Think Before You Drink: How Energy Drinks Affect Your Workout
Americans sip more energy drinks than anyone else in the world, report investment analysts, with global sales expected to surpass $60 billion in the next few years. And those statistics don't even include pre-workout supplements.
Although many fitness enthusiasts chug an energy drink or take a pre-workout supplement before they hit the gym, it's important to think before you drink. Caffeinated energy drinks may offer numerous fitness benefits, but using them the wrong way can actually sabotage your workout results. Here's what you need to know before cracking open a cold one.
Breaking Down the Nutrition Facts of Energy Drinks
Every brand and product is different, but most energy drinks share a few things in common:
- Caffeine: The amount of caffeine in your favorite energy drink varies widely. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some popular brands have as much as 250 mg of caffeine in a can. In comparison, an 8-ounce mug of coffee has approximately 95 mg of caffeine.
- Sugar: A big dose of carbohydrates is a proven energy booster, which is why the average energy drink has more than 40 grams of sugar.
- Herbal and vitamin additives: An increasing number of brands are adding herbal additives and other supplements to their energy drinks. Popular ingredients you'll find from brands like Red Bull, Monster, and Amp include taurine, ginseng, and B vitamins.
Energy Drinks and Your Next Workout: The Pros, the Cons, and the Maybes
The Benefits of Caffeinated Energy Drinks
1. Increased Mental Focus
The more focused you are in the gym, the more aware you are of your body, your muscles, and your workout intensity. It's what many fitness experts refer to as your mind-body connection, and it's a key factor in achieving results.
Energy drinks can help. One small study found that drinking an energy drink can improve your mental focus and concentration by more than 20%.
The improved mental focus during your workouts can also bring about unexpected side benefits. For instance, researchers found that caffeine helped rugby players to not only run faster and longer, but it even improved their throwing accuracy. This is good news for coordinated exercises like burpees or Turkish get-ups.
2. Longer Exercise Endurance
Run that extra mile, or squeeze out one more rep. Scientists report that taking caffeine before you work out can increase your load capacity by more than 7% and boost your endurance and performance by nearly 10%. Benefits are especially prominent when you're doing sprints and other high-intensity movements.
3. More Power When Lifting Weights
Having an energy drink a few minutes before stepping into the squat rack can also improve your lifting strength. Studies have found that a pre-gym dose of caffeine can do everything from improving your free weight bench press capacity to raising your leg muscle power. In essence, an energy drink may help you to lift heavier and lift longer.
Taking all of the above into consideration, it's no surprise that the 2021 position statement from the International Society of Sports Nutrition declares that caffeine "has been shown to acutely enhance various aspects of exercise performance." The Society also points out that both professional athletes and more casual weekend warriors may benefit from taking caffeine before going to the gym.
Despite these benefits, energy drinks aren't without their potentially harmful side effects.
The Potential Drawbacks of Caffeinated Energy Drinks
Caffeine can be a double-edged sword. While it's true that it can help you to go longer, harder, and faster in the gym, caffeine-sensitive athletes may also experience potentially harmful health effects like:
- Heart problems, including high blood pressure
- An upset stomach and potential dehydration (caffeine often has diuretic effects)
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying in a deep sleep
The latter is especially important to keep in mind.
It's during your sleep that your brain releases the growth hormones that are fundamental to getting stronger. It's also during your sleep that your body recovers from your workout and repairs the micro-tears and micro-injuries you experienced while exercising.
Put simply, a stronger and leaner body isn't made in the gym — it's made during rest and recovery. And if that energy drink compromises your sleep quality, that will lead to poor recovery, weaker workouts the following day, and slower exercise results.
Not getting enough sleep is also linked with increased levels of cortisol. That's the so-called "stress hormone," which sabotages muscle growth and increases weight gain, especially around your stomach.
Last but not least are concerns about sugar. Eating or drinking too much added sugar is associated with a diverse array of health problems, including weight gain, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Women should generally have no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day, advises the University of California's SugarScience. For men, that daily limit sits at 38 grams. If your energy drink contains a lot of sugar, you'll want to compensate for that added intake by cutting back elsewhere in your diet.
How to Use Energy Drinks For Optimal Results in the Gym
You can reap maximum benefits while limiting potential health drawbacks by:
- Only using energy drinks to boost your workouts if you're exercising in the morning or early afternoon. This limits caffeine's effects on your sleep.
- Checking the ingredient label and looking for an energy drink that contains minimal amounts of sugar.
- Drinking lots of water after you've had your energy drink.
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