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The Lowdown On Energy Drinks

Updated on November 23, 2016

Are Energy Drinks Good or Bad?

INTRODUCTION

"Energy drinks cause weight loss and enhance athletic performance."

"Energy drinks cause heart attacks."

Which of these statements is true? In this article, I will discuss what comprises an energy drink, a brief history, its benefits and dangers, and my own personal experience with them.

WHAT IS AN ENERGY DRINK?

An energy drink is a soft drink that has been fortified with ingredients to boost energy levels. The difference between an energy drink and a regular soda (as in Coca-Cola or Mountain Dew) is that a regular soda contains only caffeine as an energy booster, and an energy drink contains many more ingredients: guarana, ginseng, and taurine, to name a few. They also tend to contain other ingredients that don’t necessarily boost energy, but help enhance performance; B-vitamins and Inositol that improve muscle tone, carnitine which helps in fatty acid metabolism, creatine which helps in muscle contractions, and ginko biloba to enhance memory.

A BRIEF HISTORY

The current energy drink craze began in 2001, when the market had grown to about $8,000,000 per year in sales. However, it had been a long time coming. I remember coming across Jolt Cola back in 1987 (actually, it had come on the market two years before). The slogan was, “All the sugar plus twice the caffeine”. I tried it, and it made me sleepy, so I wasn’t impressed.

Red Bull came into the US in 1997, but had its origins in Thailand a decade earlier. It was what really began the energy drink craze in this country, and to this day, it’s still the most popular one. Actually, though, the first energy drink was most likely one created in Scotland, named Irn-Bru (Iron Brew – perhaps that’s what the Iron Man drank to become a superhero???). This was created in 1901. Coca Cola was created in 1886 in Columbus, GA, but was not marketed as an energy drink; in fact, at first it was alcoholic, referred to as Coca Wine. The alcoholic content was removed at the beginning of the Prohibition Era, so it could continue to be marketed. The Coca name came from the fact that it contained cocaine. This was removed from the product in 1903, and replaced with caffeine, which comes from the kola nut (hence the Cola part of the name). To this day, some of the flavoring still comes from coca leaves, though there is no longer any cocaine in Coca Cola.

In 1929, Scotland also created Lucozade as a drink to assist in hospital recovery, and in the 1980’s, it was also promoted to replace lost energy. Japan and South Korea created an energy drink in the 1960’s, called Lipovitan. It is referred to as “genki drink”, and is marketed mainly to the “salarymen” set, rather than athletic young adults as they are in this country. (In Japan, a “salaryman” is someone who works long hours for low pay, is quite conservative, and is thoroughly dedicated to his company.)

Some “energy” drinks don’t necessarily energize, but make claims to promote performance. In the US during the 1960’s, a drink was made with electrolytes to replenish what was lost in sweaty workouts. It was created for the Florida football team Gators, and so was named Gatorade. Powerade is a branch of it, marketed by the Coca-Cola Company. These drinks are best referred to as sports drinks, since they don’t energize.

Since 2002, packaging of energy drinks has gone through changes. They are being sold in bigger cans, and being concentrated in shot bottles. In 2007, they have produced powders and effervescent tablets to mix with water. Some companies, like Rock Star, Launch, and Jolt, have come out with chewing gum.

LIST OF COMMON ENERGY DRINKS

Below is a list of common energy drinks, and their caffeine content as compared to coffee. Bear in mind that energy drinks contain other energizing ingredients besides caffeine.

Energy Drink
Mg of Caffeine per Ounce
Serving Size
Brewed Coffee
7-16 (varies)
56-128 mg (8 fl oz/237 mL/1 cup)
5-Hour Energy
40
80 mg (2 fl oz or 59.15 mL)
AMP Energy
8.93
71 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)
Coca-Cola Blāk
5.75
46 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)
Enviga
8.3
100 mg (12 fl oz or 355 mL)
Full Throttle
9
72 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)
Jolt Cola
5.96
140 mg (23.5 fl oz or 695 mL)
Jolt Endurance Shots
75
150 mg (2.0 fl oz or 56.82 mL)
Monster
10
160 mg (16 fl oz)
Mountain Dew MDX
5.88
47 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)
Pepsi Max
5.75
46 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)
Red Bull
9.64
80 mg (8.45 fl oz or 250 mL)
Redline
31.25
125 mg (4 fl oz or 120 mL)
Rockstar energy drink, original
10
160 mg (16 fl oz or 480 mL)
SoBe Adrenaline Rush
9.23
78 mg (8.45 fl oz or 250 mL)
Sparks (contains 6% alcohol)
5.44
87 mg (16 fl oz or 480 mL)
Tab Energy
9.0
72 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)
Vault
5.88
47 mg (8 fl oz or 237 mL)

