Archive for Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The buzz on energy drinks

June 8, 2005

It's not that the energy drinks make him run faster. But Tonganoxie High School football player Clay Lamb says they keep him from getting tired.

"I usually drank two of them right before a game, and every once in a while one at halftime," said the recent THS graduate.

Though there are about a dozen different brands of energy drinks -- high-caffeine cola-type beverages -- on the market, Clay's favorite is Amp, a Mountain Dew product.

Clay said Tony Erisman, the school's athletic trainer, cautioned players about energy drinks.

"Tony said that we probably wouldn't want to drink more than a couple of them at a time because it wasn't good for your body to have that much caffeine and go out and immediately start practicing," Clay said.

On the shelf

The cans are small but they pack a punch.

Lost Energy, Adrenalin Rush, Full Throttle, Assault Monster, Red Bull, No Fear, Monster Energy.

Walk into any convenience store or grocery store, and chances are you'll see up to a dozen brands of so-called energy drinks.

Also called "utility" drinks and advertised as "energy boosters," these beverages are loaded with caffeine, sweeteners and a curious assortment of other ingredients, including taurine and glucuronolactone -- and vitamins.

For instance, according to the ingredients listed on a can of Red Bull, an 8-ounce serving (one can) carries 100 percent of a day's recommended allowance of niacin, 250 percent of vitamin B6 and 80 percent of vitamin B12 and 50 percent of pantothenic acid.

It sounds good, perhaps too good, some experts say.

Tanda Kidd, a registered dietician and an extension associate with Kansas State University Research and Extension in Manhattan, Kan., has studied the beverages and their ingredients.

"I would just say exercise caution with it," Kidd said. "Any time a product comes out on the market and is relatively new, I think we should exercise caution until we find out more about the ingredients in the product."

According to Kidd, who researched the products online, an 8-ounce can of Red Bull has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.

"I'm just thinking if a person buys this product, the energy drink, they probably will feel a burst of energy," Kidd said. "But I don't know if the product is doing this or if it's the caffeine, because the caffeine is a stimulant."

On the field

Erisman, the THS trainer and a substitute teacher, has tried energy drinks. But he cautions his students about using them.

Especially before an athletic event.

He said that last fall a football player came up to him during pre-game warm-up exercises.

"He said, 'I feel lightheaded,'" Erisman said, "He said, 'I feel like my heart's beating real fast.'"

Erisman asked if he'd had an energy drink.

"He said he had had two of them," Erisman said.

This is a concern, especially in football, when athletes can compete in hot weather and wear clothing that keeps the heat in.

"All the energy drinks contain stimulants, and I really worry about the stimulants combined with the heat element, and then you add the weight of the equipment and the shock to the body (from the rush of caffeine)."

Erisman noted that in the heat and humidity of late summer, a football uniform can make it seem like it's 20 to 25 degrees hotter than it is, stressing the body even more.

"So when the energy drinks come up, I'm worried that it could just lead to further medical problems," Erisman said.

In fact, information on Red Bull's Web site backs up what Erisman said.

According to the Red Bull Web site: "It (Red Bull) has not been formulated to deliver re-hydration. Adequate fluid intake is critical during intense and long lasting physical performance. Without adequate fluid intake, intense physical activities may lead to dehydration. As Red Bull Energy Drink has not been formulate to deliver re-hydration, we encourage people who engage in sports also to drink lots of water during intense exercise."

'The edge'

Erisman said he understands athletes may turn to energy drinks to get "the edge." However, he said, that won't ensure a team win.

"The energy drink might get you up for the occasion," Erisman said. "But concentration is probably going to be affected because you're kind of agitated."

Sam Mitchell, another recent THS graduate, said he wasn't all that impressed with energy drinks.

"I drank them before football games," Mitchell said, explaining that drinking one can before a game did seem to increase his energy.

But the flavor leaves something to be desired.

"It (Red Bull) was OK," Mitchell said. "I have never really tasted one that was good."

Strong sellers

At FasTrax, the Tonganoxie Conoco convenience store, assistant manager Lorna Henderson said she's seeing healthy sales of energy drinks.

The drinks, which sell for about $2 a can, are popular with teens involved in athletics, Henderson said.

"I've seen them come in here and get them before soccer games," she said.

And, it's not uncommon for teenagers to buy a can early in the morning, Henderson said.

"Right before school starts," Henderson said. "Maybe they've been up late the night before. And then we have a lot of workers that come in first thing in the morning and get them."

Though Henderson doesn't drink an energy drink daily, she says they work.

"Sometimes when I've been up all day and then get called in for the late shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.), it seems to help," Henderson said.

An 8-ounce serving of Red Bull has about 80 milligrams of caffeine, about that of a cup of coffee. An 8-ounce serving of Coca-Cola or Pepsi has from 40 milligrams to 50 milligrams of caffeine.

Conoco's manger Tiffany Winkler estimated the convenience store sells between two and three cases of energy drinks a day. Each case has 24 cans.

The prices vary slightly. Coca-Cola's newly released energy drink, Full Throttle, sells for $1.99. The others carried in the store sell for $2.29.

While Red Bull has been the most popular at FasTrax, Full Throttle is gaining in popularity, Winkler said.

Rather than coffee

At G&P Country Market, manager Gurmeet Kaur has tried the energy drinks herself.

"I like it, but I don't want to get used to it," she said.

And, her customers like the beverages.

