So you heard about energy drinks. Maybe you are seeking that extra boost in your performance for your next competitive race and want to give one of them try.
But are these energy drinks really effective and do they actually boost your energy levels?
Energy drinks are essentially soft drinks that are advertised to deliver a larger boost of energy than a normal drink. Energy drinks often claim to deliver an energy boost that will give you superior performance.
While there is a scientific basis that the caffeine elements of energy drinks does indeed contribute to mental alertness and physical performance, there remains much controversy regarding the actual effects of these drinks.
The three key components in most energy drinks are Caffeine, Sugars and B Vitamins. The central ingredient in many energy drinks is Caffeine often in the form of guarana or yerba mate. Energy drinks generally have at least as much caffeine as a regular cup of coffee, but may contain many times more than this amount depending on the brand of drink. Energy drinks also generally have lots of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), this is the "energy" component and is basically like refined sugar, but higher in calories!
Effects of Energy Drinks
A variety of physiological and psychological effects attributed to energy drinks and / or their ingredients have not been investigated. However two studies reported significant improvements in mental and cognitive performances as well as subjective alertness.
In other words, generally energy drinks will make you more alert and feel "pepped" up before a physical performance because of the caffeine, but a regular cup of coffee will have a similar effect.
The vitamin B component may be considered desirable in that the body requires a certain amount of vitamin B to obtain it's nutrient requirements, however you will get more than enough of your vitamin B requirements by maintaining a well balanced diet, so the effective benefit from an Energy Drink is negligible.
Consumption of a single energy drink is harmless in most cases, although consuming more than one drink in a single day may lead to excessive caffeine consumption.
Consumption of caffeine in excess of 400mg in a day can cause undesirable and potentially dangerous effects such as: nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), decreased bone levels and stomach upsets.
There is also strong evidence that High Fructose Corn Syrup keeps you from feeling full, so you consume more. Over the long term, excess energy will be stored as fat, which is probably not the desired effect if you are seeking the peak athletic performance that these drinks promise!
The recommended concentration of sugar in sports drink is 6-7% carbohydrates to allow maximum absorption and minimize spikes and crashes in blood sugar.
Energy drinks typically have much higher sugar concentrations than this, the result of this is slow fluid absorption into the blood and energy systems increasing the potential of dehydration. When a high level of sugar is in the blood stream, the body can not get the water to the cells that need it as the water is now used by the body to dilute the concentration of sugar in the blood stream.
The Danger of Energy Drinks
In the United States, Energy Drink manufacturers are not required to print the caffeine product of a drinks on the product label, unlike drugs. This is because energy drinks are classed as dietary supplements and not food products.
There has been very little testing on the effects of energy drinks, each manufacturer has their own unique formula and given that they are not required by law to print caffeine product, there is really no safe way for consumers to know what sort of effect these products will have. In the United States there have been reports of nausea, abnormal heart rhythms and emergency room visits that have been linked to Energy Drinks
I recommend that you pass on energy drinks.
Despite the inherent dangers of lack of product testing, most of these drinks will likely have a negative effect on your performance due to actually increasing dehydration due to excess sugar content or the spike-and-crash effect.
In the long term, consuming large amounts of sugar will result in your body storing the excess calories as FAT – not a performance booster for most sports.
While these drinks DO provide a boost in terms of mental and cognitive performances, if you are seeking this, I would suggest a regular cup of coffee instead.
So you still are in need of energy?
Instead of energy drinks, try some natural food combinations such as an apple, peanut butter, crackers with a little bit of cheese, yogurt or cereal with milk. You should generally be able to get all the energy you require in a normal balanced diet.
If you still insist on using energy drinks, consider watering it down, this will reduce the sugar and caffeine content of the drink and the adverse effects should be reduced.