Are energy drinks harmful or helpful?

Fall is here, which means that sports seasons start up and students delve back into their studies, taking all-nighters to study and write papers. All of these activities cause energy drinks to fly off the shelves at grocery stores for people who are hoping to get a little extra boost in their day (or for their long night). But, are these drinks more harmful than helpful?

Ingredients that pose a health hazard

Caffeine is the primary ingredient and although it can vary, energy drinks generally have more caffeine than a soda or a cup of coffee. There’s 154 mg in a 16 ounce Red Bull, whereas a can of Coca-Cola classic only has 32 mg. That’s a lot of caffeine. Excessive caffeine can lead to high blood pressure, dehydration, increased heart rate, and stomach irritation — all things you don’t want, especially when you’re trying to win a soccer championship.

In addition, a lot of these drinks contain guarana, a plant from South America that’s extremely high in caffeine. When you’re looking at the label, check for guarana. One gram of guarana contains about 40 mg of caffeine.

And, as expected, these drinks contain high amounts of sugar. Authors of a study about energy drinks in Pediatrics wrote that users who drink two or three energy drinks a day are likely consuming four to six times the recommended daily intake, which can lead to obesity and dental problems.

Risk for Children and Teens

According to the CDC, 50% of adolescents report consuming energy drinks and 75% of school districts don’t have policies to control the use of these drinks and even have them available on campus. This means their consumption is high among teens. Dr. Lewis First, MD, chief of pediatrics at the UVM Children’s Hospital, states that the best way for kids and teens to excel on the field and in the classroom is by getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eating a well-balanced diet.

What about sports drinks?

Dr. First notes that these can be beneficial to those who participate in vigorous activity. Things like long distance biking, running, or intense sports like soccer or basketball are good examples. These drinks can contain vitamins and minerals as well as carbs and sugars. These can be good for a quick energy boost while your body’s stores are becoming depleted. However, Dr. First notes that if you drink them after exercise or with meals, they can cause weight gain.

Are there effective alternatives?

While it’s safe to have caffeine in moderation, there’s really no substitute for water. Staying hydrated is the best way to keep your body running. However, you can also gear up for a workout by eating proteins and carbohydrates, which provide your muscles with energy. A few examples are eggs, milk, fruit, and peanut butter.

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