"I see a lot of people buy them, especially in the morning," Kaur said.

The buyers, she said, appear to be in their 30s and 40s. And they're not just getting one for the road.

"People buy six cans at a time because people don't want to run out," Kaur said.

The beverages are kept in the store's refrigerator section. One of the brands, Energy, comes in a metal can shaped like an old-fashioned glass milk bottle.

One might wonder if the increase in high-caffeine energy drinks has cut into coffee sales.

"If somebody drinks this, they don't buy coffee," Kaur said. "But people who like coffee will buy this."

Afternoon pick-you-up

At B&J Amoco, manager Terri Chop said Red Bull and the diet Red Bull are popular drinks. And at Casey's, Paulette Courtney said they sell more of Monster Energy than any other brand.

Once customers acquire a taste for the drinks, they come back, again and again.

"I'll tease some of my customers," Courtney said. "They'll come in and get it every day and if they stop for awhile, they'll come in and I say what's the matter, did you think you were getting addicted."

Courtney usually sells about eight to 10 cans of energy drinks on a morning shift, but said the drinks are popular later in the day as well.

"I think people buy it all day long," Courtney said. "It's just not in the morning. When they get that afternoon down, they come in to get a boost to make it through the rest of the day."

Courtney said those who are buying the energy drinks appear to be college age to middle 30s. And, she estimated Casey's sells about three cases a week of Monster Energy, noting the low-carb version is a good seller.

"They're playing to every group," Courtney said, "the ones that are on diets and the ones that don't care."

Read the labels

Print on cans of Red Bull states that the beverage "vitalizes body and mind," and that it "improves performance, especially during times of increased stress or strain. Increases concentration and improves reaction speed. Stimulates the metabolism."

At first sight, it seems an all-around perfect beverage.

But claims such as these bring out the skeptic in Kidd, the K-State dietician. She sees the brightly colored cans, which she said resemble cans of beer, as being marketed toward teens.

"On the Web site it's saying you can drink these before sporting events," Kidd said, noting the high caffeine content, which would act as a diuretic. "Well OK, if someone goes out there and they're drinking this before a sporting event, they may dehydrate faster than they would have."

And an energy drink's Web site also encourages use of the beverages to improve test scores at school.

"I'm thinking if you're recommending teenagers to take this before an exam, now if they have two or three exams in one day are they going to take it before each exam?" Kidd said.

Kidd said the way the beverages are served -- chilled -- hints at why the users feel buzzed.

"I think a cup of coffee generally is warm so people are drinking it over a period of time, whereas the Red Bull is probably chilled and you drink it a whole lot faster," Kidd said. "You're getting a rush of caffeine at once, compared to over a period of time."

Pearly whites

Tonganoxie dentist Dr. Grant Ritchey is concerned about the drinks.

There are dozens of brands of the beverages. And according to the Red Bull Web site, in 2004, more than 1.6 billion cans of Red Bull were sold worldwide.

After reading about the beverages recently, Ritchey said, "It was amazing how much worse energy drinks are (for teeth) than pop, which has traditionally been kind of our benchmark of destructive beverages."

Ritchey said the energy drinks are loaded with acid, as is soda pop.

"But different types of acids," Ritchey said. "Not just phosphoric acid and citric acid, but other acids which are destructive to the enamel of the teeth."

And, they contain sugars, he added.

"That enamel damage caused by energy drinks is three to 11 times greater than cola-based drinks," Ritchey said.

Junior high level

Tonganoxie Junior High School's principal, Steve Woolf, has heard about the energy drink craze striking younger teens.

"We're not seeing much of it (at school)," Woolf said. "I've seen two cans so far, but I have no doubt that it's probably being used across the nation by kids as a sugar wakeup thing in the morning, like coffee is to adults."

Woolf's cautious about the beverages, and about the foods young people eat in general. He cited an example in which, from 1979 to 1984, the New York City school system conducted a diet study. The district removed all artificial colors, flavors, sugars and additives from the cafeteria's breakfast and lunch menus, substituting whole grains, fruits and vegetables. During those years the students' achievement test score went from an average percentile of 39 to 52. After the project ended and the menus returned to typical American food, the average test scores dipped back to the lower scores, Woolf said.

After dark

While energy drinks are enjoying a growing popularity, they've also edged into the bar scene, where they're mixed with alcohol.

Missie Bedell, who manages Helen's Hilltop, said the blends are popular with her customers.

"We sell a lot of it," Bedell said. "We sell Red Bull with Jagermeister or vodka."

Though it's rumored the combination of energy drink and alcohol will keep a person from becoming intoxicated, Bedell disagreed.

"I don't think so," Bedell said. "It's kind of like if you were to drink a shot of whiskey with a cup of coffee. It's not going to keep you sober -- you're going to be wide awake instead of a downer."

Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Brad Runyan agreed.

"It used to be said that the best thing for an intoxicated person was to give them a pot of coffee," Runyan said. "But all that does is keep a drunk wide awake."

At Tuna's Tavern, owner Charlie Conrad limits the Red Bull and Jagermeister drinks to three per person. That's because Conrad, who has a background in emergency medical care, said he's wary of the effects when high-caffeine drinks are mixed with alcohol.

"In my opinion you're flirting with danger when you do it," Conrad said. "... If you drink alcohol, which already alters your state of mind, then throw something into that -- high energy -- then what do you think you've got -- you've got an altered state of mind that's ready to go."

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