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.
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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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: Uptime Energy, Bawls Guarana, Amp Energy Zero, and V8 + Energy.
Science Behind Uptime Energy drink: 3-Ingredients to Focus on:
⛾1-Angelica Root Ext (aka Danggui) is used for female reproductive disorders in Traditional Chinese Medicine. After 15 minutes on Pubmed & SciDirect I DON’T KNOW WHY it’s in here. (Dear science nerds, please help if you do).
⛾2-Bee Pollen has vitamins, polyphenols, and enzymes, and has shown health benefits in studies but ONLY WHEN USED IN GRAM AMOUNTS! This product’s whole “Power Base” combined is only 20% of a gram. [1 gram = weight of 1 paperclip].
⛾3-Caffeine is the only ingredient that (kind of) “produces energy” but this bugs me. (#stickler #rant #chemnerd) There’s 142 mg caffeine in here = ALMOST a Monster (160mg).
LET’S TALK ABOUT GUARANA. BAWLS Ingredients include caffeine, HFCS, citric acid, sodium benzoate, natural AND artificial flavor, caramel color. No B-vitamins, taurine, carnitine, or other stereotypical energy drink ingredients.
CAFFEINE CONTENT: from guarana and pure caffeine; 100mg Caffeine per can from all sources, according to the CAFFEINE INFORMER database. That’s LESS caffeine than 12 oz Red Bull (114 mg). The limit for those under 18yrs old is 100mg.
GUARANA is a vine from the rainforest bearing orange-red fruit with black seeds. Caffeine is in the seeds. Multiple studies show guarana improves cognitive performance, mental fatigue, and mood, and it is supposed to boost fat metabolism by encouraging the body to burn fat instead of protein and carbs. HOWEVER, the same benefits are true of caffeine in general and caffeine from green tea in particular. So these benefits are not specific to guarana… and this product gives you 50g sugar per can.
PART ONE: WHAT DOES EDTA DO?
EDTA, Sodium benzoate, and Sodium hexametaphosphate: All 3 are in this drink. Does a canned drink need so much preservation?
1. EDTA: the ingredient statement says “to protect flavor”…from WHAT? From metal ions of the can, which can oxidize and degrade the natural+artificial flavor and the B-vitamins.
PURPOSE: Chelating agent, meaning it binds metal ions to limit their deleterious effects; EDTA stabilizes food color, aroma, texture, inhibits oxidation of fats, oils.
SAFETY NOTES: Some sources say EDTA “robs the body of nutrients” but EDTA is safe to consume **up to 3 grams per day **and AMOUNTS USED IN FOOD are in the milligram per kilogram or parts-per-million range. CPSI puts this in the “Safe” column.
***FUN FACT: EDTA is actually used to treat people with heavy metal poisoning because EDTA can grab the heavy metals and escort them out of the body.
PART 2 of Amp Preservative review: WHAT does Sodium benzoate do?
Sodium Benzoate: “preserves freshness”… but it’s not like this is a fresh ripe watermelon right? Well, this IS an acidic drink…
PURPOSE: Prevents growth of microorganisms like yeast and mold; used for preservation of sour food pH 4 and lower, often used with other preservatives especially at low pH (meaning acidic food).
SAFETY NOTES: Consumers can ingest up to 5mg per kg of body weight of benzoic acid and its salts
***FUN FACT: Benzoic acid occurs naturally in cranberries, prunes, plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves, and most berries. http://wp.me/p3SHzu-It
PART 3 of AMP preservative review: “Hexa-meta-huh?”
3. Sodium hexametaphosphate: “to protect flavor”… YOU’D THINK AMP’S FLAVOR IS LIKE GOLD with all this PROTECTION!!!
SAFETY NOTES: This ingredient is widely accepted as safe in many countries. It has the additive number E452. In controlled studies, it was not carcinogenic in rats, nor did it cause any reproductive or developmental toxicity symptoms. It’s fine if you consume a little bit every now and then, but consuming it regularly can have some negative effects due to mineral imbalances. MODERATION IS KEY!
Energy drinks are dangerous, right? V8 Energy, busting stereotypes since 2011! The caffeine in V8 Energy comes from green tea extract which provides a natural lift as well as the amino acid L-theanine which is believed to provide added focus. [CaffeineInformer.com] 🔹️L-theanine can reduce anxiety and blood pressure increases in high-stress individuals (ie people more susceptible to biological changes when stressed) 🔹️This can contains 80 mg caffeine (as much as Red Bull) BUT… 🔹️ the Academy of Pediatrics says people <18 can have UP TO 100 mg caffeine per day. 🔹️With 34% juice, only 11 grams of sugar, and caffeine from green tea extract, this is one of the BEST healthy alternatives! 🔹️See V8 Energy Drink of the Month http://bit.ly/2p5yykZ
This is one of those times that reminds me of a South Park episode: when I use the words “clean energy” to describe a healthy alternative to the stereotypical energy drink, my computer starts showing me ads for solar power. As suggested in the South Park episode “Sponsored Content”, ads have evolved. But then so have energy drinks.
