Energy drinks are one of the most prevalent beverages among those who are constantly on the go. Whether you are in college, the gym, or stuck in those long office hours, energy drinks just seem to be the first thing that comes to mind. These beverages have become popularized by multiple well-known brands such as Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, Full Throttle, etc., as they are classified as the default energy boosters people now turn to for that “umph.”
This begs the question, are they actually good for your health? This is why this article will be letting you know everything about energy drinks, their health implications, safe energy drink amounts, and healthier alternatives to consider.
What is an energy drink?
As the name implies, energy drinks are beverages made of ingredients that are marketed to boost your energy levels and elevate mental performance. Regardless of what the brand is, these energy drinks all have one common key ingredient; caffeine.
Caffeine is essentially a natural stimulant that can also be found in other drinks such as coffee or tea, which stimulates brain functionalities and increase your focus and alertness. Some brands you may recognize are Monster or Red Bull that you typically see in various sports such as MotoGP or the X-games, for example, contain about 160 mg or more caffeine.
What are the main ingredients found in energy drinks?
Though every energy drink may have varied ingredients, there are some other common ingredients aside from caffeine and water. Sugar is an essential ingredient as it is the primary calorie source. However, there may be some energy drinks that have zero sugars as well.
B vitamins are incorporated into energy drinks for a good reason: convert the foods you consume to use energy for your body. Another ingredient is amino acid derivatives that your body also naturally produces. These include taurine and L-carnitine, which play critical roles in your body processes, such as nerve growth and energy production, respectively.
Effects of energy drinks on health
Like a coin, there are always two sides to consuming energy drinks, regardless of what your reason of consuming them may be. Advertisers may promote their products in a way that makes you think energy drinks are all great and safe to consume, though this may be true to a certain extent, energy drinks may have adverse effects on health just as it has positive effects. Here, we go through these effects for you to consider before taking another sip.
May Boost Brain Function
Remember the indicated benefits of energy drinks increasing mental alertness? Well, it is indeed true! Studies have shown that energy drinks help boosts various brain functions such as heightened focus, improved memory, faster reaction time, and mitigated mental tiredness. Researchers believe that the key ingredient to improved brain function is none other than caffeine, as a study on Red Bull energy drinks indicates a 24% increase in focus and memory after consumption.
May Help People Function Better Despite Being Tired
You know that feeling when you are feeling a little loopy or exhausted? Well, taking a few sips of an energy drink may help “jumpstart” your brain to function as it optimally would. This is particularly helpful for those working night shifts or long hours, such as truck drivers, for example.
Energy drinks have helped them stay alert and focused on their task(s) at hand to get the job done well. However, a study does warn that taking energy drinks may negatively impact their quality of sleep after their work shifts.
May Be Packed With Loads of Sugar
If you have diabetes or prediabetes, then this may be a huge warning sign. A vast majority of energy drinks are filled with quite a handful of sugar. For instance, a 250 ml can of Red Bull packs in 27 grams of sugar, and a 473 ml can of Monster has about 54 grams.
This is a LOT of sugar proportional to their serving size. These sugar quantities may very well cause a spike in blood glucose levels, which makes this kind of beverage unsuitable for people with diabetes or if you have trouble managing your blood glucose levels in general.
The rises in blood glucose levels have been linked to increased oxidative stress and inflammation, which presents as early indicators of almost all chronic diseases. So, even though you may not even have diabetes, to begin with, consuming as simple as one or two cans of energy drinks per day may increase the risks of getting type 2 diabetes.
In response, some energy drink companies have developed the less- or zero-sugar versions, two of which may be more suited for people with diabetes. However, we recommend consulting your local health care before choosing to consume these energy drink versions.
May Increase Risks of Heart Problems
PubMed has indicated that consuming energy drinks have been associated with heart problems, some of which require a visit to the emergency room. More than 20,000 yearly visits to the emergency room have been linked to energy drinks in the US. Some of the symptoms these patients experience include insomnia, headaches, fast heartbeats, and severe seizures after intaking excessive amounts of caffeine or mixing them with alcohol.
In addition, several studies have indicated that energy drink consumption may lead to a rise in blood pressure and heart rate and a fall in essential blood vessel function markers. These are negative implications for your heart’s overall health.
The best way to avoid this in the first place is to avoid drinking them too much (or do so occasionally), as doing so helps mitigate the risks of heart problems from one too many cans of energy drinks. If you have a history of heart problems, this is one you should be cautious about.
How much energy drink is safe for you to consume?
Energy drinks are one way to get you mentally alert and focused whenever you’re catching that deadline or getting your work done in a long night shift. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a limit. With that being said, one might ask: “So, how much energy drink is safe enough for me to drink?” Glad you asked.
The main ingredient to keep an eye on (in terms of amounts) is caffeine. Adults can generally consume 400 mg at MOST, as going beyond that may cause negative health effects, as mentioned above. Indicating an exact amount may be tricky as caffeine may vary from one brand or size to another, so caffeine count is the best indicator of your daily limit.
One can or bottle of energy drink every day should be safe enough to keep you away from adverse health effects. Still, it is always better to avoid consuming them daily to mitigate any risks that come along with them. However, suppose you are pregnant, a nursing woman, a child, or a teen. In that case, you should avoid energy drinks entirely for your health and wellbeing’s sake.
Safer alternatives to energy drinks
If you choose to play it safe, or if you lack that “umph” from a regular cup of coffee, then these might be healthier alternatives to energy drinks:
Drinking water is one of the simplest yet most overlooked ways to keep your body on the go. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 8 glasses of water daily and have one when you wake up, after meals, and throughout your workouts.
Consume your carbs and protein
The American Heart Association states that consuming carbs and protein are great workout fuels to get you going. A simple yet effective combo of these two sources can be as simple as a cup of banana smoothie paired with some peanut butter.
Take your vitamins
Regularly taking your vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A and magnesium are great for producing and maintaining energy levels in your body. Though some may perceive vitamins as pills, they can also be found in fresh fruits, veggies, and even yogurt
Exercising helps you boost serotonin and endorphin levels, which essentially helps you feel good and better. This eventually leads to higher energy levels and just leaves you pumped and ready for whatever comes next in your day.
The bottom line
Energy drinks can be a safe way to get your focus and mental alertness up, considering that you are taking them in safe amounts. These beverages serve some good health benefits, such as improving brain functions and help your brain work effectively again when you’re sleepy or tired. But it also has some negative health effects such as increased risks of heart problems and causes blood glucose spikes when taken in excessive amounts.
A golden rule to keep you away from the dangers of excessive energy drink intake is to simply keep count of your caffeine consumption to no more than 400 mg a day. However, avoiding energy drinks entirely and opting for other energy-boosting alternatives such as taking vitamins and consuming carbs and protein is a great way to maintain your health and give that boost you need to carry out your day.