Since 1995, when PepsiCo launched ‘Josta’ the first energy drink backed by a major US beverage company, the modern world of sports, advertising, diets and health has drastically changed. Has this change come for better or worse though? Companies that produce energy drinks claim they give the consumer an “energy boost”. The drinks are usually sold in aluminium cans or resealable bottles, ranging from resealable bottles, smaller packaged “energy shot” sizes, to 250ml cans, all the way up to 550ml cans, even “just-add-water” powder forms.
Advertisements don’t usually stress that the energy is sourced from the sugar the drinks contain, but from the vitamins and stimulants, such as caffeine. A quick Google search would tell you energy drinks contain a wide mixture of ingredients and additives including: guarana, caffeine, B vitamins, herbs, yerba mate, taurine, ginseng, ginko, and high levels of sugar (the list is far greater than that!). Most energy drinks contain caffeine, usually in the form of guarana or yerba mate. An average cup of coffee contains anywhere among 70-110 mg of caffeine per cup, or per 240ml. Although some energy drinks do match this, many far exceed it. Energy drinks such as: Spike Shooter, Hype Energy, Hustler, Ministry of Energy, and Rockstar can even double the caffeine intake of an average cup of coffee!
I've done some investigating and found ingredients in energy drinks have a wide variety of psychological and physiological effects. Some reports I read found that they significantly improve mental performance and an individual’s alertness. However, excess consumption has been linked to insomnia, agitation, anxiety and irritability. Tests on healthy young adults found that an energy drinks extensively increased their upper body muscle endurance. Experiments have been conducted on tired individuals in driving simulators and results found that with a glucose-based energy drink lane drifting and reaction times were extensively improved. Although energy drinks may improve an individual’s ability, warnings are even warranted for healthy adults who consume them. Consumption of two or more energy drinks a day can lead to excessive caffeine intake. Ingredients in energy drinks such as guarana contain caffeine, and ginseng could even enhance the effects of the caffeine.
Consuming over 400mg of caffeine, at the one time, can have adverse effects including: nervousness, irritability, insomnia, abnormal heart patterns, and increased urination. Unlike sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade, energy drinks do not provide electrolytes and tend to have a large “crash” or “fall” after the high they so often provide. Because they do not include electrolytes, energy drinks also tend to dehydrate the consumer, by excreting water from the body due to the caffeine. The body’s performance is decreased up to 10 per cent if the body is just dehydrated by 1 per cent! The “crash” that the beverages produce can also cause seizures after the energy high, linking to emergency room visits and nausea.
I've found that young people, especially males, have been replacing their diets with energy drinks and neglecting food altogether. Perhaps this is because around 65 per cent of energy drink consumers are aged between 13 and 35 years old and males are approximately 65 per cent of the market? Many teenagers, high school or college students use energy drinks, as you've probably noticed, to stay awake in class, study, and boost performance while writing essays or during exams, even to improve their performance in sports (nobody likes that kid who makes PE seem like the Olympics). Numerous high schools have banned energy drinks and there have even been shops, mainly independently owned ones, which have banned the sale of energy drinks to anyone under the age of eighteen. Perhaps this is because of the undeniable health risks? A friend of mine even saw a MOTHER letting her BABY in a pram drink Red Bull! What will this lead to though, a possible generation of alcoholics? These children seem to be mimicking the exact actions of addiction, habit and craving of alcoholics. Schools and small businesses aren’t the only ones to have banned energy drinks however. After the death of a young athlete, Red Bull, which is the dominant brand in the US, controlling approximately 47 per cent of the market, was banned in France because it had an excessive amount of caffeine. Denmark has also banned Red Bull before and the United Kingdom investigated Red Bull but only cautioned warnings for the use by children and pregnant women.
As energy drinks are widely popular with young people, they are often used as a mixer for alcoholic drinks like Vodka. Alcohol is a depressant and energy drinks are stimulants this mixture can have undesirable effects on an individual. The energy drinks can lower the more noticeable effects of alcohol while making the consumer less fatigued and more stimulated, which ultimately can be quite hazardous because the drinker could possibly misjudge their actual level of intoxication. This is because caffeine can hide the more physical cues of intoxication and prevents sleepiness, while delaying the feeling of drunkenness; the drinker would usually rely on to determine their levels of intoxication. This misinterpretation of intoxication may cause individuals to drink more excessively, after they normally would have stopped, and those people are more likely to suffer from injury, assault, or driving while intoxicated. Companies, advertisers and producers argue that drinking these types of drinks is no different to drinking a couple of glasses of wine and then coffee later in the evening.
Caffeinated alcoholic energy drinks have been banned in parts of the US, because they may affect heart rates, mental states and even blood pressure. It's not all bad! Energy drinks such as Red Bull, V energy drink, and Monster have done wonders for the sporting and music worlds with their sponsorship. Most companies sponsor extreme sports such as skateboarding, cliff diving, BMX, snow sports, motocross and car racing. Energy drink companies sponsor from individual athletes to teams and entire sporting events. Not only do companies like Red Bull conduct their own sporting events, they’ve also held art competitions based around their drinks. Red Bull also plays a role in sports ownership; they own motorsport, hockey and football teams. However, there has been great controversy with the use of energy drinks similar to Red Bull in the sporting arena. I was reading some newspaper clippings and found that a performance gain of around 1 per cent is important for elite athletes. Caffeine presents a performance increase of approximately 3 per cent for sports or intense activities, which is a great increase for an elite athlete who is seeking maximum performance.
Whether you find energy drinks appealing or not, it is undeniable that they are affecting all of us in some way; that could be regarding flavour or taste, health, sporting or performance benefits, sponsorship, advertising or even a child or young person you know. I believe they could even produce a generation of young alcoholics! People should and need to be educated on such topics because there are both positives and negatives concerting the beverages. You could be out at a party, at a sports game or even just buying your lunch at your local shop and the health risks or enhancements could affect you or a friend. Think twice about buying that little can next time or selling it to a young person, think about what’s inside it and what affects it could have not only on you, but also on society. Please drink responsibly and remember the affects energy drinks can have when mixed with alcohol.