The use of energy drinks in professional, college and high school clubhouses and dressing rooms continues to rise. While their popularity soars, it’s important to point out that energy drinks and other quick energy products could have a negative effect on both your performance and health. While some energy drinks are NSF approved supplements, they may not safe for certain individuals and/or to all individuals if abused. The two primary ingredients in many energy drinks are sugar and caffeine. Sugar (20-25 teaspoons per 8-oz can in many drinks) provides quick energy but can cause you to crash before your workout or game is over. And once you begin to crash, you tend go back for another energy drink to re-start your engine. More cans means more empty calories and more calories can contribute to a larger waist line.Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can make you feel alert and ready for action. Too much caffeine, however, increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood pressure, increases the release of glucose from the liver, dilates the pupils and increases fluid excretion (dehydration). And, since the half-life of caffeine is about 2-10 hours, these effects might be felt long after you consume it. Consuming caffeine after 6:00 pm can interrupt your “normal” sleep routine. Most players need at least 8 hours of sleep each night to recharge the body and play at a high level the next day, not the insomnia, restless sleep and thrashing about that can accompany the consumption of energy drinks.
How much caffeine is too much?
The American Dietician Association (ADA) recommends that adults consume no more than 200-300 mg of caffeine per day from all sources. This equals about three 8-oz cups of coffee per day. Professional baseball players, however, often consume significantly more than the ADA recommendation. A player who wakes up to a 12 oz Starbucks brewed coffee (260 mg), takes 2 Excedrin (130 mg) and washes them down with a soft drink (60 mg) before lunch, consumes a 16-oz Starbucks Grande (330 mg) on the way to the park, has an 8-oz energy drink (240 mg) before BP and another one (240 mg) before or during the game could consume over 1100 mg of caffeine (3-4 times the ADA recommendation) per day.
Many energy drinks consumed in moderation appear to be relatively safe, if you are not sensitive to caffeine or diabetic, but they do not provide “sustained super energy”. Long lasting energy comes from food, not caffeine and sugar. If you need an energy pick-up, improve your diet before downing an energy drink. Caffeine is addictive and you can develop a tolerance to it. You might get a boost from one can today, but it could take 3-4 to do the trick in the future.
Remember, caffeine can contribute to dehydration. To help avoid dehydration, you should drink at least one cup (8 oz) of water for every highly-caffeinated drink that you consume. A “high energy” drink can contain up to 4 servings of caffeine, so you will need to drink at least four 8-oz glasses of water for every can of energy drink. You’ll need 8 cups to counter-act the dehydrating effects of 2 cans, and that’s not counting the extra water that you’ll need to help neutralize the dehydrating effects of the coffee, soft drinks and alcohol that you consume during the day. Your water need will also increase significantly if you travel by air and play in a hot, humid environment. Be safe-drink-drink-drink, but not energy drinks.
Sugar-free energy drinks have fewer calories but similar side-effects as “regular” drinks – heart palpitations, dehydration and sleep disturbances. There are no short cuts to good health and optimal performance. Energy drinks are crutches, not tools for long-term health and success. The keys to good health and performance are proper diet, hard work and adequate rest and recovery.
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012 and is currently a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers and Professor in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.