By Kim Dennison, RN
This is the third in a series of articles discussing the health effects of energy drinks and related products. See Part 1 and Part 2.
Energy drinks are ineffective and very expensive, costing $2 or more per can. While they may cause a brief spurt of energy shortly after consumption, the “crash” or extreme fatigue that follows is worse than where you started. This, of course, leads many consumers back for more, and, consequently, the use cycle is fashioned.
So, what are the alternatives? How can you increase energy and still be healthy? Grandma was right. Simple basics work best to help us stay well and energetic.
Most of us avoid exercise for a wide variety of reasons, but exercise improves your feeling of well-being, improves overall health and increases energy. Laborers work hard physically, and many feel they do not need physical exercise outside of work. However, a 30-minute cardio workout four times a week might be all you need to round out your physical activity and increase your energy level. Consider activities like walking, jogging, swimming or riding a bike.
Implementing a program of 30 to 90 minutes of physical exercise four times a week that combines cardio with resistance training will help keep extra weight off and combat fatigue. Resistance training does not mean you have to pump iron at the gym; you can simply do leg or arm lifts using an elastic band. The resistance should be enough that you feel a slight burn in your muscles but not pain.
…something to be done, not purchased. Nearly half of American adults sleep less than the time required each day to maintain vitality and health. Set aside enough time to rest your body and mind, seven to nine hours in a continuous block of time. Avoid sleeping in short spurts because it does not allow your body to get to the regenerative state of sleep. This can be difficult, but it is important. Sleep keeps you energetic and healthy, and it is free.
According to the Institute of Medicine (2004), men need about 125 ounces (16 cups) and women about 91 ounces (11 cups) of water per day to stay well. Water increases energy, keeps your mind running smoothly and detoxifies the body while keeping joints lubricated and pain free. Most American adults consume 20 ounces or less a day of water. Often, we fill our body's request for water (a feeling of thirst) with sodas, energy drinks and other beverages that are not helpful.
Drink plain water; add fresh fruit or vegetable slices if you need flavor. Thinly slice unpeeled citrus fruit, remove seeds, place slices in water (or use the zest), refrigerate and serve. You can also try crushed strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers and many other fruits or vegetables.
Proper nutrition is essential for stamina, happiness and energy. Examples of eating well include:
- Eating 58-75 grams of protein daily; an ounce of meat or fish contains approximately seven grams. Eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and beans are other good protein sources.
- Eating one and a half to two cups of fruit and two and a half to three cups vegetables per day. This is not as hard as it sounds; a small apple is about one cup of fruit. The fruits and vegetables can be raw or cooked, and half a cup of 100% fruit or vegetable juice per day can substitute for half a cup of the fruit or vegetables. It is best to eat fruit that contains fiber, but keeping it to a small amount is ok.
- Keeping added sugars to less than 150 calories (nine teaspoons) and caffeine to less than 400mg (three to four cups of coffee) per day. Avoid adding sugar to your coffee or to your toast. Avoid sodas and energy drinks. Energy drinks contain lots of sugar and caffeine rarely counted in a review of calorie intake.
- Beware of snack foods, fruit juice, gum, candy, etc. with added stimulants similar to energy drinks.
No one is required to be entirely without his or her favorite food or beverage, but moderation is the way to go. Review the nutrition panel on the products you consume, and be sure you are eating or drinking only one serving. Most energy drinks have more than one serving per container, and it really adds up. For more information on serving sizes, log on to Dash Diet or ChooseMyPlate.gov.
If you must, consume one serving or less of energy drinks per day. If you currently consume more than two to three cans (four to six servings) per day, you may need to wean yourself slowly to prevent severe headaches and other symptoms of withdrawal. You should report any physical symptoms or ailments while consuming supplements of any kind, including energy drinks or shots, to your healthcare provider. Also, notify the FDA to encourage its follow up and assessment of energy drink risks.
As with many other products that claim “instant” relief to a particular problem, energy drinks fall short of expectations for increased vim and vigor. Increase your water intake, slow your consumption and try some of the suggestions above. If you still feel tired and lifeless after you have tried these things, seek evaluation by your health care provider.
[Kim Dennison is the Medical Professional for the Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Institute located in Perry, MI.]