The energy drink market is huge and constantly growing. In 2016, it was valued at $43 billion globally, and by 2025, these numbers are expected to double. People of all ages - young and old - consume energy drinks, and these drinks continue to grow in popularity year after year for their ability to boost energy, alertness, and concentration.
But many health experts have warned that energy drinks may have harmful side effects, which has led many individuals to question these drinks’ safety.
In this article, we will explore the good and the bad of energy drinks, providing an in-depth review of their impacts on your health. So, if you’ve ever wondered if energy drinks are bad for you - keep reading!
What Are Energy Drinks?
Energy drinks are popular beverages that contain ingredients marketed to increase energy and mental performance. Nearly all energy drinks contain the ingredient Caffeine to stimulate brain function and increase alertness and concentration.
No two energy drinks are exactly the same, but in addition to Caffeine, the most common ingredients found include Taurine, B vitamins (B3, B6, B12), botanicals (e.g., guarana, ginseng), and of course, sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Caffeine and Sugar
Of all the ingredients that make up these popular beverages, Caffeine and sugar are the two main components.
Caffeine has the benefit of enhancing your athletic performance and improving mental alertness. With most energy drinks ranging from 40-300mg of Caffeine per eight fluid-ounces, these drinks can really get you going.
For the sake of comparison, one five-ounce cup of coffee generally has about 80-100mg of Caffeine. Taking in large amounts of Caffeine in one sitting or consuming it frequently throughout the day in large doses can push a person’s body to the brink - especially in the case of heavily caffeinated energy drinks. It can simulate a sudden shock of adrenaline in the body, sending you into the reactionary fight position of the classic ‘fight or flight’ response - even if you’re not ready for it.
Sugar is also found in large amounts in these popular beverages. When sugar is digested, it breaks down into simple sugars and travels through the bloodstream into the blood cells. While sugar can temporarily increase your energy, it’s no secret how bad it can be for your health, and unfortunately, many energy drinks have a ridiculously high amount of sugar.
For example, one can of a popular energy drink has an astounding 60 grams of sugar. That’s nearly twelve teaspoons, or the equivalent of consuming six donuts - all in one sitting!
The consumption of sugary beverages often leads to an increase in caloric intake. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how energy drinks can contribute to obesity and related health problems, such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver.
But what about sugar-free energy drinks?
Let’s touch on another hot topic when it comes to energy drinks: artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are found in popular low calorie or zero-calorie drinks because it can give the drink a sweet taste without the added calories.
There are two main artificial sweeteners that you will typically find in many popular energy drinks that are both low sugar and calorie-free: sucralose and aspartame. They also happen to be the most highly researched artificial sweeteners to date.
Aspartame is a derivative of phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It was first approved safe for consumption in the U.S. in 1974 after 90 other countries did so as well. This controversial ingredient became the topic of debate when a few studies conducted on rodents showed it had the potential to cause cancer.
Sucralose is derived from sugar, so it’s more natural in comparison to some other options. Sucralose is largely found in diet sodas and zero-calorie energy drinks and is most popularly seen in Splenda. Upon consumption, sucralose is mainly excreted as waste, and if it doesn’t get absorbed by the body, it is quickly excreted through urine. Over the years, studies and research have been conducted on this common ingredient, showing that it can cause damage to gut bacteria. There’s also research linking sucralose to a higher risk of cancer in rats.
Are Energy Drinks Safe?
It’s important to note that many energy beverages are not mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning there is no one fully regulating what ingredients are being put into many of these popular drinks, aside from regular beverage requirements.
Even less is known about the effects of the additives when combined with Caffeine, or when they’re ingested by people of varying ages, health, and body types. Some manufactures don’t even include the source of Caffeine or the Caffeine content per serving on their product labels, which adds to the unpredictability of their products’ effects. It’s kind of scary when you really think about it!
However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all products are created equal, and that there are some really great energy drinks on the market that offer clean, all-day energy.
Some of the best benefits that can come from an energy drink include:
More Energy:The biggest benefit, of course, is an increase in energy. Energy drinks produce a feeling of wakefulness, alertness, and productivity. They are perfect for giving your energy levels a little jolt to keep you going throughout the day.
Fast Caffeine Delivery: Because energy drinks are commonly served cold, they can be consumed much quicker than a hot cup of coffee. Quicker consumption leads to faster delivery of Caffeine into the bloodstream.
Improves Concentration and Memory: The main reason energy drinks improve concentration and memory is due to the Caffeine content. Caffeine, when taken correctly, is known to improve your mental performance. In fact, there have been studies linking this super ingredient to improved long-term memory. Caffeine also increases your ability to concentrate and can help you focus on the task at hand.
Fast Post Workout Recovery: When you sweat during a workout, you lose water, electrolytes, and energy. Over time, this can lead to dehydration, and you’ll start to notice a drop in your performance. Energy drinks are ideal for post-workout recovery because they are usually carb-based, which will replenish the energy you lost during your workout. Energy drinks also often contain sodium, which will also help to replenish your body with the electrolytes lost during exercise to keep your performance at an optimal level.
Energy Drinks Can Improve Mood: Whenever you’re tired, you might feel moody, grouchy, and a little unmotivated to get anything done. The good news is that an energy drink can help. Most energy drinks contain tons of healthy vitamins and/or amino acids, which play a role in regulating mood and other brain functions.
So, are energy drinks bad for you?
Yes and no...
There are a ton of products on the market, and it’s important to keep in mind that they are not all created equal. Some energy drinks are worse than others, while others can actually help you maximize your day!
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