Woolsey, C. L., Edwards, W. W., Woolsey, R. C., Evans, M. W., Jacobson, B. H., Pringle, D. D. Cromartie, F., Stephen, W., & Sather, T. E. (2013). The effect of energy drink ingestion on flight skill performance relative to pilot experience. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 45(5), Supplement abstract number 1101.

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This study examined the effects of energy-drink ingestion on technical flight skill performance in student pilots (N = 28). Ss were grouped by hours of flight experience (Medium experience, 50-149 hours, N = 14; Highly-experienced, 150+ hours, N = 14) based on the 40-hour minimum requirement for a private pilot's license. Performance on straight and level flight (ability to hold constant airspeeds, altitudes, and headings) and time (seconds) to complete complex turns were measured using two distinct MOTUS 622i flight simulator sessions. Four straight and level flight segments of 30 seconds were measured on a point system. Single point deductions were assigned on simulator performance for 5 knots on airspeed, 100ft on altitude, or 5 degrees in heading. Total time for complex turns was recorded across the three segments.

There was a higher number of total penalty points on straight and level flight with the energy drink versus the placebo condition in the medium and high-experienced groups. There was no significant difference in penalty points on straight and level flight in the medium-experienced group for either the placebo or energy-drink condition. Time to complete the complex turn was higher for the placebo condition in the medium-experienced group when compared to the highly-experienced group. There were no other differences in time to complete the complex turn between energy-drink compared to the placebo or in the medium-experience group compared to the highly-experienced group.

Implication. With highly technical flight skills requiring precision, coordination, and sequencing of movements, energy drinks may reduce overall performance. Athletes and pilots should cautiously interpret claims for the performance enhancing effects of energy drinks when shifting focus and technical motor skills are involved.

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