By Cassie Shortsleeve for GQ.
Surprise: they’re super bad for you.
Energy drinks make big claims: They’ll power you through your day, up your concentration, make your life more EXTREME. But the reality is that energy drinks are more likely to cause you to crash harder than any cup of coffee ever could, disrupt your concentration, and potentially ruin your health—from your teeth to your heart. It’s time to stop sipping. Here are eight reasons to quit the can.
1. They could make you wig out
Stimulating ingredients like caffeine provide your body with an adrenaline rush that kicks in five to ten minutes after drinks and lasts two to three hours, according to Ted Epperly, M.D., president and CEO of Family Medicine Residency of Idaho in Boise, ID. This doesn’t necessarily make you Superman. “Think of caffeine like an agitator in a crowd—it increases nerve irritability and firing rates,” he says. On one hand, that helps: You benefit from increased cognitive thinking and you’re more vigilant, but at the same time, he says, it can trigger you to become more anxious. More energy for more anxiety is probably not the trade off you’re looking for.
2. They’re sugar bombs
“45 percent of men will drink one energy drink per day and 14 percent will drink up to three per day,” says Epperly. That’s an issue in the sugar department, considering one 8.4 fluid-ounce Red Bull has 27 grams of sugar. The Dietary Guidelines suggest no more than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugars (like the kinds in energy drinks). On a 2,000 daily calorie diet, that’s no more than 200 calories (or 50 grams). Why? Krista Austin, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., a nutrition and performance coach, says that blood sugar spikes can not only leave you dragging and tank your work performance, but they can lead your body to store more fat.
3. They rot your teeth
Scientists immersed samples of human teeth enamel in 13 sports drinks and nine different kinds of energy drinks for 15 minutes at a time for five days straight (they alternated the drink submersions with putting the enamel in saliva… and yes, this was a real study). What they found were signs of serious enamel damage, and energy drinks caused double the damage sports drinks did, too. The sugar isn’t the only reason dentists say to avoid the drinks; blame teeth woes on high levels of acid in the cans, too. According to Molly Kimball, R.D., a sports dietician at Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, Red Bull is “much more acidic than coffee.” And when was the last time you brushed your teeth at work?
4. Fake sugar can make you eat more
Dietitians and doctors alike aren’t big fans of artificial sweeteners or ‘fake sugars’ like aspartame in energy drinks, either. “The advantage is that there is no calorie count from the artificial sweetener,” says Epperly. But because you’re missing the sugar effect and the calories, you can become hungrier. “You’re not turning off your hunger mechanism from increased calories,” he says. Therein lies the paradox: Thanks to said sugar-free Red Bull drink without any calories, you might end up eating more.
5. Excess caffeine
You really don’t want to take in more than 400mg of caffeine a day, says Epperly. That would be about three cups of coffee. With energy drinks, though, it’s harder to know what you’re in for. These drinks contain anywhere from 20mg to 400mg of caffeine. Plus, there are all those unpronounceable ingredients like Supra Citrimax, yohimbine, and glucuronlactone add to caffeine’s stimulating effects.
6. They screw with your sleep
No surprise here: Revving yourself up by way of Rockstar can keep you alert and awake, tanking your sleep. “Because of the stimulating effect on neurons, energy drinks are absolutely going to keep you awake and alert and decrease sleep,” says Epperly. If you’re going to use, use widely: in the a.m. or early afternoon so that shuteye comes more easily.
7. They could pork you up
Throw back a few cans a day? “The calories in energy drinks (168 in a 12-ounce Red Bull can) are mostly due to the sugar content and likely to lead to weight gain if consumed in the long term,” says Kelly Hogan, R.D., a clinical nutrition coordinator at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Research shows soft drinks—energy drinks included—play a serious role in the obesity epidemic.
8. Tons of added vitamins isn’t always a good thing
You’re deluding yourself if you think you need the excess vitamins and minerals that energy drinks boast on their labels. A healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables does that for you. Even more: “Some energy drinks may also be fortified with vitamins, which if consumed in high amounts can easily exceed the recommended daily value,” notes Hogan. That’s right, there is such thing as too much of a good thing.
More from GQ: