Caffeine Effects on the Brain – Part 2

Welcome to GreenEyedGuide, your guide to the science behind caffeine and energy drinks. This is a series on How Caffeine Affects the Brain. Since this is a complex topic and we have a lot to cover, I’ve broken the key questions into different posts. In this part, we compare coffee versus energy drinks to determine what makes the best study aid and why.

Later in this series, we’ll also talk about:

  • Why does caffeine work differently after an all-nighter?
  • What ingredients in energy drinks help you focus during gaming?
  • Does your brain get addicted to caffeine and energy drinks?

Coffee Versus Energy Drinks – Which is Better for Studying?

If you don’t have time to watch the full episode, don’t worry! The highlights are below.

How does caffeine help you focus?

In Part 1 of this series, we used a Harry Potter analogy to illustrate how caffeine and dopamine improve attention, vigilance, and reaction time.

how caffeine helps you focus - GreenEyedGuide.com

Caffeine does a great job of making us feel awake and alert. Do the other ingredients in coffee help or hinder?

I could tell my friend was getting upset with me when we were playing a video game together. My friend had to set portals and push buttons – my ONE JOB was to not mess up. All I had to do was go straight. And I did walk straight, right before falling into a pool of acid.

In coffee, the key ingredients are caffeine, chlorogenic acid, theobromine, and other phytochemicals – plant compounds. Do these play well with caffeine? Or do they mess everything up?

cup of coffee

What does chlorogenic do? Does chlorogenic acid help you focus?

  • It takes a huge amount of chlorogenic acid before there is any improvement in cognitive tests
  • If you extracted the chlorogenic acid from 17 cups of coffee and squeezed it all into one cup, it would help your cognitive function as much as one regular cup of coffee
  • The chlorogenic acid in one cup of coffee does not help you focus BUT it does not interfere with caffeine

What does theobromine do? Does theobromine help you focus?

  • Theobromine takes too long to kick in to be any good for cognitive performance
  • Caffeine reaches peak concentration in your blood 30 minutes after ingestion, but theobromine takes 2.5 hours
  • For focus and attention, theobromine + caffeine combinations do not give any better results than caffeine alone

The caffeine in coffee improves attention, vigilance, and reaction time. Nothing in coffee seems to work against the caffeine. What about energy drinks?

red bull caffeine content - caffeine informer

Red Bull Versus Coffee

Energy drinks do not have a common formula so there is a wide-variety of ingredient combinations to consider. To make it easier compare energy drinks versus coffee for studying, we will use the #1 Top Selling Energy Drink brand – Red Bull.

How do B-vitamins help you focus?

We discussed how B-vitamins affect the brain in an earlier post on the science behind nootropic drink FocusAid.

Unless you have a B-vitamin deficiency, the vitamins in energy drinks will not have any significant effects on your cognitive function.

How does taurine help you focus?

  • Combinations of caffeine and taurine made people do worse on cognitive tests than caffeine alone
  • Taurine increased reaction time
  • Taurine led to worse results in attention tests
caffeine for studying

Best Drinks for Studying

If you are using caffeine to help you study or help you focus on a specific task, the available research suggests coffee is better than an energy drink. If you don’t like coffee or you find the act of brewing coffee counterproductive to studying, you should find an energy drink without taurine. In laboratory tests, people performed worse on attention-tasks with caffeine-taurine combinations than with caffeine alone.

This is the part where I do the responsible thing as a scientist and mention the possibility of being wrong. There seems to be a reaction between the taurine and caffeine which makes people perform worse during cognitive tests. Since we don’t know the exact biochemical mechanism and since there are only a few research papers that tested this interaction, there’s still a possibility the taruine won’t affect you, personally.

What works for you? Let me know in the comments – what drink helps you the most when you’re studying?

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Love this info? Want to learn more?

I’ve researched the science and safety behind energy drinks and their ingredients since 2003. This book is the culmination of my research:

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