Names like Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy and 5-Hour Energy sound powerful. And their ads feature extreme athletes and popular celebrities who appear to have the world by the tail.
Today, 30 percent to 50 percent of teens and young adults say they use them.
“People assume energy drinks are like Gatorade on steroids,” said Jessica Corwin, a registered dietician for Spectrum Health’s Healthier Communities. “Yes, they may give you some short-term energy, but they’re loaded with sugar and there’s nothing nutritious about them.”
Need to wake up and focus? Corwin recommends a cup of coffee or tea, a stick of gum or a brisk walk. Most importantly, get enough sleep.
“No energy drink is going to make up for sleep deprivation,” she said.
Corwin, who admits she tried energy drinks in college, debunked popular myths with solid facts.
Myth: Energy drinks have the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee
Fact: The amount of caffeine in both coffee and energy drinks vary widely, but energy drinks could have five times the caffeine as coffee. A cup of home-brewed coffee might have 100-200 mg of caffeine, while a venti coffee from Starbucks may have more than 400 mg. By comparison, energy drinks have up to 550 mg in each can or bottle.
Part of the issue is portion size, noted Corwin. “They go down very quickly. People tend to slam an energy drink, or maybe two, where they might sip a cup of coffee.”
Myth: Energy drinks are harmless
Fact: The caffeine and sugar in energy drinks can be excessive. Too much caffeine can cause anxiety, elevated heart rate and raised blood pressure. And the sugar—as much as 15 teaspoons in a single serving—is far beyond the American Heart Association’s daily recommendation of six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men.
More than 20,000 people ended up in the emergency department because of energy drinks in 2011, and one out of 10 victims were hospitalized, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Myth: Energy drinks will help you focus and give you extra energy
Fact: Because they’re loaded with caffeine and sugar, you may get short-term energy. But your energy level will crash again just like it will anytime you have a lot of sugar.
In fact, a report published by the National Institutes of Health also showed that users experience “excessive daytime sleepiness” the day after consuming an energy drink.
Myth: Energy drinks are a healthy way to get a mental edge because they’re packed with herbs and vitamins
Fact: When you read the labels, they sound like healthy concoctions because they often include B vitamins, ginseng and less familiar ingredients like taurine (an amino acid found in breast milk and baby formula) and guarana (a source of caffeine using seeds grown in Brazil). Manufacturers of energy drinks aren’t required to include the caffeine content in their nutritional information. So you can’t be sure what you’re getting.
To add to the healthy impression, you’ll find 5-Hour Energy shots beside dietary supplements on retailers’ shelves. The New York Times reports that Monster Energy and Rockstar Energy recently moved their beverages next to sports drinks in stores so they can avoid reporting related injuries and deaths to the Food and Drug Administration.
Myth: Energy drinks will improve athletic performance
Fact: Although the ads feature athletes, there’s no good evidence to support the idea that they improve performance. Some include ginseng and taurine, which could improve athletic performance, but there’s not enough of these ingredients in energy drinks to make a difference.
Myth: Mixing energy drinks and alcohol will help you get high without getting sleepy
Fact: While it’s true that caffeine can cover up the feeling of being drunk, that doesn’t mean it’s safe or a good idea.
“This can quickly lead to alcohol toxicity,” Corwin said.
Studies also show that people who consume energy drinks with alcohol were more inclined to be involved in risk-taking behaviors.