The Energy Drink of the Month for April 2016 is Clean Energy On-Demand (CEO).
Currently, Watermelon Coconut is the only flavor available, but this product is brand new as of this post. For an in-depth Q & A with Founder Jason Petrou, including their Steven Covey-eque Mission Statement and a peak into just how difficult it can be to bring a healthy beverage to market, CLICK HERE.
This product contains 70 milligrams of caffeine per bottle, and it says so right on the label. The caffeine comes from organic green coffee beans — Arabica coffee beans that are spared from the roasting that turns them brown and delivers the signature coffee flavor profile. Of course, caffeine is caffeine is caffeine, but that’s specifically the molecule itself. When caffeine is extracted from different sources, different compounds may come along with it – sometimes called conjoiners. This is why a food scientist may find different microscopic compounds mixed in with their caffeine extract if that extract comes from a coffee bean or a coffeeberry.
Thankfully CEO treats one whole bottle as one whole serving (how realistic), but with a screw-cap lid you can moderate your dosage and save some for the next day. This 70 mg dose of caffeine is slightly less than the 80 mg in an 8 oz Red Bull and less than HALF that of a SHORT cup of brewed coffee from Starbucks. (PS – Please note that using “a standard cup of coffee” as an indicator of caffeine content is one of the worst measurement devices on the planet. Those who respect your business will tell you EXACTLY how much caffeine is in their product without hiding behind this euphemistic, deceptive measurement. )
Other ingredients in this product include watermelon juice concentrate, coconut water concentrate, and lime juice. These ingredients and the corresponding sodium and potassium electrolytes are what make this drink so refreshing and hydrating. [For more on hydration, see this article from Food Insight]
There are no artificial colors or flavors in this product, and no added sugar. The watermelon juice provides the sweetness, and vegetable juice is added to enhance the drink’s slight red hue.
The most chemical-sounding ingredients in this product are sodium citrate and malic acid, but even those are very clean and non-scary to the worst case of chemophobia. Sodium citrate is a form of the citric acid that gives lemons their characteristic sourness, and malic acid is naturally found in watermelons and stone fruits. See this amazing infographic from Compound Interest for more details on those natural acids:
Not all energy drinks are created equal, and whether an energy drink is right for you depends not just on your level of fatigue, but on your diet goals and lifestyle choices. For example, some people are more concerned about artificial ingredients than their sugar intake, while others would rather have stevia or artificial sweeteners and a zero-sugar, zero-calorie beverage.
CEO v Similar Energy Drinks
CEO has no artificial colors or flavors, and each bottle contains just 50 Calories and 11 grams of sugar. Even if you drank the whole bottle, the sugar and Calorie impact is still minimal, which makes this energy drink a great healthy swap for some of the strictest diets. Compared to Starbucks Refreshers, which is also made with green coffee beans, this CEO beverage has more juice and caffeine (50%, 70 mg versus 25%, 50 mg). CEO also has less sugar than both Starbucks Refreshers (11 grams versus 13 grams).
Compared to BAI Antioxidant Infusion, which we reviewed February 2016, CEO has more sugar (11 grams versus 2* grams). However, that 2-asterisk-grams doesn’t include the 16 grams of sugar alcohol erythritol per bottle of BAI. CEO doesn’t use any sugar alcohols (or any other sweeteners for that matter). Furthermore, CEO is 50% juice per bottle and is aimed at hydration, while BAI is only 8% juice per bottle and is aimed at providing a dose of coffeeberry antioxidants.
CEO v Similar Hydration Drinks
I, personally, cannot stand the taste of coconut water. If you enjoy coconut water and are interested in other hydration drinks, CEO is worth a try. It bothers me immensely when people group energy drinks into one giant basket. Thus I will not make that mistake here with coconut waters. Instead, I will advise you to compare labels for Calories and sugar content when finding the beverage that works best for your diet goals and lifestyle. First and foremost you should find a sports drink that doesn’t cause you any tummy discomfort or sabotage your whole day, diet-wise. The next step in finding the perfect hydration beverage is to find one you will actually drink! For more on hydration, see this handy guide I prepared for The Scientific Parent.
Fact Panel CEO
Apr 2016 Energy Drink of the Month
Behold – yet another “energy drink in disguise” that breaks the energy drink stereotype. I wouldn’t recommend this product unless I was confident in its safety – and I do highly recommend this product. I got the chance to ask CEO about their food safety program and quality testing, and I am satisfied that this is a safe, healthy alternative to the stereotypical energy drink. At 70 mg per bottle, this would make a great swap to those used to the caffeine of a single 8 ounce Red Bull.