Energy drinks are a spectrum. While there are some that look exactly like the stereotypical energy drinks from the early 2000s, there are a growing number which look nothing like their forefathers. Every month I try to highlight an energy drink which doesn’t fit the stereotype. This month, we’ll review the science behind a drink which could be considered an energy drink, a pre-workout, maybe even a tea. Read more
Caffeine may not seem like a “must-have” for a workout, but there are three major reasons why people at all fitness levels benefit from consuming caffeine before exercise. Check out this article I wrote for the Avitae blog!
Don’t miss this article, featuring three major reasons to add caffeine to your next workout:
- Caffeine Improves Performance and Endurance
- Caffeine Improves Focus
- Caffeine Encourages Fat Burning
Here’s a recap of the quick reviews posted this month for the “Science of Energy Drinks” series on the GreenEyedGuide Instagram and Facebook pages: Cool Blue Revitalizer, Red Bull (sugarfree) Purple Edition, Iconic Protein Coffee Drink, Monster Hydro Mean “Green” (more like yellow), F’Real Frappe Coffee, and West Coast Chill (caffeine free!) energy drink.
Cool Blue Revitalizer
- Caffeine Content 100 mg = Fatigue Level 2
Science Behind Cool Blue Revitalizer: This drink makes a big deal about 3 natural ingredients but it’s UNNATURALLY blue.
✔1. “Real Sugar” – true, but it ALSO has sucralose.
✔2. “Natural Flavor” – I guess BLUE drink =BLUE-berries? To me this drink tasted like CITRIC ACID OVERLOAD!!! WOAH BUDDY!
✔3. “Natural Caffeine” – From where? The label doesn’t specify but it’s 100 mg caffeine [#fatiguelevel2]
🤓PET PEEVE: 1 container= 1.3 Servings? Really…you couldn’t change your formula or can size?
🔬SODIUM BENZOATE— Did you know that benzoate salts like this one prevents growth of microorganisms like yeast and mold; it’s used for preservation of sour food (pH 4 and lower) and is often used with other preservatives especially at low pH (acidic food).
🔬SODIUM BENZOATE SAFETY NOTES — Consumers can ingest up to 5mg per kg of body weight of benzoic acid and its salts according to European Commission – Scientific Committee on Food. There are safety concerns suspected but unconfirmed for benzene formation from benzoic acid with ascorbic acid. However, this risk “cannot be reliably assessed on basis of data available” per BfR Expert Opinion. [More Info on the “Panera KNOW-No List“]
Red Bull Purple Edition (sugarfree)
- Caffeine Content 114 mg = Fatigue Level 3
The Science Behind RED BULL PURPLE EDITION: Red Bull has less caffeine and fewer ingredients than Monster and Rockstar. No guarana, carnitine, glucuronolactone, ginseng, or ginkgo; NO PRESERVATIVES! NO SUGAR!
🤓Since Red Bull has been around a long time there are mounting scientific studies testing its effectiveness
🤓Red Bull is not only the NUMBER ONE SELLING ENERGY DRINK BRAND on the PLANET, they also set the standard for energy drink industry SAFETY GUIDELINES. Red Bull was the FIRST ENERGY DRINK Company to list caffeine content on their cans several years ago, paving the way for other companies to follow suit.
🤓FURTHERMORE Red Bull has been open about their commitment to food safety and quality – you can read all about that HERE: ⚡ Red Bull on Caffeine Safety and Transparency ⚡
✔This MAY NOT BE FOR YOU IF you are trying to avoid artificial flavors and/or sweeteners – This drink has Sucralose and Ace-K but I am more concerned about the KNOWN effects of high sugar intake than the DEBATABLE effects of these two sweeteners.
✔Ace-K has been USED AROUND THE WORLD for 15 years and used in the US since 1988.
✔Sucralose was approved by FDA in 1998, and it’s considered safe by government/regulatory agencies worldwide.
