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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: May 7, 2003
No: 03-17

Power Fuel

NATICK, Mass. -- Rapid yet sustained energy for warfighters could be a squeeze away with "Power Fuel," a quick energy booster gel in development at the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center here.

Power Fuel is part of Combat Feeding's Performance Enhancing Delivery System, a military food system that will deliver performance-enhancing natural food constituents to troops in the field.

Energy gels in the commercial market are popular with athletes during a workout or race who want easily absorbed and digested carbohydrate-based calories to replace expended glucose. Packaged in plastic pouches, the 1-ounce servings are sucked out on the move and out of hand. Troops engaged in high physical activity might also benefit from such a product, and food technologists are taking the gel formulation to another level.

"The more motivated ones are going to want to do anything to get a performance advantage," said Jack Briggs, a food technologist on the Performance Enhancement and Food Safety Team. "We tried to make a gel instead of a paste-like substance. Our gels have a gelatin-like structure."

They apparently have staying power as well, according to a study completed this year by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine located here.

The study compared the responses of human research volunteers after consuming glucose water-the control product-a highly viscous glucose gel and Combat Feeding's finished gel product, all three equal in carbohydrate content.

The finished gel, which contains a mixture of glucose and maltodextrin-a complex carbohydrate-along with fat and a trace of protein, showed significant improvement over the glucose water and high viscosity glucose, but Briggs said the most interesting part was its "bi-phasic" characteristic.

In other words, after reaching its apex or "glucose spike" and subsequently decreasing, the glucose levels in six of the 13 participants rebounded and slightly increased for a period of time as opposed to continuously decreasing to baseline levels or lower, which is typically the case.

"None of us can understand it. We've never seen it before, but it appears you can get another boost of energy," Briggs said. "You're going to get a slower absorption of glucose initially but the release of glucose to the bloodstream will be sustained for a longer period of time. We feel very confident that modulating glucose uptake and release will maintain energy levels and potentially improve warfighter performance in the field."

The next step is to conduct another study to further explore that characteristic of glucose modulation. What is learned may be applied to other military rations, he said.

Still, how it works won't matter if the gel is unsavory. Taste was evaluated in sensory panels with exercisers familiar with commercial gels and other consumers, and the Power Fuel had a good overall acceptance compared to the four commercial products on the market, according to Briggs.

Current flavors are mixed berry, apple cinnamon, cherry vanilla and mocha. The gel ingredients include juice concentrates-except for mocha-various carbohydrate types, unsaturated fats and gums. Caffeine was added to the mocha gel, and other performance-enhancing ingredients, such as tyrosine or glutamine, may fortify the gel at some point if they prove to be effective, Briggs said.

By comparison, some commercial gels are basically corn/rice syrup and flavoring, and they aren't required to have a minimum shelf life of three years at 80 degrees or six months at 100 degrees F. Packaged in a capped tube, Power Fuel's serving size of 3.4 ounces delivers from 240 calories to 320 calories, depending on the flavor, and is about three times the portion of commercial gels. They are also being tested in a pouch.

Briggs said a goal is to have Power Fuel become a commercially-available item to hold down purchase costs. If approved for the military, Power Fuel will be issued as part of the First Strike Ration, which is scheduled for fielding in 2007.

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This page last updated on 28 February 2003.