To Caffeinate Or Not To Caffeinate? (Energy Drinks)

Groggy eyed and exhausted, I was sitting in a classroom full of equally drained students watching a girl sipping on a large energy drink, whose brand will remain anonymous to avoid slander. Every sip was proceeded by a grimace and forced gulp. It seemed like chewing on tacks would have been a more pleasurable experience for her than chugging this drink. Since I’m an avid coffee supporter, naturally I couldn’t help but wonder, with such a bad taste, why subject yourself to such an unenjoyable beverage? Is the short lived energy kick worth the torture? Is it better than coffee’s energy kick? That brings us to the premise behind this entry. What exactly are the benefits and negative effects of energy drinks in comparison to coffee?

First, let’s get a better understanding on the differences between coffee and energy drinks by comparing some of the common ingredients found in each.

Regular Coffee: Coffee beans, water, and caffeine.

Energy Drinks: Sugar, caffeine, ephedrine, taurine, ginseng, b-vitimins, guarana seed, carnitine, creatine, inositol, ginkgo biloba. (basically a lot of caffeine like stimulants).

As the old saying goes, “the more the merrier”…right? Not in this case. Caffeine alone, according to, is a cardiovascular and nervous system stimulant naturally found in coffee beans, tea leaves, and chocolate. It is known to, “affect the brain and results in elevated mood, decreased fatigue, and increased attentiveness,” approximately one hour after it is consumed. While all that seems great, it also has some not so great effects. Caffeine is also known to, “increases the heart rate, blood flow, respiratory rate, and metabolic rate for several hours.” In fact, the half-life of caffeine is 3-12 hours. In other words, your body will rid itself of half your total caffeine consumption sometime between 3-12 hours depending on varying factors such as age, gender, pregnancy, etc. So at what point exactly does caffeine intake become dangerous? Current research suggests you can safely drink around 300 mg (3, 8 oz. cups of coffee) of caffeine daily without any significant health risks. Take away message: caffeine is okay to have in moderation as a part of your diet. This is good news for fellow early rising coffee addicts such as myself. But what about those whose energy boost preference lies in sugar filled energy drinks such as Red Bull or Full Throttle?

Well, as you can see above, energy drinks add tons of other ingredients to the mix. These ingredients, such as sugar, taurine, and ginseng produce the same stimulant effect as caffeine. There is speculation in the health and scientific community that, with these on top of your caffeine consumption, your body can become over stimulated causing a more severe rise in heart rate, blood pressure, and insomnia. That means energy drinks provide a much larger and less healthy boost than coffee alone would produce.

To put this in perspective, here is a list of some popular caffeine filled drinks designed to give a boost to your day. You can find a broader list at:

Energy Drink              Ounces               Caffeine Level (mg)

-5 Hour Energy:                  2                                     138

-Amp Drinks                       16                                143-180

-Arizona Drinks                 16                                    200

-Bawls                                  16                                 67-150

-Cocaine Energy Drink    8.4                                   280

-Extreme Energy 6 Hour  2                                     220

-Full Throttle                    16                                     144

-Monster                            16                                     160

-Red Bull                          8.46                                    80

-Rockstar                           16                                     160

-Spark                                 8                                      120

Now compare energy drink caffeine levels to those of coffee.

Coffee Drink                   Ounces             Caffeine Level (mg)

-Regular (Brewed)                 8                                  108

-Decaf (Brewed)                    8                                     6

-Espresso                              1.5                                   77

-Dunkin’ Donuts                  16                                  143

Upon first glance it would seem energy drinks don’t have all that much more caffeine than some cups of coffee. That means we can drink almost four cans of Red Bull, which contains only 80 mg of caffeine before hitting our daily allotment of 300 mg right? Wrong! Here’s the kicker. That listed caffeine content comes from exactly that, caffeine. It doesn’t take into account the added ingredients such as the sugars and sweeteners, taurine, and ginseng that produce the same effect on the body as caffeine. In other words, that one can of Red Bull gives you your 300 mg, if not more. Imagine drinking the four Red Bulls you thought you were allowed. Better yet, imagine drinking one Cocaine Energy Drink with a listed caffeine content of 280 mg. That’s 280 mg plus the added ingredients. That’s a huge increase in blood pressure and heart rate, all things that can lead to anxiety, insomnia, and may other negatives.

My summary is this. When you can’t simply get enough sleep to make it through the day, stick with coffee. Scientists may only speculate the effects of an energy drink’s added ingredients on top of caffeine, but because energy drinks and their ingredients aren’t regulated by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that’s good enough reason for me to steer clear. I’ll stick to what I know, and that’s exactly what the caffeine content is in my delicious cup of hazel nut coffee, hold the sugar.

For those of you who aren’t Starbucks regulars and are a bit upset that I pulled the energy rug out from under your feet, check back next week for a few other energy boosting tips that don’t require caffeine.

About Dish Out The Skinny

I am currently a certified personal trainer on the challenging and rewarding path to becoming a registered dietitian. Life is hard enough...staying healthy doesn't have to be! With the ever changing "rules" to staying healthy, my goal is to create a simple blog so that the average person, like myself, can understand the ins and outs of the world that is fitness and nutrition.
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