A Wake Up Call On Energy Drinks


Are you using energy drinks to give you a boost or a buzz?  For a sugar fix?  Don’t like the taste of coffee so you drink a Monster or Rockstar instead? Whether you drink it for the taste or for extra energy, here’s a real wake-up call on the various types of energy drinks we consume and what the contents are actually doing to your body.

You may not know this, but there are different types of energy drinks to consume.  A herbal blend, a caffeinated drink, or a high sugar blend.  Energy drinks are one of the fastest growing industries with teens and young adults being the main consumers because of the aggressive marketing of these products. In one year the U.S.  estimates $744 million dollars being spent in one year in 2006 to 2007 (Rath, 2012), can you image the numbers now? I am sure Canada’s consumption is similar especially since more and more brand names are coming out, there is a hype going on with these bubbly drinks. Here are the interesting facts on whether or not the advertising is actually true, and my advice on where to get real, long lasting energy.

A “herbal” energy drink is usually supplemented with taurine, guanine, guarana, ginseng, milk thistle extract, ginkgo biloba, and B vitamins.  Advertised to give feelings of wellness and help with mental alertness and extreme energy because of the medicinal ingredients (Arnold, 2012).  Little do many people know that these ingredients may not exactly give true benefits.  Further studies need to be conducted looking at the effects of the different herbs, vitamins, extracts and compounds because the studies out there now suggest yes, they work and can help with performance, well-being and mental alertness, or contrasted saying no, there is no change or benefit when looking at the tested group compared to a placebo.  The truth is that there is just not enough research that has been conducted on the different herbal ingredients and also even if there are positive effects,  the Journal of American Pharmacists Association and other researchers determined that the amounts of taurine, ginseng and guarana  that are in most energy drinks are so insignificant that you would not be able to receive therapeutic benefits or adverse effects.  

Another interesting point from The Physician and Sportsmedicine published in 2010 states that although these drinks contain a large list of supplements it is most likely that they do not feel the boost or buzz from the herbal ingredients, that it is likely to be the caffeine and glucose that the drinker is consuming.

A Few Facts

Taurine- said to be linked to fat metabolism.  In one study by Rutherford et al., taurine was given as a supplement before prolonged cycling.  The participants were either given taurine or not, or  given a placebo drink but were still told that they were ingesting taurine.  The authors of the study concluded that there were no differences on performance, but the possibility that in the very beginning of exercise the group using taurine had the slightest difference in fat metabolism questioning whether or not the differences were based on the different individuals or if taurine helped improve fat metabolism slightly. Another study suggests that if a carbohydrate study was given before it was the carbs that helped performance, not the taurine. There are many different considerations a researcher has to look at before really jumping to conclusions, this is why still today studies are being conducted on performance and multiple supplements.

Caffeine- has be suggested to mobilize fats by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and mobilizing the fats from the adipose and intramuscular stores suggesting that adrenaline may be the cause of increased  fat metabolism. A study by Acheson et al., states that a high dose of caffeine increases metabolism in a 3 hour period and surprisingly the 3rd hour has the greatest fat metabolism.  Agreeing with this is a study by Dulloo et al., states that even a small amount of caffeine has a thermogenic effect and can also help increase metabolism. In low doses RMR is increased 3-4 % up to 3 hours, and when supplementing every 2 hours repeatedly RMR can increase from 8-11% but the authors do not know if it was from carbs or fat metabolism or both. BUT you also need to look at our fuel stores when we exercise, usually after prolonged exercise our fat is the main fuel… There are so many different conclusions to consider. A study by Astrup et al., states that when caffeine is supplemented there is a greater energy expenditure.  Astrup also conducted a study with obese subjects being supplemented with caffeine and it states that the individuals grew a tolerance and lost the effects of the caffeine therefor it cannot help with weight loss after a certain point.  To summarize caffeine can be helpful for energy expenditure at rest, and can help with fat oxidation at rest and during low intensity exercise but only a small amount (<20%). Another study would be to look at the effects of supplementing with caffeine and exercise at different times and intensities.

