Energy Drinks—Endurance Enhancer or Workout Wrecker?

My very first Healthy Heels blog post talked about coffee. Coffee had a bad rap as the cause of high blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia, all of which is still true. However, new research has pointed to the health benefits of coffee consumption, like lower risk of type 2 diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, and liver cancer. Thanks to a combination of antioxidants and caffeine, drinking coffee is also linked to improved concentration, memory, and athletic endurance.

But, can the same be said for Energy Drinks?

energy-drinksEnergy drinks, like Monster or Red Bull, and energy shots, like 5-hour energy, can contain 200 to 400 milligrams (and sometimes more) of caffeine. These products are sold as nutritional supplements and therefore not regulated by the FDA, so there is no limit to the caffeine they can contain. College students may be the fastest growing market for energy drinks, with 39% of students consuming at least 1 in the past month. Consumption is higher among males, white students, and athletes.

The American College of Sports Medicine has found that moderate caffeine consumption can boost performance during short-term bull_power_smallerendurance exercise lasting about 5 minutes. Caffeine had no effect on sprint performance (less than 90 seconds of intense exercise). Although a diuretic, caffeine does not lead to dehydration in moderate amounts nor does it cause calcium loss, as previously thought.

But evidence suggests that energy drinks and their high caffeine content may not be the best choice for college students….

  • A new study in Switzerland, suggests that caffeine consumption among teenagers may slow brain development by impairing deep sleep cycles. Our brains do not reach full maturity until our mid-20s, with the fastest growth occurring during puberty, and caffeine consumption can impair brain development and influence behavior.
  • 500-600 mg of caffeine can cause “intoxication” which can lead to insomnia, muscle tremors, gastrointestinal problems, and increased heart rate. Over-consumption can produce classic symptoms of anxiety disorder like jitteriness and racing heart, followed by withdrawal symptoms like headache and fatigue, all of which can negatively impact a person’s ability to function.
  • Drinkers who mix alcohol and energy drinks are 3 times more likely to binge drink and twice as likely to experience negative consequences while drinking, such as sexual assault and riding with an intoxicated driver. Caffeine masks the depressant effects of alcohol, allowing drinkers to continue drinking and engaging in activities, like sex and driving, but it does not affect the metabolism of alcohol or level of cognitive impairment. The result is a dangerous combination: a person who is very drunk and very awake.

Personal BestSo, drinking your favorite energy drink may give you a boost in your workout. But are the gains worth the risk of slowing your brain development and causing anxiety?

In the end, it’s up to you.