Are Energy Drinks Bad for You?

Energy drinks are everywhere these days, every fridge section in every shop or supermarket are packed with hundreds of varieties and they sponsor practically everything!  

Its big business too. In 2016 it was valued at $43 billion globally and over $2.5 million in the UK alone! This figure is expected to double by 2025. 

I personally have used energy drinks every now and again as I’m sure most of you have for various situations, mainly before evening clients when I have been on the go all day or if I had a bad/broken sleep the previous night and I’m struggling. I have mostly found they do exactly what I need and help me get through without ever experiencing any ill effects, and yet I always have the feeling that these are not in any way good for me and I probably shouldn’t really be drinking them! 

So, what makes these energy drinks so popular? As touched on earlier I think the actual claimed energy boosting properties are a big reason (like modern day pro plus) but I think that very successful, clever marketing has been a driving force in their popularity .. we see Red Bull & Monster everywhere in sport and huge stars promoting it. I think amongst the younger generation it’s also a viewed as cool, and upon speaking with my own teenage kids they confirmed this.  

Between 2007 and 2017 population surveys around the world reported that around half of young people in relatively well-off western cultures regularly consumed energy drinks. 

So, what’s the problem I hear you ask? Well the ingredients lists on the back of these luminous fizzy drinks is the start, listing compounds, and chemicals with long names and numbers that frighten us all to death, and reports of kids being hospitalized with off the scale heart rates etc. , however I think we need to look past this somewhat and see what some of the more common ingredients are and what they do.  

Caffeine 

Caffeine is the main stimulant in energy drinks. Most popular energy drinks contain some 150 mg of caffeine per serving. In other words, the caffeine content of an energy drink is about 470% that of a can of Coke and 160% that of a cup of coffee. A caffeine intake of less than 400 mg/day is considered safe, but the actual safety threshold depends on individual factors such as genetics, health status, and circadian rhythms.  

Sugar  

In themselves, carbohydrates do not cause obesity or related health problems. That said, the consumption of sugary drinks often leads to an increase in caloric intake; sugary drinks can thus contribute to obesity and related health problems, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and fatty liver disease, especially in a society that favors sitting over moving. 

Taurine 

Taurine is an organic compound found in the large intestine that is one of the main components of bile & plays a vital role in the function of the central nervous system. Studies have shown that supplementing with taurine can have great antioxidant effects, as well as helping to prevent oxidative stress caused by exercise. Although in the doses usually included in these energy drinks you would need to drink upwards of 20 cans a day to see the benefit!  

These energy drinks usually contain a variety of vitamins and other components in very small doses that are very unlikely in my opinion to cause much harm.  

The cardiovascular effects of energy drinks deserve special attention. Caffeine primarily affects the blood vessels, whereas the other ingredients primarily affect the heart. Overall, energy drinks are believed to cause short-term adverse changes characterized by an increase in the heart’s workload.  

So, who is at risk? Women who plan to get pregnant should avoid taking too much caffeine: women who consume more than 400 mg/day are 11% more likely to abort spontaneously than women who consume less than 50 mg/day. 

And it doesn’t stop there. When consumed during pregnancy, caffeine can interfere with the brain development of the fetus and thus cause brain damage. 

Children and adolescents may be another at-risk population: due to their small size, they have a lower safety threshold for many of the ingredients in energy drinks.  

Are there any benefits? Several randomized controlled trials in adults have shown energy drinks to benefit mental performance. The fatigue-fighting effects of caffeine could also be considered a benefit under the right circumstances. Moreover, a meta-analysis found that energy drink consumption improved muscle strength and endurance, performance on endurance exercise tests, jumping, and sport-specific actions!  

So, are energy drinks bad for you? My personal view based on all of the evidence I have seen is that unless you are pregnant / trying for a baby or under the age of 16 then the occasional red bull is probably fine.  caffeine can be an issue if taken to excess but use some common sense and it has great benefits to fitness and training. The high sugar content would be something I would watch out for simply from a calorie standpoint, however this can easily be addressed by choosing the sugar free options.  

I really enjoyed researching this one as it’s a question I actually asked myself, I feel much better now about drinking the occasional can when I feel I need that extra focus or alertness and also in a better position to answer if asked by my clients.  

Thanks for taking the time to read this month’s blog, I hope you enjoyed it and have taken something away from it.  

Till next time!  

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