Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dispelling the myth of calorie-free energy drinks

This is my article that ran in the September 22nd edition of The Advocate:

Many people believe that energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster and the 5 Hour Energy shot are special concoctions that “have a lot of energy in them.”  To most people this usually amounts to thinking about how much caffeine it has, while not really understanding what it means for a drink to have energy.

In addition to that, more and more people are looking for ways to maintain their energy level to keep up with their busy schedules and at the same time keep their calories low for fear of putting on weight.

Lucky for them, it just so happens that many of these brands’ products are sugar/calorie-free or produce a version that is sugar/calorie-free. But does this really do anything for them? Many people argue “yes” simply based off of feeling more energized after drinking one, but this becomes problematic when you actually look at what calories are.

Simply put, calories are the energy that is found in food. If you don’t have calories, there is no sense whatsoever in calling it an energy drink. This is true for zero-to-low calorie energy drinks, but even energy drinks with a normal amount of calories don’t provide much more than you would find in an equivalent amount of your average soft drink.

At this point you may be thinking to yourself, “There’s other stuff in there besides the caloric content, doesn’t that do anything?” So let’s take a look at the more commonly found ingredients in these drinks.

First off there’s the vitamin content. On the face of it, this may seem beneficial for a drink to be loaded with vitamins, but the reality is that these don’t actually do anything for the amount of energy you have, and unless you have a pre-existing vitamin deficiency, it’s probably just going to make you go to the bathroom more.

Taurine is another ingredient often touted by energy drink companies as having some sort of impact on “energy and performance.” This doesn’t actually amount to much for most people because if you consume meat, taurine is already plentiful in your diet. Even with that fact in hand, there is no evidence that taurine provides anything as far as energy goes, though it does play an important role as far as nutrition is concerned.

This brings us to the kicker: caffeine. Caffeine certainly does have a number of physiological effects, but it’s still widely debated as to whether or not it actually does anything to increase awareness and cognitive function. Even if awareness was increased by caffeine, it’s something entirely separate from energy, so it’s still not relevant to the whole “energy drink” issue.

Essentially, what you’re doing if you buy a zero-to-low calorie energy drink is paying for a canned placebo, and regular energy drinks don’t have anything over most soft drinks that deem them worthy of the special “energy” title.

Maybe what we should do instead of forking over cash to a company willing to sell you a placebo every time we feel tired is just to pretend we’re having one or, better yet, have some food with a sufficient number of calories that is actually healthy.

There’s an idea.

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