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.
The video below includes a portion of GreenEyedGuide’s presentation from California State University-Fullerton, Peer Health University Network meeting. Learn how caffeine content isn’t always what it seems, how consumption changes as people get older and how caffeine helps one focus for exams.
In this article I wrote for ScienceMeetsFood.org, I address the problem behind the term “energy drink” and the science behind energy drinks in disguise. (There’s also a Guardians of the Galaxy metaphor!) It’s a great primer if you’ve never heard the term “energy drink in disguise”, or if you never realized that V8 and Ocean Spray make energy drinks. Read this article in its entirety at ScienceMeetsFood.org
“I’ve been studying energy drinks since 2003 and they continue to both fascinate and horrify me. They fascinate me because I’m a biochemistry major, or maybe it’s the other way around. Energy drinks are the reason I pursued my masters in food science (and the reason I survived grad school). Metabolic biochemistry is the closest I’ll ever come to engineering – for me, studying biochemistry is studying the secret rules to how things work.
Energy drinks horrify me because it feels like people with no science background are behind some of the products you can buy online. Sometimes I’ll read a label and think, “What are they doing? Who thought this was a good idea?” The most concerning aspect of energy drinks is we don’t have a proper nomenclature to classify them properly. (#WhatWouldIUPACDo?) Using the term “energy drink” the way we do is like calling pure ethanol “booze”. Let’s talk about why the lack of classification is a problem.
My heart was pounding. I was out of breath, but I felt exhilarated. Something inside me was ready to explode with power, like an ocean wave the second before it crashes.
For me, energy drinks and bodybuilding have a lot in common. I’m not talking about the use of caffeine for a workout. To me, it’s much more than that: I’m a biochemist who studies energy drinks and trains for bodybuilding competitions.
One fine day in the gym I had just finished my warm-up when it happened. My competitive drive collided with the realization that my next bodybuilding competition was only 7 weeks away. Like a rubber band being pulled to the limit or the moment of transition after “for meeeeee” in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I knew I was about to unleash considerable power. I always have caffeine before my workouts, but this energy surge was something new. I turned my music up two notches, took a deep breath, then launched into my set.
[Internal energy = potential energy + kinetic energy = Yay for Laws of Thermodynamics!]
I was doing a long jump/sideways medicine ball throw circuit. I honestly can’t remember the last time my legs have jumped that far and that fast. At one point my legs were springing from one jump to the next so fast, I thought I’d fall on my face. But I kept pushing forward. During the sideways med ball throws I felt I could have punched a hole in the wall, so I used the metal post of the multi-station instead. This surge of energy stayed with me through my entire workout. I hit a new max for deadlifts and didn’t feel tired like I normally do after plyo-pushups.
For me, hitting a new max in the gym and discovering a new level of strength is very similar to finding a new energy drink. In both scenarios, I feel like I’m acquiring superpowers and the confidence that comes from knowing I can do things that were previously impossible.
I remember the first few times I tried Monster for all-nighters in college: I felt calm and focused despite the fact I was memorizing metabolic biochemical pathways at 3 a.m. I also remember my left bicep would tingle sometimes – not all the time, and not consistently, just like an eye twitch (which I also got when I was stressed: correlation is not causation).
In the gym, a foundation of strength is a prerequisite to the exhilarating energy surge like the one I described above. With energy drinks, the prerequisite is trust in the brand and knowledge of the ingredients. If it’s a brand I know and trust, the science nerd in me gets excited before the caffeine enters my system. When I first laid eyes on Red Bull Purple and Lime sugar-free Editions, I was so excited I literally jumped up and down in the grocery store.
When it’s a new energy drink from a brand I don’t know, or when I don’t understand the logic behind the ingredients, that’s a different story. We’ll save that for Part Two.