What's the real deal with energy drinks like Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster?
Everyone has heard an urban legend or two about the dangers of Red Bull…it causes brain tumors, it contains bull semen, etc., etc. Let’s take a look at the label ingredients and see what is really going on inside that 8.3 oz. can.
Carbonated Water: Well, at least we know the first ingredient.
Sucrose, glucose: Sugar, sugar.
Taurine: An amino acid precursor that promotes brain development. It occurs naturally in foods, especially meats and seafood, but average daily intake in most adults is about 60mg. Though up to 3,000mg/day is considered safe, many energy drinks contain 1,000mg in an 8 or 12 oz. serving. There is little research concerning the adverse effects of high doses of taurine and caffeine in combination, so careful not to overdo it. Oh and no, it officially does not contain bull semen.
Glucoronolactone: Chemical naturally produced by the liver in glucose metabolism.
Caffeine: Basically, a stimulant. While Red Bull holds about 80mg per can, the energy drinks available in the US market contain anywhere from 50-505mg per can or bottle. And these amounts are unlabeled, so you don’t really know what you’re getting. A12 oz. can of soda generally has about 35mg caffeine, and a cup of regular coffee can range from 75-150mg. Would you ever drink 14+ cans of Coca-cola in one sitting?
Niacinamide (B-3), Pantothenate (B-5), Pyridoxine (B-6), Vitamin B-12: Megadoses of water-soluble B vitamins found in many, particularly high protein, foods.
Other suspicious ingredients you might see on the side of your can…
Kola Nut Extract, Guarana: Basically, caffeine.
So essentially, energy drinks are nothing more than soft drinks with added B-vitamins and super high levels of caffeine. The average energy drink actually has a higher refined sugar content than regular soda, which is why most energy drink junkies can attest to the crash that inevitably follows the initial, short-lived manic jolt. And buyers beware, because this is not our only concern.
1. Main ingredients banned by the NCAA:
It is pretty well known that caffeine is associated with increasing endurance and enhancing aerobic performance. As a result, large amounts of caffeine, guarana, and taurine could all lead to a failed NCAA-administered drug test. Granted its very rare for an athlete, to ever test positive for too much caffeine, but are you willing to take the risk?
2. Caffeine is a drug:
…And like other drugs it can cause overdose and withdrawal. As defined by the World Health Organization, caffeine toxicity can include some highly undesirable symptoms such as: anxiety, insomnia, nausea/vomiting, heart palpitations, and even death. Symptoms of withdrawal can cause intense headaches, depression, muscle aches, and decreased cognitive performance. I think this photo pretty much says it all:
Hmm an energy drink mix sold as a white powder, packaged in a vial, and complete with mirrors and credit cards for “cutting” the product. And it’s called Blow. At least it’s not as blatant as Cocaine energy drink, banned from the market in 2007…?
3. Energy drinks do not mix with alcohol:
Contrary to popular belief, Red Bull vodka is not the perfect party drink, but an absolutely terrible idea. Mixing stimulants (caffeine) with depressants (alcohol) is not only confusing to your body, but can lead to some very unwise decisions. Studies have shown that compared to vodka alone, combining Red Bull and vodka leads to decreased perception of impairment (aka you are much more intoxicated than you think you are, which causes you to drink more, for longer... Hello hangover). Similar studies have shown that people consuming energy drinks mixed with alcohol are at higher risk of sexual abuse, physical injury, and driving with someone under the influence of alcohol. Doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for a fun night out.
The bottom line is, if you feel the need for a little boost of caffeine every once in a while and actually enjoy the taste of Monster or Rockstar, then fine. But as a good rule of thumb, don’t consume more than one per day to avoid any threat of adverse effects. And if you’re just looking for a little pick me up, stick to tea or coffee instead. You will get your caffeine plus antioxidants minus the potentially dangerous chemicals.