Table copied from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_energy_drinks

BENEFITS OF ENERGY DRINKS

The greatest benefit of energy drinks is the obvious; they give energy. They enable people to stay awake and alert longer, they overcome depression, and enhance athletic performance. They also assist in weight loss, in the way that if a person knows s/he should go to the gym but doesn’t feel like it, consuming an energy drink will give him or her the drive and desire to go. Contrary to what the companies want you to believe, merely drinking one every day does not result in weight loss.

When I worked a night job, I would often have an energy drink on the long drive home. In spite of my crazy hours, I have never fallen asleep at the wheel, thanks to energy drinks. And when I was just taking up running, I once had 15 drops of E’ola (more on that later), and it enabled me to run 2 miles straight instead of the usual one mile I had been running, so I have personal proof that it improves athletic performance. However, it won’t take the place of regular training; it just enhances what you can already do.

DANGERS OF ENERGY DRINKS

Because energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine plus other stimulants, one needs to be careful how much s/he consumes. Ingesting more than 400mg of caffeine at one time can result in extreme jitteriness and heart arrhythmia. Having one energy drink won’t necessarily make you drop dead from a heart attack, but when a person chugs 3 or 4 Red Bulls at once, that can lead to major trouble. Some teens will do that because since energy drinks relieve depression, they figure overdosing can get them high – but there’s a nasty price to pay for doing that. Some have had to be rushed to the ER, and have even died from it. Energy drinks were never meant to make people high.

Other negative effects include irritability, sleeplessness, stomach upset, and increased urination which can lead to dehydration. Regarding sleeplessness, one needs to watch what time of day to have an energy drink. A few hours before bedtime is obviously not a good idea. As for dehydration, it is important to make sure you drink plenty of water, especially if you’re working out (which you should do, anyway). Energy drinks are also addictive, and the withdrawal symptoms are quite uncomfortable; extreme fatigue, headache, depression, nausea. It takes a week or two of daily consumption to become addicted, so it’s a good idea not to drink one every day. On a positive note, it takes only a few days to overcome addiction. Someone who is addicted should reduce consumption over a day or two before quitting altogether.

ADDITIONAL PRECAUTIONS

Young children should not consume energy drinks, or for that matter, coffee or caffeinated sodas. This is because children have loads of natural energy. Their cycles tend to be short; they get quick bursts, which is why they tend to run around a lot and have trouble sitting still. They also tend to tire easily, but have a short recovery time. Adults, on the other hand, are built for endurance; they can last a lot longer than children, but they don’t get quick bursts of energy, and their recovery time is longer. That’s why traditionally adults have consumed coffee, whereas children have not. Caffeine will merely give children ADHD; it will not benefit them one bit.

Recently, a new product has come out; energy drinks mixed with alcohol. Some brands names are Sparks, Tilt, and Smirnoff. Some people mix Red Bull with vodka; this is called VRB, Vod-Bomb, Vod-Bull, or Birch. A lot of warnings are out regarding how consuming these drinks lead to more sexual assaults and reckless behavior, but once again, it’s a matter of how much is consumed. Alcohol makes people sleepy; energy drinks make them alert. Being alert can make a drunk person feel capable of driving, whereas they normally would not. Both alcohol and energy drinks cause dehydration, so it is important to drink enough water, but a drunk person may not care about drinking water. Such a person will pay the next morning with a killer hangover. Once again, one has to practice good sense and moderation. (Incidentally, VRB does absolutely nothing for me.)

