Energy drinks nothing but a bunch of bull?

HBy Jane McHugh
The Breeze
James Madison University

hARRISONBURG, Va. (U-WIRE) – When looking for a quick burst of energy, some students will reach for a can of Red Bull. However, others believe that drinks and bars aimed at delivering energy quickly are just that – a bunch of bull. Surprisingly, both groups may be right.

“Any food [or] beverage that provides calories provides energy,” said Michele Cavoto, a registered dietitian at James Madison University’s health center. “So I think they do give the user energy, at least short term.”

According to Cavoto, the burst in energy that a user may feel has to do with whether or not he or she has eaten recently.

If nutrition intake has been limited throughout the day, the PowerBar or Mountain Dew AMP “will feel like a jolt or burst to this deprived body,” Cavoto said. “If, however, a student takes the time to eat well throughout the day … the product may indeed have less of an impact.”

Jen Bowe, a nutrition analyst at UREC, said every person’s body reacts differently to energy drinks. “Drinks such as Red Bull can cause an increase in energy,” she said, “especially [for] those who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine.”

Even if a user does feel more energized, Bowe said the result might be psychological. “The placebo effect of supplements is likely. If one truly believes that a product will give them energy, they will probably feel more energized.”

According to WebMd (, “Energy bars are fine in a pinch, but they’re far from an ideal food. Many, in fact, are nothing but glorified candy bars.”

Whether or not a person chooses to indulge in energy products, Tracey Brooks, a nutrition analyst at UREC, said results will vary depending on the contents of the product.

Brooks said it is important to look for energy bars with plenty of carbohydrates, “since they are the body’s preferred energy source.” Additionally, she said a bar that is high in protein, vitamins and minerals and low in fat is the most effective.

“An energy drink should be fairly low in sugar,” Brooks said. “The drink should [also] contain equal amounts of potassium and sodium (50mg in an eight ounce serving) and 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrates.

“The body will have its peak energy when this ratio is maintained with a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods,” Brooks said.

According to Bowe, it is important to realize that “it is possible to have adverse reactions to certain products.”

Such reactions are not common, but Bowe said consumers should research possible reactions if they are taking any kind of medication. “Steer clear of (Web) sites selling these products, as they may not warn of potential … side effects.”

Cavoto said, “Remember that most of these products contain significant caffeine, which is an addictive stimulant.”

Additionally, controversy surfaces over whether or not energy drinks and bars provide as great an amount of energy as foods such as fruit or bread.

“If you find yourself having to jump start your system, why not reach for a tall glass of [100 percent] juice or … a peanut (butter) sandwich or a yogurt,” Cavoto said. “You’d probably come out ahead in the calorie department; I know you’d come out ahead in the wallet department, but most importantly, you’d be giving your body what it was meant to run on. The body’s fuel of choice is real food, rich in vitamins and minerals.”