The Dangers of Energy Drinks


It wasn’t until recently, while I was lining up to pay for petrol that I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of energy drink advertisement surrounding me. Before leaving I quickly took a glance at the fridge section and something dawned upon me… The energy drink sector is becoming far greater than what I can remember and what was once a 250ml can is now bigger, and in some cases in packages of up to 1 litre.

Upon looking into the energy drink phenomenon further, it was scary to read that up to 500 new brands of energy drink get released into the consumer market each year globally, and all with the approach of providing both mental and physical stimulation.

But as sales grow and more and more of these products hit our shelves, concerns are continuing to mount, and have done so almost as far back as their existence. With reports of deaths related to energy drink consumption as recent as October 2012, you should be thinking twice before downing any kind of energy drink in the future.

So what makes energy drinks so troublesome? Most would say the high levels of caffeine, but overall it’s the combination of caffeine with all other ingredients that is the concern. These ingredients include, taurine, ginseng, B vitamins, guarana, L – carnitine, sugars, antioxidants, glucuronolactone, ginkgo biloba and trace minerals. Many experts have said that due to the interaction of such substances in energy drinks, the effects of consuming some of these ingredients are heightened considerably – a scary thought when, seeing as though in some cases little research has been done on such effects, therefore are not well understood. In many cases, ingredients such as guarana contain caffeine also, hence increasing the levels of caffeine already present in the beverage.

Another alarming concern faced by consumers is that in some cases energy drinks have been found to contain more caffeine than is actually listed on the label. To put that in perspective a 500ml can of some popular energy drink products contain anywhere from 190 – 240 milligrams of caffeine, while your average can of soft drink only contains about 70 – 80 milligrams. Be warned excessive caffeine use can actually lead to what is known as caffeine intoxication, and may lead to producing symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, vomiting, seizures and hypokalemia (low potassium in the blood) leading to symptoms of muscle damage, muscle weakness and spasms & fatigue.

Are energy drinks safe while working out?

Over time, studies in area of sports medicine, strength and conditioning and allied health profession have concluded that small to moderate amounts of caffeine can actually improve performance during endurance workouts, but in saying so these studies are often carried out on highly trained and elite athletes. Therefore it is not seen as necessary for the recreational gym goer or fitness enthusiast to consume the amount of caffeine found in an energy drink prior to working out.

It has always been my advice to my clients to abstain from energy use prior to any workout as it can be dangerous, raising the heart rate and blood pressure and can even reduce the arteries ability to increase blood flow necessary to deliver more oxygen to the heart while performing strenuous activity.

Often, factors such as fitness level, existing medical conditions, levels of hydration and use of other medications can change an individual’s threshold when consuming large amounts of caffeine as found in energy drinks, as is an individual’s ability to tolerate caffeine with exercise.

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