health for your
Need a boost?
Distilling the buzz around energy drinks
By Angela Pirisi
IS THERE ANYONE AMONG us who couldn’t
use a little extra gas in the tank? It’s exactly that
promise of getting a hit of get-up-and-go in a can
that has made energy drinks appeal to tired, foggy-headed Americans. Since Red Bull first charged
the U.S. marketplace in 1997, hundreds of
other energy drink brands have landed
on store shelves.
of Cedric Bryant,
chief science officer for
the American Council on
Exercise, and be careful.
With their claims to sharpen the
mind, increase alertness and boost
physical stamina, they’re pretty close to
sounding like a magic pill, albeit one
that lasts only a few hours. “The target
audience was originally athletes, weekend warriors, moms who need energy,
and the idea is that they tap the adrenals to
pump out more cortisol,” says David Grotto,
a Chicago-based dietitian and author of 101
Optimal Life Foods (Bantam, 2009).
• Don’t drink caffeinated
energy drinks before or during exercise. After exercise,
when combined with some
protein, energy drinks can
supply carbs for recovery.
• Watch out for the
hidden calories in energy
drinks if weight control
is a concern.
The kicker ingredient in energy drinks is usually
caffeine in amounts that can be, depending on the
brand, at least twice the amount in a serving of coffee. For time-strapped people who don’t have time to
put on a pot of coffee, having a RockStar Energy
Energy Shot, for example, packs two to three coffee
servings’ worth of caffeine in one serving. “There’s
some science behind it,” says Grotto. “Caffeine, for
example, may help to improve cognition and act as
an ergogenic [performance-enhancing] aid.”
• Check the list of ingredients for stimulants (e.g.,
caffeine and guarana) that
may trigger increases in
heart rate, blood pressure
and anxiety levels.
• Consider drinking tea
(hot or cold) as a caffeinated alternative since it
that are associated with
improved heart health.
But too much caffeine can be harmful, say
health experts. “Consumers should be aware that
these ingredients [caffeine or guarana, an herbal
source of caffeine] can increase heart rate, blood
pressure and feelings of anxiety—as well as provide
a greater sense of alertness and possibly improved
reaction time,” points out Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise.
Caffeine-laced beverages can also increase the risk
of dehydration because of caffeine’s diuretic effect
and can interfere with sleep patterns. There’s also
growing concern about the increasing popularity
of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. “The addition of caffeine can make alcohol consumers ‘feel’
56 ;e Costco Connection OCTOBER 2010
less impaired, when in fact motor coordination
and visual reaction time are decreased just as
much as when they consume alcohol only,”
Another popular ingredient in energy drinks is
vitamins, particularly B vitamins (e.g., thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B6). Why? “Some vitamins
do play a role in energy metabolism; B vitamins
affect carbohydrate metabolism,” says Grotto.
Because B vitamins can help release energy from
carbohydrates and also help to burn fats, some
studies suggest that regular high-intensity aerobic
exercise may raise your need for these nutrients.
For athletes, a question often arises: Energy
drink or sports drink? Sports drinks contain water,
small amounts of sugar and minerals such as
sodium and potassium that are lost during intense
physical activity. They contain little or no caffeine
and don’t generally contain the herbs and amino
acids found in energy drinks
“Energy drinks primarily consist of water and
sweetener, such as corn syrup, sucrose or some other
sugar,” says Bryant. They pack roughly 25 to 40
grams ( 5 to 8 teaspoons) of sugar, or 100 to 160 calo-
ries per 8-ounce serving, which is about twice the
amount found in sports drinks. “The extra sugar
impairs fluid absorption, creating that ‘slushy’ feeling
in your stomach,” he says.
As a once-in-a-while fix, energy drinks are OK,
says Grotto. Just know that they’re not a permanent
fix for any underlying problems. “It isn’t going to
replace having extra sleep,” says Grotto. “And for
people with chronic energy challenges, you need to
look into what’s causing that, whether it’s lifestyle, a
nutritional deficiency or an underlying disease.”
Be sure to read the label to find out how much
you can safely consume and heed the warnings
about who shouldn’t consume it. The whole idea
behind energy drinks is to feel good, not to harm
your health. C
Angela Pirisi is a freelance writer who covers a
variety of health topics.