Energy drinks: Good for you tonight, bad for you tomorrow

We’ve all been there. It’s 2 am and you’re exhausted after a day of classes, meetings, and extracurricular activities; that exam is only six and a half hours away. You grab a Red Bull or a Boost to keep yourself awake. Luckily, you are rejuvenated with a burst of energy and alertness.

The burst of energy comes primarily from caffeine, but energy drinks are also loaded with sugar. Sugar comes in the form of glucuronolactone, sucrose, and glucose. Some drinks also contain an extract from guarana seeds which works to stimulate the central nervous system in a fashion similar to the way caffeine stimulates the body. Guarana seeds also have thermogenic properties, which increase the body’s metabolism through the generation of heat.

A soft drink usually has 19 to 25 grams of sugar in each eight-ounce serving. Energy drinks on average contain more than this. Red Bull, for example, contains 27 grams of sugar per serving of 250 milliliters (a little over eight ounces). This can be very dangerous, for an overload of sugar can lead to gastric emptying. The body becomes dehydrated, which prevents metabolized sugar from entering the bloodstream. This often results in nausea and vomiting. So when you are thirsty, think twice before grabbing an energy drink to rehydrate yourself.

You can compare various energy drinks to carbonated beverages in that they don’t offer much in terms of nutrients to the body. Like coffee or soda, the effects of an energy drink wear off within a couple of hours and the craving for another one increases.

Many students at Carnegie Mellon are attracted, but not addicted, to energy drinks. “I have them usually once a month because they taste good and they work,” said Kushan Patel, a sophomore information systems major. Sarvil Bhansali, a sophomore business major, said, “I drink energy drinks when I need energy, not on a regular basis or for taste. I drink it while studying for an exam or before doing bhangra [a lively form of folk music and dance].” Neha Sarda, a sophomore business major, has a different take on energy drinks. “I don’t believe in energy drinks. I prefer getting nutrients through food intake rather than depending on synthetic drinks. If I need to stay up at night to study, I will drink water.”

Energy drinks are not the optimal drinks to quench your thirst as a result of dehydration. Caffeine, like alcohol, is a diuretic that promotes fluid loss. A popular combination amongst college students at bars and nightclubs is the energy drink and alcohol mix. Red Bull and vodka, for instance, is a hit with many drinkers. This cocktail is potentially dangerous because energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant. Excessive overloading of the body with energy drinks and alcohol can lead to heart failure.

There has been extensive new development of energy drinks that can give a person an energy boost without loading the drink with sugar, although the caffeine remains and can still cause potential health problems. New products include Red Bull Sugarfree, XLER8, and XS. Gautam Daswani, a sophomore business major, said that XS “tastes good. I am comfortable having it, it has no sugar whatsoever, and it still gives energy.”

Although energy drinks are a potential solution to tiredness, they can cause health problems due to excessive caffeine and sugar. In the future, be sure to think twice before choosing the energy drink du jour.