I was reading on the local news about a John’s Hopkins study on the affects of energy drinks and the high amounts of caffeine they contain. The findings were truly alarming and got me thinking more about these “energy in a can” drinks. Do they help? Are they dangerous if consumed in excess? What about all the young kids drinking them?

Energy Drinks and Outdoors?

My personal belief is that you should not be addicted to any substance–whether that be nicotine, caffeine, drugs or chocolate for that matter. Addictions come in many forms, but the increased addiction to caffeine because of energy drinks is, in my mind, alarming–especially since 1/3 of all energy drink consumption is from teenagers.

With hundreds of energy drinks on the market, there’s no regulation on the caffeine content, which can vary between 50-505 mg. The problem is that the caffeine is the point of the drink. That alone contributes to the “buzz” and extra “energy” you receive from its consumption. For comparison, you can expect about 160 mg of caffeine per 8 oz. of Starbucks drip coffee–still quite a bit.

As a result of all this energy drink consumption, many teenagers are becoming increasingly-addicted to these highly-caffeinated beverages, which can lead to alcohol or drug abuse.  Yes, that whole much-debated gateway drug effect that applies to cigarettes and marijuana as well. I know it’s a slippery slope, but it’s got some merit.

I stated above that I don’t believe anyone should be addicted to any chemical or substance. The human body performs best when its well taken care of. Natural, whole foods and healthy drinks (ahem… water) should be the staple of any athlete’s diet, not caffeine-packed “energy drinks”.

I’ve made that choice for myself and truly believe that to be the optimal energy drink for my body. Having been addicted to caffeine previously, it’s a hard habit to break and the withdrawals are awful. That alone makes me never want to consume caffeine again–especially in high quantities like those found in Redline, Spike Shooter and the like.

While mountain biking, skiing and participating in other outdoor sports, I prefer to keep myself naturally hydrated with vitamins and minerals (I use nuun tablets) and then supplement that with high-energy natural foods and energy bars that don’t have caffeine. It really surprises me how many of the new energy gels have caffeine in them also. I can’t do it… gives me the jitters.

Check out www.EnergyFiend.com for details on the caffeine content of many popular drinks.

Does anyone else see energy drink consumption a potential problem, or am I the only one? Chime in below…

Story from KSL.com: Energy Drinks Part 1Energy Drinks Part 2

Photo courtesy KSL.com

About Author

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

6 Comments

  1. What’s the worry again? Do you personally know any of these teenagers that’re supposedly being so harmed by the caffeine in energy drinks? (I’m not arguing that the sugar and other junk in these drinks isn’t harmful.)

    Personally, as somebody who was in high school when Red Bull first started showing up, I drank it from time to time in HS and college when I was studying, but never considered it a serious energy supplement for exercise. I didn’t drink it before track or XC practice, in HS or college. I don’t know anybody who did drink it for that purpose either, because even at the HS level, we knew that stuff wasn’t actually formulated to aid athletic performance.

    The reason caffeine is in GU is that for some people it helps to metabolize fat during endurance activities: http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/caffeine.html It gives you a caffeine kick, sure, but that’s not its primary function in energy gels. Is it for everybody? Probably not. But I know that it personally works well for me when I’m on a long trail run or BC skiing outing.

    If it didn’t help in such activities, you wouldn’t see high level marathoners (read: people that do their homework on this stuff) using it.

    I write this as somebody who during grad school finals might drink 2-3 cups of coffee/day, but on most days I might have one, if that. On occasion I’ll drink RB or some other energy drink while I’m studying or driving long distances.

    Incidentally, I’m very skeptical of your mild suggestion that caffeine is a “gateway drug” unless you have something to back that up.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Yeah, the whole “gateway drug” effect is always a touchy issue. Here’s a link to the Johns Hopkins study that you can read for yourself:

    http://www.feedthehabit.com/johnsHopkinsEnergyDrinks.pdf

    It makes the suggestions of caffeine intoxication, the dangers of caffeine and alcohol and its potential as a gateway drug.

    My concern is that as kids become addicted to caffeine (and high levels at that), their dependence upon it becomes a difficult addiction to kick. Caffeine withdrawals suck… no question about it.

    I haven’t read up on caffeine’s ability to metabolize fat… pretty cool. I just know that when I ingest caffeinated GU, Gels, etc., it gives me the jitters.

    If you’re OK with it… no worries. My biggest concern are all the kids I see wandering around with 32 oz. Rockstars and the like on a regular basis. As you say, all the sugar and other chemicals besides caffeine can’t be good to drink on a regular basis.

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. It’s not black and white.

  3. When I was in College a lot of the teams were sponsored by RedBull aka we got free RB. One of my friends would drink four to five during a gymnastics meet and he started to have heart palpitations. I use to drink it during Ultimate Frisbee games and would be able to play hard and fast for about thirty minutes but then on the crash I was shot for the rest of the day. As far as i am concerned the stuff is poison.

  4. Yep Me too, Seems that this is becoming a huge problem. I remember 12 years ago when REDBULL was launched in europe. I tasted it and thought the flavor alone was enough to discourage people from drinking them. The other day was at the mini mart and a group of 11 and 12 year boys walked at ALL carrying and energy DRINK. I thought to my self WHY? You guys are young and should have energy to spare! lets start a site called BAN THE CAN!!!! Hmm… wonder if thats Aval?

  5. Jason,

    Thanks for the article. Pretty interesting and alarming information in there. Some of those obscure drinks (most of which I’ve never even heard of) are pretty ridiculous in their caffeine content. Based on that article, I think the FDA should tighten things up, at least on what minors are allowed to drink. Over age 18, or 21 as the case may be, I personally think that people should be able to make *informed* decisions as to what they consume. Again something the FDA could weigh in on by providing better labeling requirements. I tend not to believe the government should be in the business of protecting informed adults from themselves, but current information as to the harmful effects of such substances are key. Good discussion.

  6. @Colin

    Agreed for sure. People should be informed, but the problem with all the FDA-style warnings is that they actually have the opposite effect–people consume more because of the warnings. Cigarette warnings are the epitome of the opposite effect.

    But, education has to start somewhere and people should be informed as to the effects of that much caffeine or other potentially harmful substances.

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