Energy drinks are tempting. Who wouldn't want a quick burst of power before a workout, practice or game? But don't be fooled. These drinks pose hidden health risks, especially for high-performing athletes.
Energy Drink Concerns
One major concern about energy drinks is their diuretic effect. These drinks increase urination rates and cause more rapid dehydration, which can certainly hinder sports performance. Avoid consuming energy drinks before practice or a game to ensure your hydration levels stay high.
Athletes especially need to understand the stimulant effects present in many energy drinks. Some energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulant ingredients, such as guarana, green tea, yohimbine, vinpocetine, 5-hydroxyl trypophan methylphenylethylamine (5-HTP) and ginseng. When multiple stimulants are combined in one beverage, serious cardiovascular issues can occur. We recommend that you take only NSF-certified dietary supplements, which have been screened for contaminants and banned substances.
Pay attention to serving size, too. Some energy drinks actually contain multiple servings in one container, so consuming the full contents could introduce an unsafe level of caffeine into the body. If you feel the need to consume an energy drink, take only one serving in a single setting.
Additional issues often cited about energy drinks include:
- Drug Interactions: Concerns exist about the ingestion of large amounts of ingredients found in energy drinks and how they may adversely affect people with poorly controlled or undiagnosed psychiatric conditions. Some energy drink ingredients are known to interact with certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs, causing adverse health effects or reducing the effectiveness of the drug.
- Blood Thinners: Vinpocetine, an ingredient found in some energy drinks, can increase blood flow to the brain. Anyone who is taking blood thinners—including aspirin, Coumadin, Plavix, Tidid, Pentoxifyline, vitamin E, garlic or gingko supplements—should avoid drinks containing this ingredient.
- Blood Pressure: The stimulant yohimbine, frequently found in energy drinks, should not be taken in combination with antidepressants, drugs for lowering blood pressure, amphetamines or any other central nervous system stimulants. The combination of yohimbine with these substances can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels and make the blood pressure medication inactive. Also, yohimbine should not be combined with nasal decongestants, diet products containing phenylpropanolamine, cheese or red wine, as it can cause high blood pressure and heart palpitations.
- Interaction With Alcohol: Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of energy drinks containing alcohol, some individuals still risk their health and safety by mixing high-caffeine energy drinks with alcohol.
Bottom line on energy drinks: be careful. If you choose to consume them, read their labels carefully and thoroughly research their contents. Closely monitor your hydration levels and drink plenty of water, especially during exercise.
Edward Wyszumiala is the general manager of NSF International's Dietary Supplement Certification Programs, responsible for overseeing the NSF Dietary Supplement Certification and Athletic Banned Substances (Certified for Sport) Programs. Prior to his appointment at NSF, Wyszumiala was the Chief Operating Officer for Graminex, a manufacturer of botanical products. He is a member of American Herbal Products Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition, International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations and United Natural Products Alliance. Wyszumiala earned a bachelor's degree from The Ohio State University.
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