116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Enough energy to get through the day — when you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and when you don’t, you don’t.
And when people haven’t slept well or are just feeling run down, many of them turn to energy drinks for a quick pick-me-up to stay awake and stay productive.
Coffee and cola drinks long have been the traditional beverages of choice for caffeine-lovers. But in recent years, energy drinks have surged in popularity, with estimated annual sales of $12 billion a year in the United States. Popular brands include Red Bull, Monster and Bang.
“Most energy drinks contain a large dose of caffeine that is often paired with other ingredients like sugar, taurine, guarana, vitamins and other supplements and ingredients,” said Dr. Dustin Arnold, a physician at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.
It’s the caffeine
Before you drink an energy drink, you should know what you’re consuming.
“Caffeine is the main concern when it comes to energy drinks,” Arnold said. “Caffeine is a drug — it acts as a stimulant on the nervous system.”
It’s important to read an energy drink’s ingredients and how much caffeine it includes.
“Some of the popular energy drinks can contain up to 300 milligrams of caffeine,” said Terri Clark, a clinical outpatient dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.
To put that into perspective — a cup of coffee contains around 95 milligrams of caffeine. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends healthy adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.
“If someone is having one or two of these energy drinks a day, it can really add up,” Clark said.
For some people, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks can be too much, “particularly for people with heart conditions or people who have a low caffeine tolerance,” Arnold said.
Children, teens and young adults can be especially susceptible. In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends that children and teens not consume energy drinks at all.
“For young people, it’s important to be aware that their size impacts how caffeine affects the body,” Clark said. “For a grown adult, the guideline may be to consume no more than 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, but for a preteen who weighs less than an average-sized adult, they should be consuming even less caffeine than that. It’s not hard to be pushed over the limit by having an energy drink.”
Too much caffeine can result in symptoms that include increased heart rate, jitters, restlessness, trouble sleeping, anxiety and stomach issues or nausea, Arnold said.
How they’re consumed
Another consideration is how energy drinks are consumed.
“Even though many people may drink four or five cups of coffee a day, I don’t know anyone who quickly drinks a lot of coffee all at once,” Arnold said. “It’s a hot beverage that’s usually consumed throughout the day. With energy drinks, people will drink the whole thing at once and get a large dose of caffeine very quickly.”
Some energy drinks are even condensed into “shots” that provide a big jolt of caffeine in a small package.
Energy drinks can indeed provide a boost — but, Clark said, the jury is still out on their other effects.
“Most of the promoted benefits of the beverages can be attributed to caffeine,” she said. “The physiological effects, if any, of other ingredients, such as vitamins and herbal extracts, are unclear.”
One common ingredient in energy drinks — taurine — is touted as having a positive effect on mental and athletic performance. Taurine is an amino acid found in the brain, retina, heart and reproductive organ cells. It also is found in meat and seafood.
“Unfortunately,” Clark said, “little is known about taurine’s neuroendocrine effect.”
As with most anything in life, moderation is key.
“Like a lot of packaged products, you need to pay attention to serving sizes,” Clark said. “One can (of an energy drink) may contain two or three servings, so you really should be aware of how much you’re actually getting when you consume them.”
In her role as a dietitian, Clark spends time analyzing and determining what foods and drinks she can confidently recommend to her patients. While energy drinks aren’t the worst thing to consume, they don’t get rave reviews from her.
Water is best
“Of course, I always like to recommend water as the best beverage for anyone — it’s healthy, has no calories and is very low cost,” Clark said. “But especially for young people, the most important thing is that they stay hydrated. If you don’t like regular water, there are many different things you can add to water to make it more enjoyable like flavored water drops.”
She also mentioned that sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade can be beneficial when consumed properly.
“Sports drinks that contain electrolytes and other minerals or even protein can be helpful for high-performing athletes who really need to rehydrate,” she said.
Bottom line: Know your limits and act accordingly.