We've all been there—you've had a long day at work, you have eaten little, you missed your afternoon coffee, and you're exhausted.
Because you feel you're on the verge of a mental breakdown, you reach for the closest thing you can find: an energy drink.
And it does the trick.
Your wheels are turning, your mind is waking up, and you're getting back into your groove.
Or maybe you're on the way to the gym and you forgot your pre-workout, so you stop at the gas station and grab an energy drink to get your blood flowing and start that pump.
Whatever it may be, we all need that caffeine hit every once in a while to keep us going—and that's okay.
But when you're getting that rush of caffeine, what else are you getting along with it?
Here's where we need to stop for a minute and educate you on the difference between a caffeine-containing beverage (i.e. an energy drink) and a pure caffeine supplement.
What Is An Energy Drink?
Aside from multivitamins, energy drinks are the most consumed dietary supplement by American teens and young adults. Since the introduction of Red Bull to the U.S. in 1997, the energy drink market has boomed 1.
Energy drinks are beverages that aim to enhance energy, mental alertness, and physical performance, often containing caffeine along with other stimulants like B vitamins, ginseng, guarana, and taurine; these often make up what manufacturers call "the energy blend."
Remember, energy drinks and sports drinks are not the same thing.
Whereas sports drinks are intended to provide hydration and replenish carbohydrate and electrolyte stores, energy drinks have a diuretic effect because of their high volume of caffeine and other stimulating compounds; they do the complete opposite of sports drinks.
And if that wasn't enough, energy drinks also contain far more carbohydrates than what most physically active people need, which slows fluid absorption and causes gastric discomfort 1.
What You'll Find In Energy Drinks
Caffeine is the first ingredient you'll find in most energy drinks, and for good reason. It is a central nervous system stimulant that helps to enhance alertness and decrease fatigue.
Most energy drinks contain anywhere from 70 to 200 mg of caffeine per 16 ounces. Some even have as much as 500 mg 1 (recommendation: steer clear of those!).
The second most common reason for adding caffeine into these drinks is because of its role as an ergogenic aid; that is, it raises heart rate and blood pressure.
And for athletes, caffeine consumption elicits a range of metabolic, hormonal, and physiologic effects, including fat mobilization, glycogen depletion, prolonged muscular endurance, and increases blood pressure and peripheral vascular resistance by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system 1.
If you've ever heard anything about taurine, you've likely heard of it in relation to energy. While not a stimulant itself, taurine has a stimulating effect on the brain, hence one reason it's added to energy drinks.
Taurine is the most abundant intracellular amino acid in the body and is involved in several functions, including modulating calcium release, which has potential impacts on the brain, heart, and skeletal muscle function 2.
However, the cardiac effects of taurine are exacerbated when consumed with caffeine, which may be a cause for concern, given that caffeine alone increases blood pressure and heart rate.
But it's not all bad. Some studies show that taurine may actually be a neuroprotectant, but it needs more research in this area 2.
If you need a quick burst of energy, the B vitamins are at your service. They're a group of water-soluble vitamins that play a significant role as coenzymes for normal cell function, especially mitochondrial function and energy production 3.
And if you aren't aware, mitochondria are like the powerhouses of your body. They are the ones that produce ATP (energy) to fuel your entire body.
Because energy drinks also contain gross amounts of sugar, B vitamins are added to enable conversion of this sugar to energy 2.
Think of them as the "key" to unlock all the potential energy locked up in the form of sugar. And this, my friends, is where all that "excess energy" comes from when you down an energy drink—a sugar rush.
You've likely never heard of it, but guarana is a rainforest vine native to the Amazon, and surprisingly, contains more caffeine than any other species of plant.
The plant also contains the two stimulants theobromine and theophylline 2.
As a herbal treatment, ginseng is a powerhouse.
It's noted for its benefits on a variety of conditions. It is suggested to increase energy, reduce stress, and increase memory by stimulating the hypothalamus and pituitary glands to secrete corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
This hormone stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenals 2.
If there's one supplement people will go for to burn fat, it's likely L-carnitine.
That's because supplementation with this amino acid has been shown to boost metabolism and aid weight and fat loss efforts.
But not just that. Research also shows that it's beneficial for preventing cellular damage and positively affecting recovery after exercise-induced stress 2.
So, why not add it to an energy drink?
What Are Caffeine Pills?
Despite being one of the most ingested psychoactive drugs in the world and the fact that it can cause serious issues when taken in excess, experts agree that modest amounts of caffeine aren't harmful to your health 4.
If you're not a fan of lugging around a sugar-filled energy drink, caffeine pills are pure caffeine put into a perfectly pop-able and portable capsule. It's convenience and energy all in one.
The caffeine supplements we have access to nowadays are designed with precision dosing and the cleanest ingredients we've seen yet.
They're explicitly formulated to increase energy, alertness, wakefulness, reaction time, all the while focusing attention and decreasing fatigue 4.
And when taken in an appropriate amount, you'll reap all the benefits without the jitters and the horrible crash afterwards that leaves you craving more.
Sounds pretty awesome, right?
But benefits aside, there is one problem with caffeine pills: people don't know how to dose them properly… and that's where you can get into trouble. Excessive caffeine intake has been linked to many unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Heart palpitations or rapid heart rate
Most pills you'll find average around 100-200mg per capsule, so to avoid the nasty effects that may come with too much (and also to prevent it not working), stick to what's recommended on the bottle.
The Dangers Of Energy Drinks
We all know that energy drinks are one of the worst beverages you can have in terms of ingredients and nutrition, but they're also one of the most dangerous when consumed long term.
Here's why 2
- They increase blood pressure (systolic and diastolic)
- Increase cardiac contractility (i.e. boost heart rate)
- Increase pain threshold
- Increase the risk of seizures and cardiac arrest
- When consumed with alcohol, can be fatal
Also, whether it's a "natural" energy drink or not, most brands pump more stimulants into their products than your body (or your mind) know what to do with.
In caffeine pills, however, you're getting a controlled dose.
The VerdictWhen it comes down to needing a quick burst of energy, what should you grab: an energy drink or caffeine pills?
We're going with caffeine pills solely on the fact that they're 100% pure energy. And what you can buy now is free from artificial fillers, synthetic ingredients, and most other crap you find in low-grade supplements.
If you're looking to get the benefits of caffeine but want a little more bang for your buck, let us introduce you to Performance Lab Stim.
It's one of the cleanest stimulants you can find on the market that won’t give you jitters.
With Natural Caffeine 50 mg + Suntheanine® 100 mg, it delivers greater dosing precision, fewer side effects, and superior performance-tuned stimulation.
And with Stim's ultramodern design, it also helps restore caffeine-depleted brain chemicals with Ajipure® L-Tyrosine + NutriGenesis® B-Complex to support healthy recovery from all caffeine-driven activities.
- JP Higgins, TD Tuttle, CL Higgins. Energy beverages: content and safety. Mayo Clin Proc. 2010; 85(11) :1033-1041.
- CP Curran, CA Marczinski. Taurine, caffeine, and energy drinks: Reviewing the risks to the adolescent brain. Birth Defects Res. 2017; 109(20): 1640-1648.
- F Depeint, WR Bruce, N hangari, R Mehta, PJ O'Brien. Mitochondrial function and toxicity: role of the B vitamin family on mitochondrial energy metabolism. Chem Biol Interact. 2006 Oct; 163(1-2): 94-112.
- A Baratloo, A Rouhipour, MM Forouzanfar, S Safari, M Amiri, A Negida. The Role of Caffeine in Pain Management: A Brief Literature Review. Anesth Pain Med. 2016; 6(3): e33193.