An extra word; while a person can safely consume 3 or 4 alcoholic beverages, the same is not true of energy drinks. The safest thing to do is to have only one, then spend the rest of the time sticking to alcohol. For example, have one VRB, then stick to vodka and tonics.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I am a HUGE fan of energy drinks! All my life, I’ve lacked energy, and as a teen attending a Seventh Day Adventist high school, I was not told that I could get quick energy through soda. My religion was against the use of stimulants, believing they robbed the user of future energy. I knew something about coffee, but I thought of it as something old fogies drank to stay awake. It didn’t occur to me to try drinking an iced coffee before or during a hike, to improve my performance. Then, the first few times I tried it when I was 18, it gave me diarrhea. It wasn’t until several years later I was persuaded to try it again, and by then (age 25), I was able to handle it better.

Over the years, I discovered Mountain Dew has the most caffeine of all soft drinks, so I would drink that if I needed to work long night shifts. Then one day, when I swung through a cappuccino stand in the Seattle area, the clerk put some drops of E’ola in my Italian cream soda (E’ola is an energizing additive; bitter tasting by itself, but you can’t detect it in a drink). I felt myself transform! All of a sudden, I went from afternoon blasé to turbo-boost. It was far better than any café latte. I bought the tiny bottle from her for $15. When my brother brought me to the Big Island in 2001, I had to find another seller; I found one at Gold’s Gym (now, Pacific Island Fitness) in Kona.

At that time, I was living with my brother in Pa’auilo, and had an office job in Kealakekua, 70 miles away. The long drive cut into my fitness schedule, so I found it practical to leave an hour earlier so I could swim in the Kona pool at 6am. Now, obviously no one wants to get up at 5am and drive for an hour to go for a swim. So this is what I did: the E’ola bottle instructions said to take 5 drops in your drink, 3 times a day. I would take all 15 drops at once. The thought of the mega turbo-boost it would give me got me out of bed to do this. Halfway to Kona, I would be eager to get into that pool to swim my 1/2 mile. Then I would shower, dress, put on makeup, and get to work at 7:45, feeling totally refreshed. True, I would get a slump around 2pm, but a cup of coffee or a can of Mountain Dew would perk me back up.

Unfortunately, I started suffering MAJOR crashes on the weekends, when I didn’t use E’ola. I remember one Saturday when I couldn’t get out of bed until 10am. I dragged myself to a diner in Honoka’a, had a meal with a diet Coke, then returned home and went right back to bed where I stayed the rest of the day and all that night. Then it occurred to me something was wrong with taking so much E’ola. I told my brother about it, saying it was like legal, liquid cocaine. He advised me to cut back to 3 times a week. Then later, I got a sneaking suspicion that maybe it wasn’t even legal. One of the main ingredients is Ephedra. Around that time, Ephedra was being taken off the market, but E’ola still kept it in its product. My brother and his wife told me I’d better quit using it altogether before I did damage to my heart. Because of the scare, plus being tired of crashing every weekend, plus the fact that the Kealakekua job had ended and I now had plenty of time to exercise, I quit using E’ola in 2003. Oddly, I don’t miss it much. Perhaps that’s because I’ve found other products to use, and have learned to handle them wisely.

From mid-2003 to early 2008, I worked three jobs, between 60-80 hours a week. What kept me going during that time was Red Bull. I would buy cases of it at Costco, and keep it in the trunk of my car. During my busiest weeks, I would drink 1 – 2 cans a day. Then, when things slowed a little, and I skipped drinking Red Bull for the first time in a couple of weeks, I would get splitting headaches that made me sick to my stomach. Neither Ibuprofen nor Aleve would get rid of the headache. This was the withdrawal symptom of Red Bull. The only thing that would ease it was to drink one, and the symptoms would not return the next day. So I learned to regulate how much Red Bull I drink.

