The main reason most people cite for their energy drink consumption is to get enough caffeine to get through the day. Been there, done that. I'm pretty sure there are more soul-sucking jobs in existence than fulfilling ones--we can't all write for We Are The Mighty and spend the rest of our time surfing... the waves are getting crowded and that's my job, you can't have it.
Let's look at the math for exactly how much caffeine is in the average energy drink versus a cup of coffee.
Does he look cool or just tired? Hand tattoo optional...
- The average cup of coffee contains up to 170 mg of caffeine. In some cases, like a 20 oz venti from Starbucks, it could contain up to 415 mg of caffeine.
- The caffeine content in energy drinks is anywhere between 47 to 207 mg.
With the recommended intake of caffeine per day maxing at 400 mg/day, it seems like you could easily get your caffeine fix from either drink. So what is the real case for spending over $5.00 on a can of what looks like nuclear reactor run-off?
Many energy drink companies associate themselves with athletics and extremely fit people. The insinuation is that if you drink this product, you'll become a freak athlete, you'll look great with your shirt off, and you'll be jumping from balloons way up in the stratosphere in no time flat.
Well, my friends, let's see if the research on energy drinks supports their subliminal messaging.
Good for you in the short term
Before I poop all over your favorite energy drink, I will happily admit that they have been shown to increase alertness and performance if consumed immediately before a test or training session.
This makes sense, since the most popular pre-workout ingredient is caffeine, and these things are loaded with caffeine. But is that caffeine enough to carry someone through months and years of training to reach their true fitness goal?
Scientists have shown that energy drinks increase jump height, muscular endurance in the bench press, and performance in tennis and volleyball.
The bad and the toothless
Real subtle...almost accurate, very bombastic.
(Photo by Sharon McPeak)
However, a recent meta-analysis on energy drinks has shown that people who consume energy drinks have:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Increased risk of obesity
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Increased dental decay
- Increased kidney issues
- Increased sleep dissatisfaction
- Increased stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms
- AND low academic achievement
Before you call bullshit, let me rein in these findings for you. Correlation does not equal causation. No one, even the scientists who conduct the cited studies, is saying that energy drinks in and of themselves cause all of these issues.
What is being said is that people who drink energy drinks also have these other issues. They are describing the profile of someone who tends to drink energy drinks.
There's coffee and then there's this shit.
This is similar to any other demonized substance or habit. Take for instance red meat eaters, or people who don't exercise. Many of the same conclusions can be drawn for people that fall into these categories. This is just how science works.
What is true though is that if you are a fan of energy drinks, you probably have other crappy habits that will also contribute to you developing some of the above conditions.
We don't see the same with coffee drinkers because nearly everyone, except Mormons, drink coffee. We can see similar effects on people who only drink double mocha f*ckaccinos though, because that's an irresponsible decision.
Energy drinks and your habits
Long-term studies on energy drink drinkers show only negative effects. Some of these effects are directly related to the actual consumption of energy drinks, like dental decay, but many of them are due to a whole host of combined factors. And that is where the real devil is in these products.
Although they promote active lifestyles, they actually create a vicious cycle that leads to a sedentary lifestyle.
Energy drinks after 3 p.m. disrupt sleep.
Disrupted sleep leads to increased daily fatigue and tiredness.
Tired people are masters at coming up with excuses to not work out.
You can kiss any fitness goal you may have goodbye if you fall into this cycle. Period.
Used properly, energy drinks could be a force multiplier for you in the gym. Used irresponsibly, they will lead you to a slow decline into inactivity, a gross body, and loads of tearful regret about what could have been.