✔As far as caffeine interactions that (maybe?) make energy drink more dangerous than coffee, I enjoy Red Bull’s simple ingredients, sugarfree options, and moderate caffeine content. 🤓💚⚡⛾⚡🔬⚡
Iconic Protein + Coffee Drink
- Caffeine Content 180 mg = Fatigue Level 3
If caffeine is best for PREworkout and protein is best for POSTworkout, what do you do with a CAFFEINE+PROTEIN COMBO?
🤓 DRINK IT!
But seriously, here’s what you should know:
✔ This drink has 180 mg caffeine per container. That’s as much as a Monster Energy (160 mg)
✔Caffeine doses of 3-6 mg caffeine per kg bodyweight are the best for pre-workout. That’s the range used in “[X] Til Exhaustion” studies (cycling, running, rowing…)
✔ Protein doses of 20-25 grams* protein taken in the 30 min window after workout is ideal for muscle growth but overall protein consumption matters too. *NOTE bigger protein doses don’t mean bigger results
✔ONLY 3 GRAMS SUGAR from Agave. Sweetness also comes from MONK FRUIT (aka Luo Han Guo) & STEVIA! I LOVE seeing these natural sweeteners used in caffeinated beverages 🤓💚🔬➕⛾➕🏋️♀️
Monster Hydro Mean Green
- Caffeine Content 125 mg = Fatigue Level 3
As the GREENEyedGuide I’m bummed “Mean GREEN” is yellow.
As a Food Scientist, I know artificial green is hard to keep green and natural green often involves spirulina, which has the slightest seawater taste. I don’t normally talk about taste in my reviews bc it’s subjective, but this tasted like flat Moutain Dew or old lemonade to me. 🤓💚🔬⛾
✔Sugar sources include sucrose (table sugar), glucose, and artificial sweetener sucralose. 23g! Not awful but <10g is my sweet spot (food pun!)
✔NO GUARANA OR TAURINE OR CARNITINE so really different than the typical Monster Energy Blend.
✔125 mg caffeine per bottle, compared to 180mg in most flavors of Monster Energy.
Is Monster Hydro a healthier alternative to Monster Energy?
YES in terms of lower caffeine content and FEWER Caffeine-(other ingredient) INTERACTIONS, which some people* think make some energy drinks more dangerous than coffee.
*I’m on the fence about this. Caffeine-Taurine-glucuronolactone combos are fine but no data for or against caffeine-carnitine combos yet.
F’real Frappe Coffee
- Caffeine Content not disclosed – Unknown Level of Fatigue
That Moment When you want to hide your CAFFEINE CONTENT so badly, you COMPARE yourself to something AMBIGUOUS. “2x caffeine as leading frozen coffee”
Who is the leading FROZEN coffee and HOW MUCH caffeine do they have? It is FALSE to assume a cup of coffee has a standard amount. 1 cup at Starbucks doesn’t equal 1 cup at Pikes or 1 cup at your hotel.
Neat concept with the DIY F’Real Blender machine but if we’re going to GET REAL (or “f’real”) ABOUT CAFFEINE SAFETY we need EVERYONE to report caffeine content.
Have you ever seen a bottle of ALCOHOL that DID NOT disclose the %?
PS – sixty-one grams of sugar y’all. Sixty. One. But look at how clean and simple the ingredients are. Too bad simple doesn’t = healthy. 🤓💚⛾🔬
West Coast Chill (caffeine free energy drink)
- Caffeine Content = ZERO! Fatigue Level 0-1 Energy Drink
An energy drink with NO CAFFEINE?!? Does the term “energy drink” mean anything anymore!?!
Let’s inspect it: 🤓💚⛾🔬Active ingredients include:
🤓Ribose – a compound that participates in an odd (pun) energy producing reaction called the Pentose phosphate pathway. Promising science, just hasn’t caught on yet.
🤓Ginseng – be skeptical of benefits!
🤓Arginine – amino acid with important jobs in the body (Urea Cycle Waste Removal). HOWEVER the BEST way to supplement arginine is to TAKE Citrulline!
🤓B-vitamins AND minerals – minerals aren’t usually in energy drinks. Curious… 🤓💚🔬⛾📚
Click HERE to learn more about how to use the 5 Levels of Fatigue.
