Whether it’s before a long day at the office, a tough workout, or an all-night study session, lots of us turn to energy drinks when we feel need a little boost.
Energy drinks are a multi-billion dollar industry. If their popularity is any indication of their effectiveness, they appear to be working. But are these drinks doing us more harm than good?
Despite how popular energy drinks are, the term “healthy energy drink” is still an oxymoron. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 20,000 emergency room visits in the United States every involve energy drinks. More than half of those visits were due to energy drinks alone.
All That Caffeine
Most energy drinks pack a serious caffeine punch. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It gives you energy and makes you more alert. The average 8-ounce cup of coffee contains about 95–200 milligrams of caffeine, according to the Mayo Clinic. In comparison, a 2-ounce 5-Hour Energy shot contains about the same amount of caffeine (200–207 mg).
Caffeine is relatively safe in small doses, such as in a cup of coffee or tea. But it can be dangerous in large doses (over 400 mg), according to an info sheet published by the University of California, Davis. An overdose of caffeine can cause symptoms such as:
- irregular or rapid heartbeat
- trouble breathing
Excessive caffeine consumption can cause health issues for:
- people unaware of a sensitivity to caffeine
- people who have issues with blood pressure or heart rate regulation
- pregnant women
Sneaky Sweeteners and Stimulants
Usually there are other stimulants besides caffeine in energy drinks. Additives such as guarana and ginseng are common. These can amplify the drink’s energy boost and also the adverse effects of caffeine.
Energy drinks often contain large amounts of sugar to aid their energy-boosting effects. A single serving of an energy drink can have more than 30 grams of sugar, according to scientists at UC Davis.
Sugary drinks have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, . This study also shows that added sugar consumption increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease too.
The UC Davis info sheet lists several ingredients that may not be familiar to you. Many of these ingredients are new to commercial products, so not much research has been done on them. Despite claims made by producers, their effects are unknown. Currently, there isn’t enough data to establish the safety of these ingredients:
- panax ginseng
- super citrimax
Effective Energy Drink Alternatives
It’s safe to have caffeine in moderation. But if a cup of Joe a day doesn’t give you a big enough boost, try some of these alternatives:
Drink More Water – Lots More
Staying hydrated helps keep your body running. Drink a glass of water when you wake up, with meals, and before, during, and after workouts.
Eat Good Proteins and Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide your muscles with energy, while protein helps build them. Try chocolate milk, fruit, and a boiled egg, or a peanut butter and banana smoothie.
Be More Active
When you exercise, your serotonin and endorphin levels increase shortly after, which helps you feel better and more alert. Also, those who exercise regularly often have more energy in general, even on their busiest days.