient delivery system is a simple add-on made of a cloth pouch that attaches to the hydration pack and can hold a small pouch of mix concentrate. A tube flows from the concentrate to a patented flow manifold, and the mix is blended with the water flowing from the bladder in the bite valve, the part that is put in the mouth. With the flow manifold, users can control the strength of the mixture blend or even just have water.
“If you want [only] water, you can have water. If you want a mixed drink, you can have a mixed drink,” Montain said. “But your water is still water in the reservoir, so you have it available for personal hygiene or … for other uses.”
Because there is no mix returning to the bladder, the system stays clean.
After three years in the making, the product now is transitioning from the research stage to manufacturing. The lab conducts only the science behind the systems and does not manufacture the products.
The lab last tested its product on trainers at a U.S. Army Ranger training brigade. So far, more than 80 percent of those tested liked the product and recommended the Army issue it to soldiers, Montain said. It’s now up to one of the services, or a private sector business, to pick up the product.
Both the Army and Marine Corps have expressed interest in the product, Montain said. Air Force special operations officials are evaluating the system now.
The beverage concentrate packs could be issued in rations or made available as off-the-shelf purchases, he said.