It’s hard to believe that there was a time not so long ago when the local convenience store did not have two or three coolers devoted only to energy drinks. The trend started slowly, with a funny tasting beverage called Red Bull that claimed to give us ‘wings’. Once Red Bull proved a success, a torrent of energy drinks followed. Today they are part of many people’s daily routine. But are they beneficial? Can they be harmful? Here are some things to consider about energy drinks before you decide:
- Energy drinks really do increase your energy level. While many dietary supplements make claims that cannot be substantiated, energy drinks do in fact give you more energy. This energy comes primarily from caffeine. For example, a can of Monster has the caffeine of 4 cans of cola.
- Energy drinks that contain sugar contribute to weight gain. Any sugared beverage will contribute to weight gain, but when it comes to energy drinks, some people think that the extra boost of energy will help work off the calories they consume, but unless the energy drink is taken right before a strenuous workout, that will not be the case. Switch to sugar free varieties if you must have an energy drink.
- Energy drinks are convenient. Taking a nap is a luxury few can afford during the workday, and brewing a pot of coffee often is not a choice either. Energy drinks are easily portable and individually portioned when you are on the go and need to stay that way.
- Energy drinks can have behavioral side effects. Because of the higher caffeine content, energy drinks can lead to side effects such as nervousness, anxiety and jittery feelings much more rapidly than coffee can. When combined with alcohol, energy drinks can mask the feeling of having had too much to drink, making it more likely that some people will overindulge. When energy drinks are consumed too close to bedtime, they can interfere with the ability to fall asleep, so energy drinks should not be consumed within 5 hours of bedtime.
- Energy drinks can help those who vigorously exercise. Studies show that caffeine can improve the performance of those engaging in strenuous workouts, such as distance running, weight training, and competitive swimming.
- Energy drinks can have physical side effects. People who have cardiovascular conditions like heart conditions or high blood pressure should ask their physicians about the use of energy drinks, because the caffeine levels can cause cardiovascular side effects. The most serious side effect of caffeine overdose is heart failure.
- Energy drinks are (mildly) physically addictive. For those who have been drinking 3-4 of these beverages per day, quitting cold turkey can lead to side effects like drowsiness, moodiness and headaches. If you are decreasing the amount of caffeine you consume, cut back on energy drinks by one per day, rather than going completely cold turkey. You will still experience side effects, but the side effects will be much less pronounced.