Are Energy Drinks, Pre-Workouts & Coffee Really Helping Your Body Perform Better?
Your favorite pep-up drink: Friend or foe?
In a perfect world, we’d be able to dedicate as much time as we need to being our healthiest and happiest self. In reality, we know that life often gets in the way. Between juggling work or studies and social life, even the most dedicated of warriors sometimes need a pick-me-up.
Caffeine has long been utilized as a workout aid, citing benefits like increased strength and endurance, enhanced focus and alertness, and even promoting sparing glycogen stores and utilizing fat as a main fuel source.
Let the stats speak for themselves: 85% of Americans consume at least one caffeinated drink every day. Beyond the king of caffeine, coffee; there are limitless options from drinks to powders - promising to boost your performance and productivity... But how effective are they really?
We’re here to sort out the benefits and the downsides of each popular so-called ‘performance hack’ drink, so you can make smart and healthy decisions when seeking to enhance your fitness:
Kicking off our list is the traditional and global favorite among caffeine imbibers since the 15th century (seriously, it’s that old): Coffee. Naturally calorie-free and containing little to no preservatives and additives, coffee on its own is a sustainable source of caffeine while boasting healthy antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamins B2 and B5, potassium, niacin, and magnesium.
However, it can be easy to cancel out these health benefits with loads of sugar and artificial sweeteners in the form of flavored syrups and creams. Specialty coffee drinks that look more like desserts are the common culprits here. For instance, take the green mermaid's most popular bev - the Iced Caramel Macchiato in grande size. It contains 240 calories and a whopping 34 grams of sugar. By contrast, a cup of coffee with cream and sugar - we’ll go with 2 teaspoons of each - amounts to a mere quarter in calories and sugar content.
In addition, one should be aware of the effects of caffeine when indulged in too heavily. The FDA recommends no more than 400mg of caffeine per day, or 2 to 4 cups of coffee depending on the coffee’s strength. A cup too many could result in uncomfortable and inhibiting symptoms like increased heart rate, irritability, digestive issues, and even sleep disruption or insomnia.
As with everything in life, moderation is key. Stick with one or two cups, allow at least 45 minutes for your body to absorb the coffee before exercising, and steer clear of excessively sweetened coffee beverages.
Once a niche product for alternative beverage enthusiasts, energy drinks have since taken to the mainstream, with a particular market among fitness buffs and college students. In 2019, energy drinks accounted for 31% of the packaged drink sales in US convenience stores, quickly becoming the fastest-growing beverage industry segment.
So, are energy drinks miracle juice or modern snake oil? Packed with caffeine, vitamin B, taurine, and other ingredients tied to increased mental alertness and physical performance, energy drinks can induce a more intense energy response than coffee.
While the label may list similar caffeine levels to coffee (about 80 to 200mg per cup), energy drinks often include herbal extracts like guarana, a natural source of caffeine that contains around 40mg of caffeine per gram. They indeed can really pack a punch as suggested by popular brand names you see everywhere.
This extra dose of energy doesn’t come without its drawbacks, however. Energy drinks tend to be loaded with sugar, which can not only throw a serious wrench into your diet, but send you crashing down harder than usual. Considering the hidden caffeine and high sugar levels, those who dabble in energy drinks should tread lightly.
Pre-workout supplements, or simply “pre-workouts”, are dietary formulas typically in powder form that are mixed with water and consumed before working out (hence the name). While touted as being designed to boost your energy and athletic performance, there is no set ingredient list for pre-workout formulas, making it difficult to determine their effectiveness and safety as a whole.
Still, there are a few ingredients you’ll commonly find in pre-workout supplements. Caffeine, of which you already know the benefits; Creatine, a chemical compound produced naturally in the body for energy production and muscular strength; Beta-Alanine, an amino acid which reduces lactic acid build-up and delays fatigue in the muscles; and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), noted for rebuilding muscle and decreasing soreness post-workout.
Sounds perfect, right? Much like with energy drinks, with the good often comes the not-so-good. Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols can wreak havoc on your digestive system, causing unpleasant symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. In addition, excessive amounts of caffeine snuck into these inconspicuous powders can easily set you over the suggested maximum daily caffeine intake of 400mg.
While there are benefits to be reaped from pre-workout supplements, it’s crucial to check the ingredients on the labels. Don’t put anything you’re not familiar with into your body. Do your research on the ingredients and their effects. And finally, only buy products that have been tested by a reputable third party you trust.
All in all, it’s important to do your research and take it slow when introducing new supplements into your diet. When taken carelessly and excessively, any caffeinated beverage can take a hit on your health, not to mention your wallet, in the long run.
Meanwhile, what the companies selling these products don’t want you to know is that many of the same benefits can be cultivated simply by eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and mindset.
Go one step better with one of MME’s specially-designed training courses to get you energized. They can get you on the right track to maximize your physical and mental health, with or without caffeine.
Thanks for reading, stay strong warrior.
Maggie Johnson | MME Wellness Contributor
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