By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer
So called “sports” drink advertising campaigns taut the benefits of drinking energy drinks for improved performance, concentration, and mood. However, like most marketing campaigns, as the old adage goes, if it seems to good to be true (energy in a bottle! Lose 30 pounds in 1 week!) it likely is too good to be true.
In his recent article, “The Downside of Energy Drinks – Negative Performance and Psychological Effects” published in ACSM’s Active Voice newsletter, Conrad Woolsey, Ph.D., CHES states that Energy drinks may actually cause long term energy depletion. Dr. Woolsey has published a number of studies regarding energy drink use and it’s effect on the nervous system and health in general. His findings are that that Energy Drinks can inhibit peak performance and that regular Energy Drink use will result in drinkers feeling tired, anxious, and depressed more of the time rather than energized and calm.
According to Dr. Woolsey, of the over 500 brands of energy drinks now available, several contain 3-4 times the amount of caffeine (300+ mg/8 oz.) as standard energy drinks (80 mg/8 oz.) such as Red Bull.
Drinks like Spike and Redline also contain other herbal stimulants such as evodamine and yohimbine which are more powerful and dangerous than caffeine.
Energy Drinks: A New Addiction?
According to Dr. Woolsey, energy drinks work, much like drugs of addiction, “ by causing a large release and/or prolonged action of pleasure-reward neurotransmitters (dopamine/serotonin) and stress hormones (nor-adrenaline/adrenaline), which in turn provides a short term high followed by a low.”
In his research Dr. Woolsey found that “using energy drinks can raise pleasure-reward thresholds and damage neurotransmitter receptor sites. This results in more drug craving and/or thrill-seeking to satisfy homeostatic brain deficiencies and increases the chances of developing anxiety and depressive disorders.”
Prior research has shown that significant brain modeling occurs in adolescents all the way up to age 20. Young people under age 25 are also at risk for developing addictive personality traits and behaviors due to incomplete development of the memory (hippocampus), stress, and pleasure-reward systems of the brain with regular use of energy drinks.
In a randomly assigned double-blind placebo controlled study where Dr. Woolsey and his collagues tested energy drinks on a dynamic performance skill, they found performance improvements only when they examined a one-dimensional variables such as reaction time. But reaction time alone is not the only variable needed to coordinate multi-dimensional skills. In the study, performers perceived they were doing better, but actually made significantly more errors, due to being hyper-focused and/or over-aroused. Technical skills require precise timing and coordination and according to Dr. Wollesey’s studies, Energy Drinks can and often do reduce performance. As a sport psychology consultant, Dr. Woolsey regularly works with elite athletes whose performances suffer from using energy drinks, particularly in high-pressure situations.
Energy the Natural, Non-Addictive Way
The best way to feel energized and alert is to get a good nights sleep of about 7-8 hours. There is no substitute for a good night’s sleep, for you or for your children. Pouring caffeine into a sleep deprived person does not make up for the lack of sleep.
Another natural way to perk yourself up include avoiding dehydration by simply drinking enough water to stay hydrated. (Hint: If you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.)
Finally, to keep energy levels constant, maintain steady blood sugar levels (without spikes or lows) by eating small meals at regular intervals (versus starving yourself and then binging on sugar or energy drinks to get you going). Sounds suspiciously like that whole “eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest and fluids” advice we’ve all heard before. Try it yourself and see how you feel.
And save the cost of expensive energy drinks, along with the cost of possible medical bills for anxiety, depression and addiction!
Buy Bottled Sleep By Sue Shekut
Am I really selling bottles of sleep? Of course not. If I could bottle sleep and sell it, I’d be a billionaire. But really, no one can bottle sleep. And if they could, would you have to buy a separate bottle for REM sleep and good dreams? (I’ll have a bottle of 8 hours of Sleep with a side order of good dreams?)
To read the complete article by Dr. Woolsey in Active Voice, click here.
Who is Conrad Woolsey and Why Should We Listen to Him?
Conrad Wolsey, PhD, CHES
Conrad Woolsey, PhD, CHES, is an Assistant Professor of Health and Human Performance at Oklahoma State University and a sport psychology consultant. His research areas include brain chemistry, addiction, positive health behavior change, health psychology and performance in athletes. He has authored publications and several research presentations related to this commentary1 including one at ACSM’s Annual Meeting and World Congress on Exercise is Medicine™, held in Baltimore in June 2010. For further information, contact the author by e-mail via his institutional website.
Studies by Dr. Woolsey on Energy Drinks
Woolsey, C. (in press, due for publication in October, 2010). Energy drink cocktails: A dangerous combination for athletes and beyond. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 54(3), December 2010
Woolsey, C., Waigandt, A., & Beck, N. (2010). Athlete energy drink use: Reported risk taking and consequences from the combined use of alcohol and energy drinks. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22(1), 65-71. Doi:10.1080/10413200903403224
Woolsey, C. (2010, March 18). Energy drinks: The new gateway drug. AAHPERD National Convention and Exposition in Indianapolis, Indiana. AAHE RCB Oral Session – New Challenges in Drug Use/Abuse Prevention and Intervention.
Woolsey, C., Martens, M.P., Beck, N.C. (2009). Understanding athlete brain chemistry and addiction. American College of Sports Medicine, ACSM Central States Regional Conference, Columbia, MO. November 6, 2009. Oral Presentation – 45 min.
Woolsey, C. & Kensinger, W.S. (2009, November 6). Exercise & energy drink use: Juiced jolts or risky sips? ACSM’s Central States Regional Conference, Columbia, MO. Oral Presentation – 45 min.
Woolsey, C. (2010, March 5). The effects of energy drinks and alcohol on brain development and psychological health. Achieving Wellness Through Community. Sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Norman, OK. Speaker- 60 minutes.
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