Here at Her Campus, we really do understand your stress. Writing papers while juggling midterms, extracurricular activities, and meetings can make any collegiette™ feel overwhelmed. Sleepless nights of cramming can easily cause a quick crash. So what do you do? Find a caffeine fix. Coffee, Red Bull, Monster, 5-Hour Energy—all of these options seem like the best choices at the time; but in reality additive sugars and other elements of these drinks can be more harmful than helpful.
So what’s actually in energy drinks?
While coffee is known for its caffeine component, energy drinks often contain even more caffeine than one, two, or even three cups of coffee. According to an article on the Associated Content website, one 8 oz. serving of an energy drink, like Red Bull, contains between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. This overload of caffeine causes the quick “boost” that you’re searching for at 4 a.m., but you may also end up crashing later.
There are serious health risks that come into play with caffeine-laden energy drinks. According to an article written by Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, a Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, caffeine in energy drinks can greatly affect your blood pressure. The spikes in caffeine “can increase your blood pressure and make your heart beat faster. In some cases, this can trigger potentially dangerous changes in heart rhythm.” In addition, “The caffeine in energy drinks can make you irritable, restless and nervous.”
Furthermore, “[These drinks] have high [amounts of] sugar,” said Katie Clark, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “People aren’t necessarily aware that there’s that much sugar in those products.” The Associated Content article states that an 8 oz. bottle might contain between 20 to 33 grams of sugars.
Caffeine and sugars, though, are not the only culprits responsible for energy drinks’ bad reputation; an often over-looked and dangerous component is taurine. “Taurine is an amino acid with high concentrations in the heart and brain,” said Ph.D. and Energy Health Specialist, Dr. Debra Greene, in an email. “The functioning of these two vital organs needs to be supported, not artificially over-stimulated.” This over-stimulation comes from the “fake energy” these drinks create “by forcing the body into an accelerated mode through a combination of caffeine, taurine and sugar,” Dr. Greene said.
The “Queen of Energy Drinks”
For Kristin Rieck, the after effects of energy drinks do not apply because “that would assume there’s a time when I’m not consuming one,” she said.
While many of us are just trying to make it through one major or an extra minor’s requirements, Kristin’s curriculum resembles that of a course catalog. Not only is she pursing an Economic and International Affairs major and Spanish and French minors, but also a certificate in EU studies.
To make it through the day, the Georgia Institute of Technology senior depends dearly on coffee and energy drinks to get her through her busy schedule–and she’s not ashamed to admit it. “I’ve tried Redbull, Monster, Rock Star, and basically every type of coffee or espresso available in the Western world,” said Kristin.
“I depend on coffee to maintain basic brain function throughout the day, Monster to sip on continuously through the earlier hours of the night, and Redbull for the late night to early mornings,” she said.
While Kristin has built up an impressive resume of caffeinated consumption, her body will not be able to keep up this exhausting routine much longer.
“The demands placed on [college students] are increasingly overwhelming…We’re not only having to work more, but we’re also having to work harder,” Kristin said. “God forbid if you have a job or do research or would like to have a friend or two,” she added.
Clearly, the effects of relying on energy drinks on a daily basis are already beginning to overwhelm Kristin.
While Rieck is not too worried about the after effects of all of these drinks right now, she does realize that they are not the best products for her body. “I don’t have time to consider the ramifications [from relying on energy drinks] ten years down the road,” she said. “Energy drinks? Probably not great for you. Especially not when they become your sleep.”
The Best and Worst Energy Drinks (And Which Ones to Avoid at all Costs)
While all energy drinks may seem to be created equal, some may be better than others. Before you pick up a can at the convenience store, stop and scan the product’s label.
Energy Blend: The drink includes the taurine and caffeine components as well as ingredients like“Glucuronolactone, Malic Acid, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, L-Phenylalanine, Citicoline”
Words of Caution: While the drink contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, the sodium content is what’s really alarming. In a Yahoo Health article, David Zinczenko states that the 18 mgs of sodium found in 5-Hour Energy may cause a spike in your blood pressure. However, the lack of sugar in the drink, according to Zinczenko, helps consumers avoid the sugar crash suffered by Monster and Red Bull drinkers.
Verdict:5-Hour Energy drinkers will experience a bout of energy and virtually no sugar crash. The drink is about as effective as a cup of coffee, though.
Monster Energy Drink
Energy Blend: The drink includes taurine and caffeine as well as “L-Carnitine, Glucose, Guarana, Inositol, Glucuronolactone, and Maltodextrin.”
Verdict:The energy blend in this drink is virtually a cocktail of different products. While the drink contains the same amount of sugars as a can of Red Bull, what could get you is the number of calories. With 110 calories per can, Monster could take a hit to those looking for a healthy, light energy boost. And with 27 grams of sugar, a crash is pretty likely.
Energy Blend: Consumed individually, the ingredients in Red Bull–such as the B-vitamin blend—may be healthy. But together, the large amounts of sugar and taurine found in Red Bull tend to counter this blend of nutrients, according to Zinczenko, who states, “A New Zealand study found that even the 27 grams of sugar in Red Bull is enough to completely inhibit your body’s ability to burn fat.” In additon, the taurine may have opposite effects to those expected. Instead of acting as a stimulant, the ingredient tends to work more as a sedative.
Verdict:Like Monster, be wary of the effects Red Bull can have on your waistline. The drink’s 27 grams of sugar also point to an inevitable sugar crash. With Red Bull, you may be wasting your money on a drink that could be doing the opposite of what is advertised.
Alternative Pick-Me-Ups for When Your Energy is Failing
So when test musts be taken and papers must be written, what are some healthy ways to boost your energy throughout the night?
- Make a study playlist. If you start to feel your eyelids droop, take a fifteen-minute break—your mind can only handle up to forty-five minutes of “cramming information” per hour anyway. Make a playlist with songs that will pump you up. Some techno beats or old school Britney Spears jams will keep you energized during the late hours of the night. With a fun playlist you not only give your mind a break, but you get to put on your dancing shoes and exercise. Yes, please!
- Short, frequent meals can help you keep your energy up. “If you’re malnourished, undernourished or hungry, you’re not going to be concentrating,” Clark said. “Small frequent meals are good when you’re studying.” Keeping your intake to small meals throughout the day will promote a feeling of fullness and help you focus better for a longer amount of time later on.
- Don’t neglect your Zzz’s. “Get enough sleep so that you don’t require energy drinks,” said Clark. “If you’re well rested, your concentration will always be greater than it is if you are deprived of sleep and trying to artificially elevate your alertness with caffeinated products.”
- The best method for energy? Good ole’ H20. “The human body is about 80% water, and water is the means by which information travels throughout the body-mind system,” Dr. Greene said. “The best thing you can drink to enhance academic performance is plenty of pure, fresh water.”
Now that’s one formula you can always remember, no cramming necessary!
Katie Clark, MPH, RD, CDE; Assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco
Kathryn Ferrara, Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism; Senior
Kristin Rieck, Georgia Institute of Technology, Economics and International Affairs Major, Spanish and French Minor, Certificate in EU Studies; Senior
Dr. Debra Greene, Ph.D. and Energy Health Specialist
Sarah Daoud, Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism; Sophomore
Edward R. Laskowski, MD, Mayo Clinic physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist