Energy Drinks

Young women's version of this guide
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iStock_000019398354SmallYou can find many drinks at convenience stores and supermarkets that claim to give you energy, such as Red Bull®, Full Throttle®, Monster®, and others. You may be wondering if these drinks actually give you energy, and if they’re healthy to drink. Read on to learn about the ingredients in energy drinks so you can make smart choices.

Do energy drinks actually give you energy?

One 8-ounce can of some energy drinks has more than twice the amount of caffeine as a small coffee. However, energy drinks are not currently required to put caffeine content on the label, so you never know just how much you’re getting. Caffeine is a stimulant which works by exciting your nervous system. Energy drinks often contain caffeine, added amino acids, herbs, vitamins, and plenty of sugar, which can make you feel more awake and “energized”.

Regular energy drinks contain a lot of sugar – about the same amount that’s in soda. This sugar might give you a burst of energy (on top of the caffeine), but when it wears off, you may have a sugar “crash” and become tired all over again. While it’s ok to have sugar–containing foods and drinks once in a while, eating or drinking too much sugar can cause cavities and weight gain.

Are energy drinks recommended for teens?

No. Energy drinks contain caffeine, added substances that act like stimulants, and excess sugar. Even though energy drinks are not recommended for teens, many marketing campaigns are focused towards them. False claims such as “Energy drinks boost energy, decrease fatigue, and increase concentration” mislead many teens and adults into thinking energy drinks are helpful for improving attention and sports performance. Don’t be fooled by these marketing claims! Energy drinks are unhealthy for teens. In fact, the American Pediatric Association recommends that children and teens avoid them. There has been an increase in the number of emergency room visits caused by energy drinks and several deaths are thought to be linked to overconsumption of these beverages.

What can happen if I have too much caffeine?

Caffeine may be the most commonly consumed stimulant, but excess consumption has been associated with harmful effects in teens. If you have too much caffeine, you may experience side effects such as jitteriness, dizziness, nervousness, insomnia (trouble sleeping), vomiting, and upset stomach. When you have caffeine regularly, your body can build up a tolerance to (get used to) caffeine. This means you’ll need more caffeine to have the same stimulant effect. Also, when you stop drinking caffeine you may get headaches and become cranky or tired for a few days.

Why are herbs added to energy drinks?

The manufacturers of energy drinks claim that added herbs such as ginseng, guarana (gwahr–uh–nah), yerba mate (yer–bah mah–te), cocoa, kola nut, or yohimbine help to boost the energy content of their beverages. The problem with taking herbs or other supplements either in pills or in energy drinks is that they’re not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, there’s no guarantee that the herbs are actually what they say they are, or they do what they claim. Herbs such as ginseng, guarana, or yohimbine can even have harmful side effects such as elevated (fast) heart rate, headache, or insomnia. They can also cause an allergic reaction, or may interact with prescription medications.

Are the vitamins and amino acids in energy drinks good for me?

Many vitamins and minerals are added to energy drinks. If you’re eating a well–balanced diet, you’re probably already getting plenty of vitamins and minerals for your body. However, if your diet is not quite “balanced”, a multivitamin supplement is a much cheaper way to get in your extra vitamins, without the extra calories and sugar!

Energy drinks are also known for their additional ingredients such as added amino acids or other substances. You might see them listed on a label as taurine (tawr–in), glutamine (gloo–tuh–meen), arginine (ahr–juh–neen), and L–carnitine. Amino acids are needed by the body to serve as the building blocks of protein. If you’re eating a well–balanced diet, you don’t need these additional amino acids.

Should I use energy drinks while I’m exercising?

No. Energy drinks should be avoided before, during, and after exercise. They’re not the same as sports drinks (such as Gatorade®), and won’t replace water and minerals that you lose when you sweat. The caffeine and sugar in energy drinks actually can make you more dehydrated.

What’s the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks?

Sports drinks are different from energy drinks. Sports drinks include carbohydrates, electrolytes, and often vitamins and minerals. They’re made for rehydration after intensity physical activity.

Is it safe to combine energy drinks with alcohol?

No. Combining energy drinks with alcohol can be dangerous. Alcohol is a depressant, while the energy drink is a stimulant. When you have the two together, you may not realize how much alcohol you drank and how impaired you really are. Dehydration may be worse because you’ll have to urinate more often because of the combined effect of the alcohol and caffeine in the energy drink.

So what’s the bottom line with energy drinks?

Skip them. While energy drinks may give you a rush of energy when you first drink them, in the long run, they usually end up making you more tired and may result in harmful effects such as heart palpitations, dizziness, and even seizures. There are plenty of other beverages to enjoy.