Energy Drinks Versus Sports Drinks
A few weeks ago we received a call from a reporter asking about a recent study about the negative effects of energy drinks. So I called Meridan Zerner, Registered Dietitian with Cooper Clinic, who is board certified in sports nutrition and my “go-to” expert when it comes to nutrition and fitness.
The first thing Meridan pointed out is that many people do not know the difference between a sports drink and an energy drink. So before she started talking about the effects of these drinks, it’s important to make a clear distinction, especially when the labels aren’t always clear about what to expect from one drink compared to another.
The primary ingredient in most energy drinks, such as Five Hour Energy, is caffeine, which affects the central nervous system telling your brain to keep your body going at a high rate. Meridan said that the term “energy” that often appears on the label can be misleading. Energy comes from carbohydrate, not caffeine. In particular, quality carbohydrates from wholegrains are the best. This would include wholegrain noodles, brown rice and wholegrain breads. This is even more important if you’re concerned with sports performance.
At Cooper Clinic we recommend that adults consume 100-200 mg of caffeine per day. If you look at an energy drink, oftentimes you’re easily getting that amount, if not double. For adults we know that caffeine can cause an increase in anxiety, increased heart rate, a risk of dehydration and muscle tremors, to name a few.
Another interesting thing Meridan pointed out is that at some point, the effect of caffeine can actually be blunted. In other words, your body gets used to it. So if you have a cup of coffee every morning, you don’t get the same dehydrating effect as someone who never had coffee and then all of a sudden has a cup. But the point at which that dehydrating effect happens varies from person to person.
The primary ingredients in sports drinks, such as Gatorade, are low concentrations of carbohydrates and electrolytes. Sports drinks do have their place, but it’s important to know when and how to use them. If you are exercising for 90 minutes or longer, you’ll need to replenish things you may have lost in sweat such as sugars or sodium. A sports drink has electrolytes, potassium chloride, magnesium and sodium, which can help an athlete persevere to continue and maintain performance.
But if you’re exercising less than 90 minutes, you should choose water instead (read my blog post about the benefits of water). That is what the body needs. Water is used to re-hydrate and it’s often a missed opportunity to go with a sports drink when water would really do the job. Sports drinks do provide a lot of extra calories, in addition to evidence that dental caries or cavities are associated with excessive sports drinks.
The Bottom Line
There are so many unknown possible consequences that come from caffeine and other supplements, some of which are unregulated. In the world of sports performance or “energy,” Meridan reiterates that the risk outweighs the benefits when it comes to energy drinks.
This was written by Christine Witzsche former Communications Director at Cooper Aerobics. Christine is no longer with Cooper Aerobics and we wish her all the best with her future endeavors.