Energy Drinks and Exercise: A Cocktail to Be Avoided
Energy drinks are, to many people, something of a mystery. Though some of the health issues surrounding these beverages have received a fair amount of attention in the media, to a large extent people are still unaware of exactly what it is they are drinking, and the effects this could potentially have on them.
Sadly, people who are oblivious to the health risks attached to such products often assume that, rather than being dangerous, they are in some way healthy. After all, as these drinks are supposedly designed to give consumers an extra boost of energy, it isn’t hard to see how a person might come to associate the product with exercise, and therefore see a link between the product and increased physical fitness. This logic is dangerously flawed.
After seeing some high profile cases of fatal accidents caused by people drinking alcohol and energy drinks simultaneously, most people are, thankfully, now aware that mixing booze with these beverages is a bad idea. Unfortunately, far fewer people are aware that mixing exercise and energy drinks is also a cocktail to be avoided. If anything, people still tend to associate the two.
Indeed, this seems, unsurprisingly, to be an association that drinks companies are more than willing to reinforce. Take, for instance one famous energy drink manufacturer, Red Bull. They spend a huge amount of money sponsoring professional athletes who are in great health, especially those who participate in activities that appeal to young, image conscious people. Mountain biking, wake boarding and skate boarding are a few examples, but more conventional sports are also covered.
However, despite the image often manufacturers seek to foster through such sponsorship deals, energy drinks and strenuous physical activity are not at all a good match. This is because of the extremely high levels caffeine they usually contain.
To say that these drinks are high in caffeine, is not just an understatement, it’s technically a falsehood. Why? Because these products are so high in caffeine they can’t in fact be legally classified as a ‘food stuff’, so in the eyes of the law they are not strictly ‘drinks’ at all.
The US Food and Drug administration limits drinks to containing 71mg of caffeine per 12 fluid ounces. However, as energy drinks are categorised as ‘nutritional supplements’, they are able to ignore this rule completely. As a result, some contain as much as 400mg of caffeine per a container. This is without counting the additional caffeine that can come from other ingredients that are often included, such as the increasingly popular gurana. Even if caffeine is listed as an ingredient, and it isn’t always, the additional caffeine from these sources won’t be tallied in. It’s worth bearing in mind that gurana can contain up to 40mg of caffeine per a gram.
Caffeine is, of course, a diuretic. This means that, when consumed, it causes your kidneys to start removing fluid from your body. This, in of itself, can be enough to make you feel dehydrated. If you are also losing fluids through sweat due to exercising, there is a real risk that you will rapidly become dangerously dehydrated.
To fight dehydration when exercising you should drink either water, or sports drinks, which contain minerals and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium and chloride, all of which are lost through sweating.
It’s very important not to get confused between energy drinks and sports drinks. In an effort to associate their product with the world of fitness, energy drinks companies tailor their marketing to match those of sports drinks. For example, they will often use similar packaging, both types of drinks are often brightly coloured and they can even have a similar taste.
However, these products are very different. Whilst energy drinks will dehydrate you, sports drinks do the opposite. Whereas energy drinks contain huge amounts of simple sugars, which will give you a sudden energy peak, followed by a huge crash, sports drinks contain 6-8% carbohydrates, providing actual fuel for your muscles to burn.
Always make sure to check the list of ingredients before buying a drink to aid your workout, as it is easy for confusion to arise over the intended purpose of a beverage.
Simon Hanley writes on a number of fitness and nutrition issues, including the diet, exercise regime and mentality required to make the most of gym membership.