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We’ve reviewed pre-workout supplements before on GreenEyedGuide, but in this guest post, Klemen Bobnar briefly reviews the science behind the ingredients commonly used in pre-workouts.
Some days, you are just bursting with energy, ready to take on the world and crush your workout.
Other times, dragging yourself out of bed demands all the willpower you can muster.
Life isn’t ideal and too much work, studying, or stress can leave you with the desire to switch the squat rack for the couch.
Luckily, there is a solution for those drowsy days: pre-workout supplements.
What is pre-workout?
Pre-workout supplements, or pre-workout for short, are a group of products meant to be taken an hour or less before your workout to enhance your energy, improve your strength, and generally make your workout more awesome.
They do that with a carefully chosen combination of ingredients, which can be broken down into two categories: stimulants and other performance enhancers. The stimulant in the majority of them is caffeine, while other ingredients include creatine, beta-alanine, L-arginine, niacin, protein, and many others (don’t worry if you don’t know some of them, they will be covered in detail in the next section). Every formula is different in the attempt to find the best possible combination.
However, that means that there are a lot of options when it comes to picking one product, which can get confusing. Let’s take a look at these ingredients and try to make your decision easier.
Common ingredients and how they work
These are the most common (and proven useful) ingredients in pre-workout mixes.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world. Who doesn’t like to start their day with coffee? Just like a cup of coffee in the morning, caffeine in pre-workout is there to give you the extra kick and reduce fatigue and drowsiness.
Besides that, caffeine is a proper performance enhancer: it improves performance in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions, while showing documented benefits to both endurance and power output. It also improves reaction time and motor coordination. Since you will build a tolerance with regular use, try to only use it when you really need it. Try to stay under 200 milligrams per serving and 400 milligrams per day.
Creatine can increase maximum power (like in sprinting) and performance in high-intensity bouts of lifting with rest times (like lifting in a rep range between 3 and 15) by 5-15%. When going closer to your one rep maximum, the increase drops down to 1-5%.
A 5 to 15 percent increase is really a no-brainer for anyone lifting weights with the goal of building weight. It is considered safe, as long as you stick to the recommended dose of 3-5 grams per day and don’t have preexisting kidney or liver conditions (if that is the case, consult your doctor before taking anything!). However, many supplements contain levels above the recommended dosage. Always check the label!
Beta-alanine delays muscle fatigue, allowing us to do more work before the “burn” sets in (as much as 20%). Supplementation was found to increase exercise performance, reduce neuromuscular fatigue and appears to be safe in healthy adults (dosage!), with the only known side effect being harmless tingling. A standard dose ranges from 2-5 grams but doses 0.8-1 gram are small enough to avoid the tingling sensation (paresthesia).
L-arginine is added to pre-workout supplements to increase blood muscle volume, meaning you get a better “pump”. Three out of five studies reported immediate improvements and only four out of eight showed an increase in performance with regular use.
As of now, it is too soon to recommend L-arginine as an effective supplement when it comes to improving performance, but it does give you more vascularity during your workout, and hey, since the health risk is minimal, go for it if it helps you be more consistent in the gym.
Related Post by GreenEyedGuide: Did You Know Citrulline (watermelon extract) increases L-arginine levels?
Betaine is one of the less known ingredients of pre-workout supplements. However, it is a useful one. A study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported an increase in total volume that people were able to do on the 10 set bench press after 14 days of taking it. The increase was 6.5%, which is big enough difference to think about use.
Protein is one of the essential components of food and the building block of muscle. We all know that we have to eat a certain amount every day to build muscle. Since eating enough can be hard, especially for taller people, supplements are used to bring protein intake up (since you can drink more calories than you can eat). That is why it is added to some pre-workout formulas, but you could also have it post-workout separately, or just get enough of it in your diet. Hint: the timing of it doesn’t make that big of a difference.
Taurine is a common ingredient in energy drinks and it performs many functions. In the case of pre-workout supplementation, a 2014 study found increased strength levels, decreased muscle soreness and oxidative damage, but not decreased inflammatory response after taurine supplementation.
