Food Scientist GreenEyedGuide is your guide to the science behind caffeine, energy drinks, and the 5 Levels of Fatigue.
I hate it when people pretend all energy drinks are the same, or that "just get more sleep" is appropriate advice for everyone. I worked two jobs during both college and grad school -- "get more sleep" was not an option.
I call myself the GreenEyedGuide because I help people see energy drinks and food science the way I do, through these green eyes.
I literally wrote the book on energy drinks: "Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks: How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely". I earned my bachelor's degree in biochemistry from the University of California San Diego and a master's degree in food science/food biochemistry from the University of California Davis. I've collected research on energy drinks and supplements since 2003.
I’ve been studying energy drinks for nearly two decades. I started studying them the same time I started studying biochemistry in college: way, way back in 2003. Who’d have thought, back when your only energy drink options were Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar, that one day you’d have the option of a caffeinated drink with CBD?
What makes Kill Cliff CBD Recovery drink so special? Let’s start with a recap of the ingredients and what those ingredients do, then we’ll look at the beverage as a whole.
It’s easy to imagine truck drivers, nurses, and first responders struggling to stay awake on the job, but fatigue impacts every occupation at every level. Fatigue includes physical tiredness, feeling mentally overwhelmed, even boredom. It’s easy to normalize fatigue – to accept it as a natural consequence of doing business, however, doing so not only hurts employees, it hurts a company’s bottom line.
In October 2019, I had the pleasure of leading a Fatigue Risk Management workshop with Palmer Johnson Power Systems. In that workshop, we reviewed why fatigue matters, how to quantify fatigue, and what safeguards to put in place so fatigue is less likely to hurt the employees or company as a whole.
If you haven’t addressed fatigue in your workplace, here’s what you need to know to get started.
It’s happened again: someone was admitted to the hospital after consuming an energy drink. Reporters covering the story warn readers about the dangers of energy drinks…something is missing. In this post, I’ll review real headlines about energy drink to demonstrate how the omission of a few minor details hurts consumers, as well as the scientists who study energy drinks.
If you read a news story about someone being hospitalized because of a vegetable, you’d have some questions.
On the surface, the mere idea sounds ridiculous.
“Hospitalized…because of a VEGETABLE? People eat veggies all the time without dying, why would someone go to the hospital?”
In fact, leafy green vegetables were the number one source of foodborne illnesses from 1998-2008. Moreover, this hypothetical news story is a perfect example of how asking the right questions can save lives.
When someone is hospitalized because of a vegetable, scientists and doctors are able to piece together the clues and figure out whether or not to issue a recall, if so, what food and even what brand and lot numbers. The end result is information which saves people from eating something that could hurt them. If only we could do the same thing for energy drinks. (Hint: we are not)
When it comes to energy drink-related hospitalizations, we are not asking the right questions. There are several examples of real energy drink news stories where small but critical details were omitted. Not only does this hurt consumers, but it also hurts scientists who desperately need this data to study the health effects of energy drinks.
The good news is these missing critical details can be summed up in just five questions. Yes, just FIVE QUESTIONS! Let me walk you through these five questions and why they matter so much, using real news stories about energy drink-related hospitalizations.
Have we met? I’m Danielle, the “GreenEyedGuide”. I started studying biochemistry in college the same year Monster Energy hit US markets. Ever since, I’ve put my education to use studying the science behind caffeine and energy drinks. I’ve always been disappointed with the black-and-white “Energy Drinks Will Kill You” messaging because the science is a lot more complex…after all, how can coffee be so good and other forms of caffeine be so bad? My goal is and always has been to answer questions about these controversial energy drinks using the latest research so people can decide what’s right for them based on facts, not fear.
Originally published January 13, 2017. Updated Sept 10, 2019.
During grad school, while working 2 jobs and researching full-time, I developed a system called the “5 Levels of Fatigue”. It started out as a set of rules to help me consume caffeine more systematically – as I biochemist, I knew if I always picked the most potent drinks, caffeine wasn’t going to work on those days when I needed it the most.
Below, I’ll walk you through my system and how to use it to drink caffeine more strategically, MAXIMIZING caffeine’s benefits while MINIMIZING its side-effects.
For info on using the 5 Levels of Fatigue against boredom, burnout, and mental overwhelm, you’ll want to check out this page: Click HERE
What’s the best energy drink? Everyone has their own preferences based on taste, but the scientific truth is “the best energy drink” depends on your body and your situation. Think of it this way:
An energy drink is like your favorite song: what gets YOU pumped up may do nothing for ME. A song that gets you up and moving on a Monday morning is probably not your go-to song to celebrate a Friday night.
Everyone is different, and different situations call for different solutions(that’s a beveragepun right there – in chemistry, a solution is a liquid mixture).
This is a picture of a card I made for a PhD student leaving my lab in grad school. To help her remember me, I drew a self-portrait. Big hair. Music. Caffeine.
I developed the 5 Levels of Fatigue in college and in grad school. I was juggling full-time studies with two part-time jobs. In addition to studying the science behind energy drinks, I was drinking them - a lot.
As a biochemistry major, I knew caffeine would stop working for me if my body got too used to it on a regular basis. Caffeine blocks adenosine, which prevents adenosine from sending you “YOU ARE GETTING SLEE-PY” signals. But after awhile your body realizes caffeine is blocking adenosine and MAKES MORE, so it takes MORE caffeine to feel the same energy boost.
Using the 5 Levels of Fatigue makes it less likely you'll develop caffeine dependence - it means you won't need more and more caffeine to feel awake.
Here's How It Works:
Every energy drink has a different amount of caffeine, juice, and sugar.
Some energy drinks are carbonated, some are not.
