Why energy drinks may not be worth the hype

PHOTO: Commons

Energy and sports drinks are a couple of the hottest items in the world today and make up a multi-million dollar industry. If you believe their advertisements, they are magic elixirs that provide more energy, improved performance, and better concentration. While many consumers assume the ingredients of energy and sports drinks are more or less the same, they are not.

Let’s talk energy drinks first. Examples such as Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster, etc. are modern, functional, lifestyle beverages that could be thirst quenchers and refreshers, enjoyed anytime, with or without meals. As their main ingredient is caffeine, they are basically the “coffee” of this generation, mostly used to provide energy. While university students years ago downed large amounts of coffee to stay awake cramming for exams, today’s students crack open a can or several of Red Bull. Most energy drinks contain significantly more carbohydrates and calories than sports drinks, basically from sugar such as high fructose corn syrup. Interestingly, many folks use energy drinks to help with weight loss. Considering the amount of sugar they contain, that seems rather contradictory. One could suppose they are hoping the caffeine content will override the sugar aspect. Many of these drinks are also carbonated.

Sports drinks, like Gatorade, Powerade and Accelerade are usually formulated for a specific purpose to be used during exercise to enhance performance, although most are not consumed in that context. These concoctions are meant to replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes lost through physical activity and sweating. Electrolytes are minerals (potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium) that keep our bodies’ fluids balanced. As mentioned earlier, many sports drinks contain lesser amounts of carbohydrates (sugar), also protein, and vitamins. They come in many different flavours.

Are they interchangeable? Perhaps the caffeine and sugar in energy drinks might provide the initial get-up-and-go for your exercise, but it will not provide the added nutrients to restore your body of lost essentials. Research has also shown that if an energy drink were consumed immediately before a workout, your body would use more oxygen and you would become exhausted more quickly. Furthermore, an energy drink might only be somewhat beneficial to a trained athlete as opposed to a casual exerciser.

What about the cons? As energy drinks contain substantial caffeine, too much can cause nervousness, grumpiness, upset stomach, diarrhea and headaches. They also contain lots of sugar and can lead to weight gain and dental problems. Although sports drinks do contain sugar (added calories) to a lesser degree, if you’re not exercising long and hard, these could lead to weight gain as well. Many folks mix energy drinks with alcohol. A really bad idea! The caffeine in these drinks can make the effects of alcohol harder to notice making you feel not as intoxicated as you actually are.

Are energy drinks and sports drinks for everyone? The caffeine in energy drinks (and some sports drinks) can cause higher blood pressure, sleep problems, worsen heart problems, increase blood sugar in those with diabetes, cause weight gain, headaches, and insomnia. Unless you are an extreme athlete, water is probably your best choice before, during and after physical activity. It’s probably not good to use energy drinks in place of sports drinks and pregnant women best avoid both. Children and teens should never use either of these. A balanced diet is more than enough to provide them with the carbohydrates and electrolytes they require and water is their best option.

Edward Finstein is a wine writer, author, TV and radio host, educator, judge.

Connect with him on Twitter at @DrWineKnow, or on Facebook 


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