Energy shots are low in calories and promise you to do better at school, work, heck, life in general. But do these little bottled wonders really do what’s promised and can they improve your workouts?
I’m So Naive
It sometimes seems to me that I unconsciously created a happy Never Never Land bubble in my mind, that blends out much of the craziness in the world of food and nutrition.
Because contrary to Tatianna, who is eagle-eyed in these matters, I find myself visiting supermarkets without noticing flavored apples or “fruits with the nourishing power of protein”. Therefore I was blissfully unaware of energy shots, until I went over to Fat Fighter TV and read an article on them that got me interested. After all, the stuff seems to be selling like mad.
The whole craze about energy shots apparently started around 2004, with the introduction of 5-hour Energy, a drink that promises it “can help you feel sharp and alert for hours” while having “zero sugar, zero herbal stimulants and four calories”. Four years later, and after some competitors jumped in, energy shots already were a market valued at $544 million.
More than half a billion dollar for what exactly? Heading over to the 5-hour Energy website I learned that the drink consists of B vitamins, taurine, malic acid, L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, caffeine, and citicoline. Other brands offer more or less the same.
Now what in here could improve our fitness performance?
- B vitamins can help your body turn food into energy, but it is likely that your regular nutrition comes with enough of it.
- Taurine is an amino acid often found in energy drinks and indeed having scientific evidence showing it to enhance physical performance.
- Malic acid is usually used in food production, as it give things a sharp and sour taste (it was first discovered in apples, “malum” being Latin for “apple”). It plays a role in human energy production, but the body produces enough of it by itself and there is no evidence that supplementing it has any positive effect.
- L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine are amino acids found in meat and dairy products. The first doesn’t seem to have a positive effect on physical performance, and the second is just a metabolic precursor of the first (the body turns phenylalanine into tyrosine).
- Caffeine’s performance-enhancing qualities are well-known and often see it coupled with taurine in the already mentioned energy drinks.
- Finally there is citicoline, a brain stimulant that can enhance memory and vision, but there is no evidence of it having any influence on your physical stamina.
At Least Be Careful
Looking over these, there are only two ingredients in energy shots that can influence your physical performance: taurine and caffeine. With the rather slim evidence behind taurine I still stand by what I wrote a while ago: most of the effect likely comes from the caffeine.
The other ingredients basically only influence brain chemistry, making you more alert etc. If that is what you need, fine. But it may also be worth looking into why you feel the need in the first place. We tend to try boosting our alertness and energy levels when we feel exhausted, and we usually feel that way when we are stressed and don’t get enough sleep. Artificially revving yourself up only works that long until you break down. It’s a bit like putting a car’s engine into continuous overdrive by injecting nitrous oxide, which in the long run will destroy the engine.
Picture courtesy of “Jixar“.