Energy Drinks: Healthy Choices for Energy Boost? (cont.)
"Most of the energy drinks contain high-tech-sounding ingredients that are not controlled substances, of no value, and potentially harmful" in large amounts, adds Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics.
And trying to figure out exactly how much of each stimulant is contained in an energy drink can be difficult, she says.
"The amount of the stimulants is not always listed on the label, and even when the information is listed, it is hard for consumers to interpret because we are not familiar with these ingredients," says Sass.
One ingredient most people are familiar with is caffeine, and "what we do know is that large doses of caffeine can be very dehydrating," says Sass.
While one cup (8 ounces) of strong coffee has about 125-150 milligrams of caffeine and a 12-ounce can of ordinary cola has 35-38 milligrams, an 8.3-ounce can of Cocaine energy drink contains 280 milligrams. In general, caffeine consumption should be limited to about 200-300 milligrams per day, says Farrell.
Easy to Drink
One of the concerns about energy drinks is how easy it is to drink large quantities of these sweet beverages.
"Energy drinks contain multiple stimulants that, when combined, can be dangerous and have a very powerful effect on the body," says Sass. Most people know how much caffeine they can tolerate, but may not be familiar with the effects of some of the other ingredients.
She describes such possible symptoms as upset stomach, leg weakness, heart palpitations, being jittery, nervousness, and more. Drink these energy drinks on an empty stomach and the effects can be magnified.
"There will be an energy burst, but it could also lead to agitation, difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, a problem sleeping, nausea, and affect blood pressure," Farrell says.
Energy Drinks and Alcohol
Because alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant, mixing energy drinks with alcohol is a bad idea, experts say.
"Both are also diuretics that can lead to dehydration and ultimately, drinking more alcohol, because the burst of energy from the sugar and caffeine misrepresent the state of inebriation," says Farrell.
She compares it to the misconception that coffee can sober someone who has had too much to drink: "Using coffee to sober up just makes you feel more energetic; it does not decrease the effects of inebriation."
The result is that you may feel less intoxicated than you really are. "These products may be natural, but they can be very dangerous when mixed with alcohol," says Sass.
Club soda, water, and fruit juices are better mixers with alcohol. Sass recommends choosing a mixer you have had before, so the result is more predictable.
If you want to dance all night long, a glass of water is a better choice than an energy drink between cocktails, to keep you well-hydrated.