The Truth Behind Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are expensive, contain insane amounts of sugar, and have various negative effects on the functioning of the human body.  Most of us probably know that energy drinks such as Monster, Red Bull, and Amp are not the greatest for our health, so why do we drink them? Because they work.

There is strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of energy drinks. Studies have proven their ability to increase mental alertness, while also increasing physical capabilities.  They reign superior to placebos when given the opportunity in research. I’m sure many of you can attest to the efficacy of energy drinks as you feel rejuvenated after consuming them (although in some instances this could be attributed to a placebo effect).

What do many college kids kids resort to when pulling ‘all-nighters’? Energy drinks. Had a long day of classes on a Friday and need a little ‘pick me up’ before delving into the nights festivities? Easy – down a red bull.

The problem is with these drinks, it’s easy to reap the rewards without considering the consequences.

Many energy drinks are sold in massive cans containing half a liter of ‘energy’. These drinks are consumed much differently than coffee, which has a similar effect due to the caffeine. The drinks are often consumed much quicker and in some cases in succession.

The amount of caffeine per serving in the larger energy drinks is ~160mg, compared to an average cup of coffee at 75mg. With many energy drinks containing more than one serving, one can easily find themselves approaching the ‘danger zone’ of caffeine intake (400mg). High levels of caffeine have been known to cause or contribute to high blood pressure, insomnia, heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), the formation of ulcers, and a decrease in calcium uptake. This decreased calcium uptake becomes a major concern, as the majority of the people consuming these drinks are teenagers and young adults.

The FDA does not regulate the amount of caffeine in energy drinks, as they are considered a dietary supplement, rather than a food. The FDA doesn’t even require companies to account for additional caffeine added by guarana. Adding guarana to drinks has a huge impact on caffeine levels as guarana beans pack about four times the caffeine as coffee beans. This results in people unknowingly consuming dangerous levels of caffeine.

Taurine, another common additive in energy drinks has not even been approved by the FDA.  Taurine ranks fourth on the ingredients list of Monster energy drinks, behind carbonated water, sucrose, and glucose. Many of the smaller, unheard of supplements in energy drinks are not even regulated by the FDA.

An alternative to these big cans is to go for the smaller energy drinks that can be guzzled down in a shot or two (5 hour energy, 6 hour power). These are no better as they are simply a more concentrated version of the bigger cans.

Energy drinks have been linked to multiple deaths worldwide. One famous case was of an 18 year old Irish boy who consumed three cans of Red Bull during a basketball game and subsequently died.  Another death occurred in March of this year and was a result of a 14 year old girl who drank two Monster energy drinks within 24 hours.

Well, what are my alternatives?

1.   Coffee.  Coffee isn’t the best solution, but it’s better than energy drinks.  Coffee has less caffeine and is usually sipped on, making it a better alternative.  Coffee also has an antioxidant effect on the body and is known to prevent the onset of numerous diseases including diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. You can get your caffeine ‘high’ without 15 teaspoons of sugar and dozens of other additives.

2.   Tea is a good choice. Green and white teas can have a slight boosting effect. This comes from herbal elements in the tea, particularly ginseng. Ginseng root can be used as a food additive as well.

Ginseng is found in many types of energy drinks; however, I would imagine the effect to be insignificant due to the various types of other stimulants included.

3.   Protein, protein,  protein – low levels of protein have been linked to fatigue. Make sure you’re consuming plenty of eggs, fish, poultry and other lean sources of meat. Recommended levels of protein intake vary, but you can be safe going with about 1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.  So if you weigh 80kg, aim for 80g of protein a day. Increase this amount if you are particularly active.  HINT: Overindulge, if anything. Protein isn’t just a meathead’s diet; it has loads of beneficial effects on your body.







4.   Stay hydrated – a common result of dehydration is lethargy or fatigue. Keep a bottle of water at your desk and sip constantly. Add some flavour to your water to encourage you to drink more. Even a 2% decrease in hydration levels has substantial physiological effects, resulting in you under performing or feeling tired.

Attack the Underlying Cause!!

There is a reason you are tired and find it difficult to get through the day without energy drinks. You likely aren’t getting enough sleep, aren’t eating well, or you need to re-shuffle your schedule to make it work for you.  Perhaps you need to re-think all three. Find the underlying cause and attack that, rather than band-aiding the situation.  You may feel better in the short run, but you plan on living a lot longer right?

Stay healthy,




G. Webster Ross, MD; Robert D. Abbott, PhD; Helen Petrovitch, MD; David M. Morens, MD; Andrew Grandinetti, PhD; Ko-Hui Tung, MS; Caroline M. Tanner, MD, PhD; Kamal H.  Masaki. MD; Patricia L. Blanchette, MD, MPH; J. David Curb, MD, MPH; Jordan SPopper, MD; Lon, R. White, MD, MPH.

‘Association of Coffee and Caffeine Intake With the Risk of Parkinson Disease’                                                                                  

Sara M. Seifert, BS, Judith L. Schaechter, MD, Eugene R. Hershorin, MD, Lipshultz, MD

‘Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults’

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One Comment on “The Truth Behind Energy Drinks”

  1. Tom Watson June 23, 2012 at 11:31 pm #


    First of all very good article. All of us should educate of ourselves avoid bad food complete. Start eating more of varieties vegetables and lower meat consumption. Now back to sugar and caffeine should be dumped in garbage and these two items shouldn’t be in our daily meals. I’m certainly eating more organic food and we can trust the major food and beverage companies since there main goal to make money quickly and make people fat. That’s the bottom line.



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