Related Post by GreenEyedGuide: Taurine the Taxi – Book Excerpt of the Week
Tyrosine is a precursor to both norepinephrine and dopamine, two chemicals that (if we simplify) regulate mood and behavior. It improves cognitive function
and may provide benefits to people in demanding situational conditions.
Studies on whether or not it can be used as an exercise enhancer are of conflicting opinion. In any case, whatever benefits that are there to be had are cognitive benefits, which makes this supplement interesting to people who do longer bouts of exercise, especially endurance athletes.
Carbohydrates, Electrolytes, and Vitamins
If you workouts tend to take longer than an hour, you might benefit from replenishing some of the things you lost, namely the above three. For longer workouts, carbohydrates help sustain energy levels. They are included in many pre-workout drinks, but a bag of jelly beans or dry raisins works just as well. With electrolytes, they again become more important when the workout is longer. It also depends on how much you sweat during your workout, as some people don’t sweat much during strength training, but much more when doing cardio.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. So with supplements. In most cases, a healthy person can take all of the above with no risk to health.
However, if you have any pre-existing conditions, especially liver or kidneys, consult with a doctor (preferably one who is used to working with athletes).
It goes without saying that any kind of vomiting, cramps, excessive sweating, chest pain or anxiety are not normal reactions and that you should stop taking whatever caused the reaction.
Labels and “Proprietary Blend”
A label that says “proprietary blend” should make you run for the hills, as it means that the company isn’t willing to share how much of a certain ingredient they put into their product. Often, these doses can exceed the safe recommendations, which increases the health risk.
In other words, use at your own risk.
See “Confessions of a Shady Supplement Supplier” – related Post by GreenEyedGuide
A short-term solution to a long-term problem
Using pre-workout is not a permanent solution. It is a useful tool for the times when you are overslept and overworked. It is not to be used every time you go to the gym. You will build up a tolerance, which will require you to take a larger dose every time to maintain the same effects.
Before you consider taking pre-workout, consider how much of these guidelines you are following:
- Get 8 hours of sleep per night
- Drink enough water
- Eat high-quality foods and avoid processed foods
- Eat lots of vegetables of all colors
- Get enough sunlight
But I won’t lecture you about that too much. As a busy student juggling exams, business, freelancing and other activities, I get that “just getting more sleep” often simply isn’t an option. However, you can’t expect to make good gains in the long run on low sleep, a bad diet and little to no water.
To supplement or not?
It has to be said that a sound diet and science-backed exercise program come before adding anything else. Just like you can’t outrun a bad diet, you can’t out-supplement it. No matter how strong your pre-workout is, it is not a permanent solution.
Still, pre-workout ingredients are very useful if you want to get the most out of your gym time. You could take each one separately, or make your own blend to your own taste and needs, but buying a premade one is much more convenient (I’m guessing you don’t have time to make your own pre-workout if you are underslept).
Since taking a pre-workout increases muscular endurance and power output, decreases feelings of fatigue and increases alertness, and has no serious side effects for healthy people, I would recommend them just as anything else – in moderation. We know that consistency in the gym is king, and on a day when you just can’t find the motivation to get a workout in, grab a pre-workout and enjoy the jolt of energy.
About the author
Klemen Bobnar is a freelance health & fitness copy- and ghostwriter. He is a content contributor at Kickasshomegym.com and loves to talk training, nutrition and mental game.
Are you setting new resolutions for a new school year, trying to get used to a new schedule, or just trying to get in shape before the holiday season? This month’s pick is dedicated to September, and all the changes it brings.
The Energy Drink of the Month for September 2016 is Six Star Pre-Workout Explosion.
One serving is one scoop of powder, delivering 135 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. Though this is a dry powder and not a Ready-To-Drink (RTD), we’ll review the Who, What, and When as we do for every Energy Drink of the Month.
Who is this for? Target Audience
As it says right on the label, Six Star Pre-workout Explosion is for active men and women, bodybuilders, and strength athletes. But to find out if this product is worth a try, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you workout for more than 20 minutes? Does your workout exceed the intensity where you find it hard to talk normally / find yourself out of breath?