Currently, I work 40 hours a week. I’ll have a cup of coffee in the morning, and a soda mid afternoon. If I’m feeling especially tired or sleepy, I might have a Monster, Rock Star or Amp energy drink, but I make a point of not drinking those every day. Currently, my favorite one is Red Line, but I save it strictly for heavy duty workouts at the gym. Red Line is POWERFUL stuff! It comes in 8 ounce bottles, and you have to be careful to drink only half. Seven-Eleven used to sell it, but too many people were drinking the whole bottle, and it caused their hearts to race and gave them panic attacks. Seven-Eleven stopped selling it, fearing lawsuits. I got my first bottle at Pacific Island Fitness, and they warned me to drink only half, and I’ve always heeded that warning. I don’t know if they still sell it; currently, I think only Vitamin World does (that’s where I currently get mine). I won’t drink it two days in a row. I don’t know what a Red Line withdrawal feels like, and I don’t want to find out!

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, one has to be rational about energy drinks, just like everything else. Energy drinks have the potential to do both good and harm, depending on how they’re used. The media is full of horror stories about teens getting heart attacks, but you need to consider what they did to cause it. After all you can blow out your liver from drinking too much carrot juice (vitamin A toxicity).

The thing to remember is this; everything in moderation. Well, not everything. I wouldn’t use crack in moderation, or at all, for that matter! Someone I know told me a story about a guy who said that about crack, and wound up ruining his life as a result – but that’s another paper.

© 2012 Yoleen Lucas

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    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 20 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks, Jackie. It's best to use them only if you need them. If you're on an easy schedule, that's a good time to wean youtself off caffeine snd other stimulants.

      I tried No Doz in college, and hated it. Energy drinks are EVER so much better! As long as your son is responsible, he should have no priblem.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 20 months ago from The Beautiful South

      I would never try an energy drink but I have no need to. I took pills once with caffeine like an energy drink when I was younger to work long hours and it made my heart do funny things so I just used caffeine drinks instead but even being retired now I have plenty of energy to do everything I need to do. I know my son uses them sometimes and it worries me but I guess he has had no ill effects.

      Guess we all have to decide for ourselves.

      Good article.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 23 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I am quite acclimatized myself. I believe it's good to take a break every once in awhile, to remain sensitive. I should have laid off coffee altogether for a week or so when I was unemployed. As it is, I make a point of never having an energy drink 2 days in a row, to avoid those horrible withdrawals.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 23 months ago from San Diego California

      I am so acclimatized to caffeine that neither coffee or energy drinks keep me awake if I have to stay up all night. I can have a cup of coffee at 7 PM and be snoozing by 9. Don't get me wrong, I love coffee and I drink it every day, mostly as a fix because I feel crappy if I don't have it, but energy drinks don't really do it for me. Great hub, interesting personal stories.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 24 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 24 months ago

      useful hub

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks for heeding it! A guy where I work, told me he used to go through a case of Red Bull a week. He wound up needing to have his gall bladder removed.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      40 grams of caffeine. I wouldn't sleep for a week. Thanks for the warning.

    • Romanian profile image

      Nicu 2 years ago from Oradea, Romania

      This article was very informative. I like especially the part of history of famous drinks. I didn't know before the old Coca Cola ingredients.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Gatorade replaces lost electrolytes. It contains no caffeine or any other stimulants.

      If you can get by without caffeine in any form, great! After all, it is addictive. However, if you're ever driving and about to fall asleep at the wheel, it's good to know caffeine will prevent that, possibly saving your life and those of others.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      I agree with the idea that moderation should be given to things like energy drinks. I personally don't drink them at all nor do I drink soda. You said energy drinks, I was originally thought you meant drinks like gatorade which when used in moderation can be especially beneficial when exercising in hot weather.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Glad I could help. Drunk in moderation, they are beneficial. The worst thing that's ever happened to me regarding energy drinks was Red Bull withdrawals - and those are easy to avoid.

    • Maria Antonia profile image

      Maria Antonia 2 years ago from North Carolina

      A really good Hub, I didn't know very much about energy drinks and now I feel much more informed.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Glad you enjoyed it. Energy drinks can actually be beneficial, if used wisely.

    • Wendi Gjata profile image

      Wendi Gjata 3 years ago from Hialeah-Florida

      Wow, great hub! This was quite interesting and well-organized. Thanks a lot for sharing!