This article was written by Big Les & was originally published in The MuscleTalker April 2010 edition
For some people the very suggestion that energy drinks are a food will make their blood boil. With their popularity and proliferation (here in UK we don't have a tenth of the choice our US cousins get) has come media hype, knee jerk reactions and health nut jobs jumping on the band wagon. This month, food of the month sets out to give a balanced, rational picture.
In the UK the Energy Drink market is dominated by the big players, Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, Relentless and the supermarkets own brands. Red Bull led the market, and has already seen itself embroiled in controversy enough to be banned in some countries (have a Google!). So what is in an energy drink? They are all at heart a combination of sugar and water, or if you are getting a low sugar version, water and sweeteners.
In addition to the base you will find a mix of 'energy boosting ingredients' including caffeine, taurine, B vitamins, ginseng, guarana and possibly some others depending on the brand. Guarana is a source of caffeine, so more of that in a moment. You may get 100% of your RDA of B vitamins from 500ml of energy drink, but unfortunately B vitamins will not boost your energy levels.
When it comes to vitamins the evidence is clear, 1) taking mega doses of vitamins does not boost performance, and may, in certain circumstances, even be harmful, and 2) taking vitamins only boosts anything if you were deficient in the first place.
Next up, ginseng. Ginseng varieties have been studied in relation to performance and the evidence has been in for a while. To have any effect you have to take ginseng consistently over time, and then the only effect that has been noted consistently is an increase in libido. Probably not the performance enhancement you were looking for!
Next taurine: once again we are going to be disappointed, taurine does not boost energy. In scientific studies taurine has shown promise in other areas, but not for athletes. And if that disappointment was not enough, over 2g a day has been lined to causing psoriasis in some people; it may not be confusion that has you scratching your head after all.
Finally caffeine: we know this well, the world's most popular drug. And, if you read the media hype, it is caffeine that has the potential to cause all of the problems put at the foot of the evil energy drink. So, a little perspective is needed. While the health Stasi have put energy drinks firmly in the firing line and the marketing machines have given the products some edge, the fact remains there is more caffeine in a 'Grande Americano' from Starbucks than there is in most 500ml cans of an energy drink.
So, let us sum up: energy drinks are a good source of caffeine, but they are apart from that no different from a can of coke (or diet coke of course), and as such, an athlete should treat them the same and give them the same place in their diet.Leave a comment