Besides having catchy names like Red Bull, Full Throttle, No Fear, Rock Star and Monster, what are energy drinks? Aside from caffeine, sugar and high-tech scientific-sounding ingredients, some of the most common energy drink ingredients include taurine, ginseng, guarana (a caffeine-containing extract from a South American plant), amino acids, vitamins, green tea and other “herbal” ingredients. What all these drinks have in common is plenty of calories and a lot of caffeine.
Here’s what we know about caffeine:
- Increases dopamine levels
- Sends a message to our brain, which our pituitary gland perceives as an alert, causing our adrenal glands to release adrenaline
- Can interfere with certain aspects of your metabolism like blood pressure and heart rate
- Is a diuretic
- Can make you feel nervous or uneasy
- Promotes headaches
Caffeine affects people differently.
The easiest way to view energy drinks is as highly-caffeinated sugar drinks. They really are not much better than soft drinks. The average energy drink delivers approximately 80 mg of caffeine, which is about the same amount found in a strong cup of coffee, twice the amount found in soda and tea.
Forget about the claims of “improved performance” or “improved concentration.” What these energy drink brands are telling you is that their drinks are full of caffeine and sugar, which will give you a boost, and they are right. The stimulating properties in energy drinks can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and prevent sleep. You will initially get a boost in physical and cognitive performance – then comes the crash.
If you are not an athlete, energy drinks can be broken down as follows:
- Fluids with vitamins, minerals and herbs
- Fluids with dietary supplements
- Fluids with a combination of vitamins, minerals, supplements and herbs
If you are an athlete, energy drinks can be broken down into three categories:
- Isotonic – electrolytes and between 6% and 8% carbs – most popular with athletes
- Hypotonic – electrolytes and almost no carbs – used mostly by gymnasts
- Hypertonic – may or may not have electrolytes and high level of carbs – popular with weightlifters
During physical activity, our body loses electrolytes – minerals like potassium, sodium and chloride – through sweat. What’s amazing is that our bodies adapt readily to this loss, and if you eat a nutritious meal within 45 minutes of your workout, your electrolytes are replaced naturally. It’s better to use foods ,and not supplements, to replace these lost minerals. However, if you are engaged in a physical activity for an extended period of time (more than 45 minutes), you should supplement your electrolyte loss.
Energy drinks can boost your heart rate, blood pressure, dehydrate your body, and – like other stimulating properties – can prevent sleep and cause havoc.
Never consume energy drinks when:
- Exercising - because the combination of fluid loss from sweating and the diuretic quality of caffeine can leave you dehydrated. Drink water while exercising
- Drinking alcohol - because energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant. The combination can mask how much alcohol you have consumed and how drunk you are. Also, both are very dehydrating and can prevent your body from metabolizing the alcohol – almost guaranteeing you a nasty hangover.