Do Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks Really Work?
Beginning with now world-famous Gatorade, the market for sports drinks has expanded dramatically over the past couple of decades. There are now hundreds of brands of sports drinks, promising everything from increased energy to improved performance to weight loss. But do these drinks really work, or are they all hype and empty promises? Are they good for you? Are they unsafe to use? Whether you’re considering using sports drinks or are already a consumer, it’s important to know the real facts.
What Are Energy Drinks?
Energy drinks of all types have flooded the market in recent years. As people work longer hours and have more need to stay awake and alert, energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar claim to offer pure buzz in a can. They offer a high dose of caffeine, blended with additional “energizing” ingredients that promise to provide a fast-acting jolt. Catchy slogans, clever marketing and eye-catching visuals, in addition to strategic partnerships with athletes and other high-achievers, make it easy to get caught up in the hype. Despite all the claims, however, what really provides the energy in drinks such as Red Bull is not caffeine, taurine, or any of its other extras. The number one source of energy in energy drinks is sugar.
Energy drinks are caloric, some calorie counts even comparing to fast food items like burgers. A 24 ounce can of Rockstar Energy Drink, for example, has a whopping 420 calories, almost the equivalent of a double cheeseburger. Unfortunately, most of the calories in such beverages come from simple sugars and contain no fiber, fat, protein, or other nutrients that slow down digestion. This allows the sugar to hit the bloodstream quickly, providing that sought after rush. The rush is a short-lived because the body only wants so much sugar in the bloodstream at a time. If excess sugar is consumed, the pancreas produces additional insulin to push the sugar it doesn’t need into fat cells for storage. This is why, just like consuming too much soda, consuming too many energy drinks in the long term can cause weight gain. In the short term, the thing to look out for is the infamous “crash” which is the fatigue felt once the initial sugar rush wears off.
Knowing this, some people opt for sugar-free versions of their favorite energy drinks, relying on the high caffeine content to give them the boost they need. While caffeine is scientifically proven to make you feel more alert, too much of it can result in nausea, headaches, nervousness and other symptoms. The artificial sweeteners used to replace the sugar in these energy drinks are also less than optimal for the body.
Energy Shots vs Energy Drinks
A recent trend has been the development of energy shots, which are now actually the fastest-growing category of product in the energy beverage market. Energy shots purport to provide all the buzz of energy drinks but without the calories, sugar, and full feeling of energy drinks. The small size of energy shots also makes them very portable, as they can be easily slipped into a bag or pocket. One two-ounce bottle shot such as the leading brand, 5-Hour Energy, provides the same amount of caffeine and supplements that you would get in your average energy drink.
Energy shots are a stimulant item and should be used sparingly, as should energy drinks. If you use energy drinks often or rely on them heavily, you’ll notice that your tolerance for them begins to increase. Whereas one energy drink or shot may have done the trick before, you may find yourself needing two or three to get the same results.
Are Sports Drinks Better for You?
Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, are different from energy drinks like Red Bull and other similar beverages. They are not intended to provide a jolt of caffeine, but are designed to help athletes stay hydrated and to provide them with some energy in the form of carbs. Still, on average, sports drinks have far fewer calories than an energy drink: 50 to 80 calories compared to upwards of 100 calories for energy drinks per eight-ounce serving.
Sports drinks can be very beneficial for rehydrating, especially after long and arduous workouts. They are designed specifically to be used during physical activity, and are not intended to be a casual “pick me up” like energy drinks are. Sports drinks should only be consumed while exercising, and whether you need the fuel a sports drink provides depends on your workout. If you’ve eaten prior to your workout, you shouldn’t need a sports drinks (i.e. additional carbs) until about an hour to an hour and a half into your workout. If you’re working out without any food, or first thing in the morning, sipping on a sports drink can raise your blood sugar and give you that little boost you need to finish your workout.
To Drink or Not to Drink
So do energy drinks and sports drinks work? In short, yes, but they’re not as effective nor as healthy as they claim to be. Most of the impact you get from energy drinks comes from caffeine and sugar, which can be obtained in other ways (such as a basic cup of coffee). Sports drinks are a good way to rehydrate during a workout, but shouldn’t be consumed on a regular basis. It's better to opt for water to quench your thirst when you’re not exercising.
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