I’ve been seeing a lot of health influencers tout their energy drinks lately, and it scares me when potentially dangerous things are marketed as healthy. So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on energy drinks and pre-workout supplements, and provide you the information you need to make a conscious and healthy decision!!
First, consider the concept of an energy drink. It’s used when your body is so overworked, overtired, overstressed that it just can’t function as you’re asking it to. It pumps you up, in part, by raising levels of cortisol, which is often called the “stress hormone.” This gives us the momentary lift we are seeking, but chronic high cortisol can cause weight gain, headaches, fatigue, caffeine addiction, and more. And most of us have plenty of cortisol floating around from living in a high-stress, go-go-go society. It’s often calming down that we need more of, not pumping up the cortisol.
I’m also concerned about many of the ingredients in energy drinks, particularly sugar, artificial sweeteners, excessive caffeine, and artificial colorings.
- Sugar: Many energy drinks on the market are loaded with sugar. It’s not uncommon to see 50 or more grams of sugar per can (and most standard recommendations suggest less than 25g of added sugar per day, although none is clearly the best option!). If you feel great for an hour after your pre-workout or energy drink, and then slump a few hours later, it’s likely the sugar you’re reacting to. And even if you don’t feel poorly, excess sugar consumption has a host of negative health impacts, so we’re better off reducing it. To learn how to find (and reduce) added sugar, see this post.
- Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners are linked to increased cravings, increased body weight, digestive issues like bloating and leaky gut, and even increased risk of chronic diseases like cancer if consumed in excess. You can find artificial sweeteners on the label by looking for the most common ones: sucralose (this is Splenda, and is basically a sugar molecule fused to a chlorine molecule!), acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and saccharin.
- Excessive caffeine: It’s not uncommon to see preworkout drinks or energy drinks with 300mg or more of caffeine. This is a TON! (A cup of coffee has around 85mg). It’s not that caffeine is “bad” all together – in fact, there are several proven health benefits of caffeine in moderation, including those for memory, chronic disease risk, and improved exercise performance. A 2017 meta-analysis found that 400mg of caffeine per day, spaced throughout the day, can be consumed without adverse impacts for most people. However … 300+ mg of caffeine hitting your system in a mere few minutes is enough to cause heart palpitations, excess cortisol, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, and more.
- Artificial colorings: Artificial colorings are most easily found with a color and a number. Red 40 is my least favorite, as it has been tied to several neurological conditions, but any number and color (e.g. Blue 1, Yellow 5) is not ideal.
Just check out the labels of some of the most popular labels … what do you notice here?
What is a healthier option?
- For a pre-workout boost, I recommend ½ scoop of eBoost Pow or Vega Sugar-Free Energizer. Both have natural ingredients, are sweetened by stevia and colored with vegetables. The caffeine is less likely to cause jitters because it is paired with l-theanine.
- For a mid-day boost, my true recommendation is a big glass of water, 2 minutes away from the computer, and 20 jumping jacks or a run up and down the stairs. If I’m really feeling sluggish, I love doing a handstand to get blood rushing to my head, too! I promise, activity and hydration are the best natural energy boosters there are.
- But, if you’re still looking for a drink, here are a few recommendations:
- I drink Bulletproof Luminate with Nutpods in the morning.
- I love Lakanto matcha latte for an afternoon pick-me-up. The l-theanine in matcha makes its caffeine much easier on your system and much less likely to cause adverse effects.
- I also enjoy Four Sigmatic coffees. They have far lower caffeine levels (around 40-50mg per serving) and have added nutritional benefits from different types of healthy mushrooms. I recommend the one with Lion’s Mane and Chaga for focus and concentration!
Next time you reach for an energy drink, I hope you consider the label and make a decision that truly serves you!
Now it’s your turn … Do you drink energy drinks? What’s a healthier substitute you enjoy?