Gingko Biloba (GB)– Herbal extracts and phytochemicals are known for its medicinal properties for many, many  years, and has been known to help with cognitive and function with its “biologically active, species-specific terpenes: bilobalide and ginkgolides A, B, C, and J (114), and a range of flavonoid glycosides” (Kennedy,  2011).  Again there are differences in results for different studies and time periods.   A study by Chochrane in 2009 called Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia says that there are many health benefits when ingesting GB on cognitive and function. In contrast a more recent update of the study by Chochrane states that the findings were inconsistent and unconvincing which is supported by the recent Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study because there was no difference in any of the cognitive properties they set out to examine.

Ginseng– is known to improve immune function, physical endurance, enhance overall well-being and resist environmental stressors.  BUT the amount for therapeutic effects is around 100 to 200mg/day and most energy drinks contain 0 to 100 mg.  Not enough to even receive any benefits, the marketing just makes us think we will.

Guarana– is a natural stimulant with 3 times the amount of caffeine compared to a coffee bean.  This plant is known to cause adverse effects like insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, tachycardia, tremors, anxiety, chest pain, and dysrhythmias (Rath, 2012).

Sugar energy drinks are made of mainly water and a sweetner like corn syrup, sucrose or other types of sugars.  The thing about a sugary drink is that your body absorbs it quickly into the blood stream, which is why you get a “sugar rush” (Arnold, 2012). Following a sugar rush usually leads to a “sugar crash,” this is your body’s way of saying you had high blood glucose levels, insulin was released so that your body could absorb the sugars, and now you’re left with low glucose levels. This makes you feel even more drained, and leaves us looking for another upper!  It’s a vicious glucose cycle and when this happens too often you are even putting yourself at risk of diabetes, mood swings, grogginess and other bodily and mood alterations, is it worth the risk?

Another good point when looking at a sugar energy drink is the size of the bottle/can. Now-a-days the cans come in different sizes and this just means more sugar is used. Also in the super-sized cans there is usually more than one serving and most individuals consume the whole thing!  Did you know that in the mega sized Rockstar there are 65 grams of sugar in a 16oz drink… That’s 17 teaspoons! Fullthrottle has 58 and Monster has 54 grams (Kennedy, 2012). Well, you could always go for the zero calorie drink right?  Although that would just mean that there is no energy in it, because we get energy from the calories we consume…  What are we consuming than?  A bunch of chemicals and ingredients and all you get is a buzz.

Caffeinated energy drinks are used for a burst of energy, like the way a coffee helps you wake up in the morning, except that there is a lot more caffeine than a regular at Timmies.  Most buzzing drinks will have caffeine and other stimulants like guarana or yerba mate, but the ingredient labels do not have to require this information because the FDA has no regulations on what needs to be displayed on the can.  Warning signs on serious dangers of consuming these products and the amounts of caffeine in these products are not being advertised which is why Health Canada is stepping up in the next couple years to regulate what goes on a energy drink label (Gregory and Fitch, 2007).

What’s also a concern with these highly caffeinated drinks is that many people are consuming these products before and after exercise, and/or sporting events and little do these people know that this is leading to a decline in performance.  Dehydration, tremors, heat stroke and even heart attacks can occur when consuming these because these products are diuretics.  With the combo of fluid loss from sweating and drinking a diuretic you become dehydrated which eventually leads to a poorer performance (Rath, 2012).  

Speaking of performance, the World Anti-Doping agency removed caffeine from its list of banned substances showing that caffeine really doesn’t help with physical performance.  Studies still go on today on what caffeine does for you but physical performance and endurance is inconclusive (Arnold, 2012). Yes, about 100 mg of caffeine can help improve alertness, mood, memory and concentration, but most of the energy drinks contain significantly higher amounts, even between 14 and 31 mg in approximately 3 ounces (Babu et al., 2008).

Real Energy

If you’re looking for real energy, it’s in the food we eat! Instead of reaching for refined and simple carbohydrates and sugars, look for complex carbs packed with nutrients and fiber like grains, cereals, pastas, brown rice, potatoes and other healthier carb choices like fruits and vegetables.

Fueling your body with food is a better way to feel energy that lasts longer and also helps with weight maintenance,  loss or gain, helps with improved mood, better sleep, and overall a better quality of life.  Don’t try to replace missed meals with a drink that will just leave you feeling hungry and sluggish later.  A little bit of food education and experimentation can help you become full of energy without any negative side effects! Feel the food, not the sugar!




About EMpulsive

When I find out more about myself I will fill you in! #emexplores

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