Myths and facts about energy drinks

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What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks with caffeine are popular with endurance athletes and bodybuilders, who consume them before and during exercise in the belief that the drinks will give them a boost of energy, keep them alert and enhance their physical performance.

As a source of calories and “energy”, these beverages are often placed near sports drinks and are thus commonly chosen by athletes. However, these drinks are not sports drinks! In this post we will try to explain why should you avoid these kinds of drinks.

Energy drinks ingredients

Here are some of the typical ingredients in energy drinks:

  • Caffeine is usually the main added ingredient in energy drinks. Caffeine is a stimulant, and these drinks generally contain around 80 to 100 milligrams per serving (similar to a cup of coffee), although some contain as much as 200 milligrams.
  • Sugar is often present in high quantities, or it may be replaced with sugar-free sweeteners in “diet” versions.
  • Guarana is a South American plant whose seeds are a source of caffeine.
  • B vitamins are generally included in small quantities. However, some drinks have large amounts of vitamin B12 which assists in transforming sugar into usable energy.
  • Taurine is an amino acid that contains sulfur and acts as an antioxidant. The word taurine means “bull-like,” and Red Bull is one of the best known brands containing this ingredient.
  • Carnitine is an amino acid involved in breaking down fat and releasing energy into the body.
  • Ginkgo biloba is a plant extract said to increase memory and concentration.
  • Ginseng is an herb thought to increase energy.

Can energy drinks be used in place of sports drinks?

No! Many athletes and bodybuilders have been led to believe that energy drinks have the same value as sports drinks in that they provide hydration, energy, and increased athletic performance. This is far away from the truth and easily to expose. These drinks are not sports drinks! They should not be used for hydrating before, during, or after exercise because of their potential side effects. Read our previous post to find out all the differences between sport drinks and energy drinks.

Unlike a traditional sports drink that contains a 4% to 8% carbohydrate concentration, energy drinks exceed the upper end of the limit to values of 12% or higher. In other words, the sugar concentration is around 10-12 g per 100 g, or 25—31 g per 250 ml can, about the same concentration as most soft drinks (e.g. cola). This is too concentrated for the body to absorb quickly, which is why energy drinks cannot be considered sports drinks. They stay in the stomach longer than plain water or sports drinks, and so do not provide an efficient way of rehydrating the body.

Safety and side effects

Energy drinks and products indeed enhance feelings of energy and alertness. However, they are equally known for their energy crashes, subse­quent cravings, and numerous side effects.

  • Products that contain high amounts of sugar are notorious for energy “ups and downs”. Likewise sugary drinks produce addictive cravings, encouraging repeated con­sumption time after time.
  • Side effects associated with energy drinks include irritability, agitation, and a variety of gastrointestinal complaints.
  • Additionally these products, due to their ingredients, naturally contribute to ongoing sleep deprivation, causing both insomnia and disruption of normal sleep stages and cycles.
  • Sugar-free alternatives are available; however, most energy drinks contain 25—35 grams (6—7 teaspoons) of sugar per 8 ounces. When there are two or more servings per container, as much as 100 grams of sugar can be consumed.

Energy drinks hidden truth

Healthier alternatives

Closing thoughts

Energy drinks are not sports drinks. Many energy drinks have not been manufactured for use during sport, and are developed as a means of providing an energy boost during the day, or late into the evening. As such, they should be used with extreme caution during sport and not as a substitute for a healthy, high carbohydrate diet. You should definitely avoid them for hydrating before, during, or after exercise because of their potential side effects. They have not been shown to enhance exercise performance. Also, their high content of sugar and caffeine makes them unsuitable for proper hydration and delivery of carbohydrate.

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