If you stop in at any convenience store or truck stop you will notice that the number of energy drinks in the cooler is definitely on the rise. From perhaps one or two different major brands you now will find 10 or more possible options, some touting all natural ingredients and no caffeine and some boasting high levels of caffeine to help you stay awake, energized and ready to go.
While initially some of the marketing for these drinks was directed at truckers and those on the road, marketing is now more mainstream for most types of energy drinks. This goes for the flavored soda types as well as the shot drinks that are reported to provide energy for several hours.
Deciding if you want to use these drinks while you are driving is a personal decision, but it is an important one. Understanding just what is in those energy drinks, especially the ones that indicate they are all natural and have no added caffeine, will be important in deciding if you want to add them to your routine or not.
Energy drinks all contain caffeine or a caffeine equivalent. If you don’t see caffeine on the label, that doesn’t mean a substance just like it isn’t in the drink. The most common alternative or “natural” simulant is guarana or in some brands, a mixture of guarana and ginseng. Ginseng is an herb that increases the uptake of caffeine by the body and actually increases the effects. Guarana is a plant grown in the Amazon area and the seeds are very high in caffeine and are found in many diet supplements for their metabolic boost.
It is essential to carefully read the label and know what you are drinking. There is no requirement in the United States for the amount of caffeine to be listed on the label at this time, so you have to have a general understanding of ingredients and typical caffeine levels.
Per 8 ounce serving typical drinks containing caffeine include:
• Drip brewed Arabic coffee – approximately 110 mg of caffeine
• Drip brewed decaffeinated coffee – between 2-12 mg of caffeine
• Espresso, single shot – 30-100 mg of caffeine
• black tea – 40-120 mg of caffeine
• Green tea – approximately 50-60 mg of caffeine
• Iced tea (bottled) – 15-30 mg of caffeine
• Pepsi Max – 60 mg of caffeine
• Cola – 34 mg of caffeine
• Energy drinks – 74-280 mg of caffeine
Keep in mind that many drinks are sold in cans or bottles that are more than 8 ounces, as are many other beverages on the list, so you do have to keep that in mind when determining how much caffeine you are consuming.
Typically these drinks will also provide other additives and supplements or herbal combinations that are touted to support mental alertness, attention and concentration. These drinks, marketed as dietary supplements, do not need to verify their claims as they are not under the jurisdiction of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) so the claims are basically made by the manufacturer.
Sugar in a variety of forms is also a major ingredient in many drinks. Amino acids, B vitamins, yerba mate, taurine, carnitine, ginkgo biloba and maltodextrin are also found in most energy drinks. These ingredients are not harmful and, in fact, they can be beneficial to the body. However, in the quantity they are found in energy drinks most researchers indicate they provide no notable health benefits.
Anyone that is sensitive to caffeine should be very careful when consuming any type of energy drink. Common side effects noted for those with caffeine sensitivity include high blood pressure, racing thoughts, muscle tremors, anxiety, irritability and an inability to sleep.
The more that energy drinks are used, the higher the tolerance of the body for the stimulate properties of the drink. This can lead to people consuming larger qualities of caffeine to get that energized feeling. Combining energy drinks with sodas, coffee, teas and chocolate can quickly lead to excessive levels of caffeine in the body, even for those without caffeine sensitivity.
Less commonly, people that consume a large amount of energy drinks in a day may also experience a significant “crash”. The high levels of caffeine can cause excessive urination, leading to dehydration that makes the crash even worse. This can result in seizures as well as muscle tremors and spasms.
Excessive caffeine consumption can result in arrhythmia, irregular heartbeat, as well as dyspepsia or digestive problems. These can include stomach pain and cramping, nausea, heartburn and feeling bloated and uncomfortable. For some people feelings of anxiety can be very pronounced and judgment may be impaired, especially if you are taking some types of over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Taking energy drinks to stay alert or focused when you drive needs to be carefully considered. If you are using these products be sure to check the amount of caffeine and caffeine containing compounds in the drink and carefully monitor your serving size.