Carbonation, juice, and sugar content will all make one energy drink FEEL more powerful than another drink with the same amount of caffeine.
FATIGUE LEVEL 1: Dehydrated & Drowsy
At this level, you’re feeling a little drowsy, but not exhausted or overwhelmed.
SOLUTION = Do something Different. Go for a walk. Switch tasks. Take a 5 min break. Drink WATER. DO NOT drink any caffeine at this level.
FATIGUE LEVEL 2: Too Tired
At this level, “I’m too tired” becomes the excuse for action. You’re not exhausted and not just bored or drowsy. You’re just a little bit off, a little sluggish, a little lethargic. You’re “too tired”.
SOLUTION = A LITTLE sluggish means A LITTLE caffeine. Look for caffeinated beverages with no more than 100 mg caffeine.
NON-carbonated beverages will provide a gentler boost because carbonation irritates the stomach lining so caffeine gets absorbed more quickly.
TEA-based beverages will also provide a gentler boost because L-Theanine has a calming effect.
At this level, you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. You’re trying to wake up but you’re really struggling to stay focused and engaged. A walk and a cup of tea aren’t going to cut it here, but it’s still not worst-case scenario “energy emergency” quite yet.
SOLUTION = Several scientific studies and international organizations say you should have no more than 200 mg caffeine at a time. So that’s what we’re looking for here.
HYBRIDS are the best option here – energy drink/coffee hybrids, energy drink/wannabe Gatorade drinks, caffeinated juice blends
Pick carbonated over non-carbonated for an extra boost if needed
Pick sugar-free or drinks where the only sugar comes from juice – save the full-sugar versions for those “energy emergencies” at Fatigue Level 4
At this level, we’re going to ignore health guidelines and go over that 200 mg caffeine per serving recommendation. This is an energy emergency. This is one step short of being a walking zombie. We’re talking just-trying-to-survive, counting-the-hours-before-I-can-go-home crisis.
SOLUTION = Choose a carbonated energy drink with more than 200 mg caffeine per can. You can also pick an energy shot because shots have higher caffeine mg per oz than energy drinks. Energy drinks with sugar will give you an extra boost though you may crash after a few hours so ONLY pick drinks with more than 10 grams sugar if you absolutely need that much more help.
Pabst Blue Ribbon has released a “Hard Coffee” in select markets. Where can you find it? What is it? What’s in it? Why did Four Loko get in trouble with the FDA for caffeinated alcohol but this drink is okay? Food Scientist GreenEyedGuide answers these questions in this review of PBR Hard Coffee.
Don’t have time to watch the full episode? You can read the highlights below.
What is PBR Hard Coffee?
PBR Hard Coffee is not a blend of coffee and beer. It’s not a beer with coffee flavoring. According to the PBR website, it’s not even “beer”.
PBR indicates this is not beer, it’s a flavored malt beverage.
What’s the difference between beer and a flavored malt beverage?
According to Charlie Bamforth, Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science from the University of California, Davis:
Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from malted cereal grain, flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation.
A flavored malt beverage (FMB) is an alcoholic beverage made from original base containing malt, but then stripped of malt character and then flavored. … FMB production starts out much like a beer and then goes through treatment (carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, etc) to remove as much beer and malt flavor and color as possible. The clear, colorless treated malt base is then sweetened, usually with high-fructose corn syrup, and then flavored.
PBR Hard Coffee Ingredients
PBR Hard Coffee ingredients are arabica and robusta coffee beans, creamy milk, and sweet vanilla flavor.
PBR Hard Coffee Caffeine Content
A “standard” cup* of coffee contains 100 mg caffeine. According to CNN (the only ones who had this amount in their coverage), there’s 30 mg caffeine in a can of PBR Hard Coffee.
*NOTE*Please note 100 mg is used as the industry standard. However, it’s common knowledge the actual amount in a cup of coffee varies wildly – researchers even found variation when they bought a cup of coffee from one location on multiple days. [Reference] [GEG Summary]
A 12-oz can of Red Bull has 110 mg caffeine – just a little more than a “standard” cup of coffee. PBR Hard Coffee has 1/3 of that amount – containing only 30 mg caffeine per can. The caffeine mg-per-oz amounts of PBR Hard Coffee, a standard cup of coffee, and a 12-oz Red Bull are 3, 13, and 9 mg-per-oz, respectively.
PBR Hard Coffee Alcohol Content
The alcohol content of PBR Hard Coffee is comparible to other flavored malt beverages: Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Henry’s Hard Soda, Truly Sparking, and Smirnoff Ice all have about 4-5% alcohol-by-volume (ABV).
The alcohol content of PBR Hard Coffee is also comparable to a the original PBR can of beer.
The scientific consensus of the European Food Safety Authority is that you can have up to 200 mg caffeine mixed with enough alcohol to give you a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.08. If you exceed 200 mg caffeine or BAC 0.08, mixing caffeine and alcohol becomes no longer safe**.
*NOTE* For all the side-effects and risks of mixing caffeine and alcohol, see the YouTube Episode above – skip to time stamp 4:51.
The graphic above, from Caffeine Informer, shows how much caffeine you can safely mix with alcohol – at 30 mg per can, the caffeine amount in PBR Hard Coffee is very low, so it makes PBR Hard Coffee much safer than something like the original (pre-2010) Four Loko.
Why did Four Loko get in trouble with the FDA but this PBR Hard Coffee is okay?
On the FDA’s information sheet on caffeinated alcoholic beverages, they clarify the reason the manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages got in trouble is they were adding caffeine to the products. According to the FDA, caffeine is an “unsafe food additive” because it is not approved, at any amount, to be added to alcohol. Adding a natural source of caffeine, however, is just fine.