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News > Energy drinks; too much can clip your wings
Energy drinks; too much can clip your wings

Posted 2/14/2013   Updated 2/14/2013 Email story   Print story


by Susan Haley, RD, LD/N
Health & Wellness Center Health Promotion Dietitian

2/14/2013 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Energy drinks and their smaller companions, energy shots, are flying off the shelves in our commissaries and Exchanges, with sales in 2011, for energy shots alone exceeded $10 million.

That's big bucks! Are the benefits equally as big?

These products promise to improve performance, concentration, reaction time and vigilance. These are all good things for our military warriors. However, in the last eight years, these beverages have been linked to at least 18 fatalities. These deaths have recently prompted the Federal Drug Agency to investigate energy drinks.

Energy drinks are flavored beverages containing high amounts of caffeine. They frequently also contain sugar, B-vitamins and small amounts of amino acids, which do little to provide the stimulating "energy" effect that is desired. The total amount of caffeine in an energy drink varies from 80 to 500 mg. Your average 5-ounce cup of coffee has 100 mg and the average 12-ounce cola has 50 mg. Children should not consume energy drinks as there are no studies that show a safe level of consumption for caffeine in this age group.

Many of our military members consume these drinks to stay awake during long duty days. While it is clear caffeine has some positive effects, a study conducted by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research raises some concerns. This study showed that troops who consumed more than three energy drinks per day were more likely to get less than four hours of sleep at night and were more likely to admit they nodded off during briefings or while on guard duty. This suggests that excess caffeine consumption may have unintended consequences. Lack of high quality sleep could impair performance in a military setting and lead to poor judgment, memory loss and mission errors.

Airmen also use energy drinks to replace sports beverages. Energy drinks are not formulated to be used as a sports beverage. They often have high concentrations of sugar which can cause stomach upset during physical activity and they do not replace electrolytes. In fact, they provide very little high quality energy or fuel.

Energy drinks and shots are often used to improve performance. According to over 70 studies, there is research that supports this claim to some extent. Approximately 225 mg of caffeine one hour before exercise may improve performance for endurance exercise lasting longer than 20 minutes. There is less benefit for shorter exercise sessions and no additional benefit for large amounts of caffeine.

Energy drinks combined with alcohol have also become popular. This can be a deadly combination as people believe that energy drinks make the alcohol less potent. That is not true, and blood alcohol levels increase the same as if there was no energy drink in the mix. So while they think they're not impaired, they're getting just as drunk.

Why are these products associated with fatalities? An 8-ounce serving of an energy drink seems innocuous. With only 80 to 100 mg of caffeine, and the 210 mg of caffeine in an energy shot doesn't seem too bad. However, these products are marketed to adolescents and young adults as energy boosters and weight loss enhancers. In that age group, the mentality is often, "If one is good, then 10 are better!" Death can occur when individuals combine 500 mg of caffeine, dehydration (from a very intense workout), and excessive heat or a heart condition. That is a recipe for disaster.

So what's the bottom line? Energy drinks and energy shots are an expensive source of concentrated caffeine. As with everything in life, you should consume them in moderation. Don't mix with alcohol. Don't use for hydration. Don't consume when pregnant and limit consumption in children. Anything else can be deadly.

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