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What's the Buzz on Energy Drinks? | Feb. 25, 2009

Steroids move over—the latest craze for the sleep-deprived, performance-seeking sport enthusiast is here in full force–energy drinks! In case you haven’t been in a convenience store recently, they have been taken over by the energy drink monster. Entire coolers are now dedicated to this mystery drink with magical powers.

So what exactly are energy drinks? They are beverages marketed to boost energy levels, and contain a lot of sugar, caffeine, B vitamins and a combination of other ingredients such as guarana (an herb that contains natural caffeine), taurine (an amino acid thought to boost the effects of caffeine) and ginseng. Taste varies with each drink, and that might take some getting used to—kinda like prune juice. While their macho names like “No Fear”, “Rock Star”, “Full Throttle” and “Red Bull” sound healthy, don’t be fooled. Their secret “buzz” factor? Caffeine. Ounce per ounce, the amount of caffeine in these drinks is about the same as one cup of coffee, but the serving size is much larger so you wind up drinking more. A safe amount of caffeine is around 300 mg per day. One energy drink can contain as much as 300 mg of caffeine and pack 260 calories.

There are additional dangers for athletes: I’ve seen many soccer players down this drink for “quick energy” before a game. One of the most important nutritional factors for athletes is staying hydrated. Caffeine is a natural diuretic, which means that it contributes to dehydration. Drinking an energy drink before or during an athletic event can contribute to dehydration. Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, on the other hand, contain no caffeine, and add needed sodium and other crucial electrolytes which the body loses during intense physical activity, lending to a quick recovery.

The high caffeine content of energy drinks is not healthy for young children or pregnant women either. The little bodies and central nervous systems of children can’t handle these amounts of caffeine and it may impede their ability to concentrate. People with medical conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure should also avoid them. And last but not least, energy drinks can be risky if mixed with alcohol. (Why?)

Does this mean we should avoid energy drinks all together? No, just be mindful of what you are drinking and practice moderation. A better prescription for increasing energy and maximizing performance is: Get a good night’s sleep; eat a healthy diet; and drink plenty of water.