Do Monsters, Bulls and Rockstars Energize an Athlete?

Energy drinks tout that they will increase your physical performance, concentration, reaction time and metabolism.  Should you substitute, or add these, to your sports drink regimen?  The chart below compares 8 ounces servings, of three leading energy drinks, to Gatorade.

Brand A Brand B Brand C Gatorade
Calories 110 100 140 50
Carbohydrate gms 28 27 31 14
      Sugar gms 28 27 31 14
Grams Carbohydrate / 100 ml Solution 11% 11% 14% 6%
Riboflavin 100% DV 100% DV 200% DV 0% DV
Niacin 100% DV 100% DV 100% DV 0% DV
B6 250% DV 100%DV 100%DV 0%DV
B12 80%DV 100%DV 100%DV 0%DV
Sodium mg 200 180 40 110
Potassium mg 0 0 0 30
Taurine 1000 mg 1000 mg 1000 mg 0 mg
Caffeine mg 80 60 80 0

Energy is measured by the amount of calories in a product.  While it appears the 3 leading energy drinks would provide more energy per cup, it won’t be absorbed as well.  Research shows that the optimal carbohydrate content for a sports drink ranges between 6-8% of total calories.  When beverages exceed 8%, absorption slows.  Brand A, B and C contain an 11%, 11% and 14% carbohydrate solution, while Gatorade provides 6%. Actually, brand A, B and C compare more closely to an 8 ounce serving of Coca Cola at 26 grams of sugar!

The optimal sports drink contains a blend of sucrose, glucose and fructose carbohydrates.  These take only 20-30 minutes for the body to convert them into energy for use by muscle cells.  High levels of fructose should be avoided because they can cause cramping, are not absorbed as fast as their counterparts, and some people don’t tolerate them well.  Gatorade contains sucrose and glucose-fructose sugars.  Simplicity has its value when it comes to improving absorption as well!  Two out of the three brands contain double the number, or more than 20 ingredients.

Food science has long taught us that vitamins do not provide energy.  B vitamins in particular help with the creation of energy but adding more B vitamins won’t add more energy.  B vitamins are plentiful in the American diet, and are found in grains (bread, cereal, rice and pasta), meat, fish and poultry, milk and other dairy products.  B vitamins are cheap to add in the manufacturing process, and are water-soluble which is why you see the popping up in everything from fortified cereals, to gourmet waters and energy drinks.  Does adding more gas to a tank that’s already fully loaded result in more miles?  No, it spills out of the car.  Get the picture, excess B vitamins spill out into your urine, a wasted addition.  Even if you were deficient, a can of energy drink isn’t going to remedy your bad carburetor!

The bottom line: Energy drinks are stimulants.  The caffeine and herbals provide the bang and sugar provides the energy, once the overly concentrated solution gets absorbed.  They can be dehydrating, may raise both blood pressure and heart rate, and are definitely not the charge you need going into an athletic event.  A caffeine and herbal induced high may make you more nervous, unable to focus, and jittery.  Compound these effects with the incorrect combination of sodium and potassium, (electrolytes lost in sweat that regulate heart rate and muscle contraction) and you have the perfect liquid concoction for a poor athletic performance!

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Categories: Sports Nutrition

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