Do you consume energy drinks, or do you need caffeine in the afternoon to pick you up? Unfortunately you just need to look at the counter in your supermarket, gas station, or even school vending machines to see that energy drinks and supplements are everywhere.
So what do we really know about them? Are they healthy and safe to consume?
First, let’s look at what energy really means for our body. Energy is the ability to do work. It can come in different forms, such as heat, light, or kinetic (motion). And there are two types, stored (potential) and working (kinetic) energy. For example, when we consume food which contains chemical energy, the body stores this energy until we use it as kinetic energy during work. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but only changed from one form to another. Energy drinks, however, claim to increase energy and enhance mental alertness and physical performance.
Energy drinks are non-alcoholic beverages that generally contain caffeine and other ingredients, such as B vitamins, taurine, guarana and artificial additives. The global energy drink market is increasing each year — it was worth $39 billion in 2013 and expecting to reach $61 billion by 2021. Unfortunately, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by young adults.
There are two kinds of energy drink products. One is sold in containers of a similar size to those of ordinary soft drinks, such as a 16oz bottles. The other kind, called “energy shots”, is sold in small containers holding 2 to 2½ oz of concentrated liquid. Caffeine is a major ingredient in both types, with levels varying from 70mg to 240mg in a 16-oz drink, and around 200mg in an energy shot. As a comparison, an 8oz cup of coffee contains about 100mg of caffeine.
Energy drinks may also contain other ingredients, such as guarana (sometimes called Brazilian cocoa), which is another source of caffeine, as well as sugars, taurine, ginseng, yohimbe, and glucuronolactone, which is also known as D-glucoronic acid, an organic metabolite found in the body. A metabolite is a substance that results from the metabolism of glucose in the human liver. This water-soluble crystalline compound has become a common component in stimulants and energy drinks such as Red Bull.
Energy drinks can have many types of caffeine which, when consumed in large dosages, may cause serious heart and blood vessel problems such as heart rhythm disturbances, sleep disorder, digestive problems, and increases in heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, a 16oz container of an energy drink may contain 54g to 62g of added sugar, which far exceeds the maximum daily recommendation for added sugar (which is 6 to 9 tsp, or 25g for women and 37g for men, per day). So one energy drink on its own can contain more than double the recommendation for an entire day of added sugar!
An increasing number of studies are finding that products like Monster, Red Bull, and 5-Hour Energy can result in a variety of health dangers with no benefits. For example, Monster ingredients include 160mg of caffeine in a 16oz can, while Red Bull includes about 113mg of caffeine in a 12oz can. Not to mention to other added ingredients, which can be really harmful over time. Just caffeine overconsumption on its own can also lead to severe dehydration by causing the body to eliminate water, salt, and other nutrients. Energy drinks can be highly addictive too.
So what are some healthy alternatives to energy drinks? Just 10 minutes of brisk walking can naturally increase your energy. Remember — energy creates energy. So if you’re feeling that you need a boost, try just moving around for a bit! Fresh air and sunshine, with its natural vitamin D, are also known energy boosters. Sometimes, if you can, taking a short nap can restore your energy too.
Of course, if you notice a drop in your energy levels, then try also to be aware of what you ate before your energy levels dropped. Your digestion uses a lot of energy. Try to add protein-rich food sources like nuts, avocados, gluten-free oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and fresh, low sugar fruits such as berries to your diet. You can also just try replacing energy drinks with herbal tea and water. This will give you much more stable energy during the day, and you’ll find that you won’t need or want to reach for artificial energy boosters.