- Are you more concerned about limiting sugar and calories than avoiding artificial colors and sweeteners?
- How much caffeine can you handle?
What is in it? Ingredients and Function
The key ingredients in this product include caffeine (duh), beta-alanine, arginine and citrulline, creatine, vitamin C, and vitamin B3 (niacin).
Caffeine is a stimulant, but it also has been shown to increase muscle endurance and athletic performance in reliable scientific studies. Have you seen my YouTube presentation, Caffeine in Workout Supplements and the 5 Levels of Fatigue yet?
Arginine and citrulline are ingredients we’ve reviewed in depth during for the Ingredient Focus series. In general, citrulline and arginine help the body remove biochemical waste, and they help improve blood flow. For more detail, see the Ingredient Focus three-part series on citrulline: What It Is, What It Does, Dosage and Side Effects.
Creatine and beta-alanine are both ingredients intended to help build muscle and increase muscle strength. In both cases, total doses of 3-6 grams per day are needed on a regular basis to have an effect. Beta-alanine has some fascinating studies behind it (nerd alert!), especially since one brand (CarnoSyn) owns the market and has been responsibly proactive about proving this ingredient’s benefits. In general, beta-alanine is claimed to increase muscle strength and power output. However, the specifics on how much one really needs and how exactly this ingredient works is worth further investigation. Beta-alanine will be our Ingredient Focus pick for this month, so stay tuned for that!
Niacin is like the person everyone wants at their party. Did you know that niacin participates in over 200 reactions in the body – most of them used to produce ATP (the chemical form of energy)? Did you know that niacin deficiency symptoms include the three Ds: dementia, diarrhea, and dermatitis? Niacin is one of my favorite vitamins to talk about, especially since it disproves the idea you can never have too much of a water-soluble vitamin. It’s a popular vitamin in energy drinks, and yet with a 35 mg dosage, some people experience “niacin flush”.
If you’re a nerd like me and you want to learn more about what niacin does and why its story of discovery and application is so interesting, check out my book “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks – How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely”
When to take it? 5 Levels of Fatigue
During grad school, when I was doing research on energy drinks and their ingredients, I developed the 5 Levels of Fatigue. This system is designed to match the type and potency of caffeinated beverage with one’s true level of fatigue. In short, if you always reach for the strong stuff when you’re bored (not tired), it won’t work when you really truly need it.
This product contains 135 mg caffeine per serving, but the label of this product encourages people to have TWO servings! While the EFSA has ruled that up to 200 mg caffeine is safe to consume in one occasion, TWO servings would be 270 mg caffeine. That’s more than a whole can of Rockstar, more than the EFSA recommends consuming in one sitting, and more than half the safe daily max of 400 mg caffeine per day. According to the 5 Levels of Fatigue, this product is Fatigue Level 4. In short, this Pre-Workout Explosion may be too powerful for some people (and there’s no shame in that!).
While the EFSA has ruled that up to 200 mg caffeine is safe to consume in one occasion, TWO servings would be 270 mg caffeine. That’s more than a whole can of Rockstar, more than the EFSA recommends consuming in one sitting, and more than half the safe daily max of 400 mg caffeine per day.
There’s a good reason Caffeine Informer considers pre-workout supplements one of the 8 Most Dangerous Caffeinated Products. This is a large dose of caffeine per serving — not larger than what is considered safe in one sitting, but large enough to warrant careful consumption by the user.
I’ve been using this product as my pre-workout for about one month (*individual results may vary*) and I have found I don’t need any other source of caffeine the rest of the day. What helps most is that I add one (non-heaping) scoop to a 20 oz water bottle, and it takes me the full 90 minutes of my morning workout to get through the whole drink. Moderation and pacing are critical to consuming caffeine safely and effectively.
- Six Star Pre-workout product page : http://www.sixstarpro.com/products/pre-workout-explosion/
- Bodybuilding.com Complete Supplement Guide : http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/supplement-guide.html
- Panera KNOW-No Project : Review of the food science behind all the ingredients on the Panera “No No List”
Explore the CAFFEINE INFORMER database