When you're outlining what's involved in leading a healthy life, energy drinks probably don't rank near the top of the list. But you wouldn't be alone in your assessment: Over the years, energy drinks have gotten a bad rap for being either high in sugar or full of preservatives.
But according to Farshad Shirazi, MD, PhD, Monster Energy consultant and associate professor of medical pharmacology and pharmacy practice and science at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, energy drinks can actually be a part of a healthy diet.
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Not only do they help to reduce fatigue and provide a boost of energy, Dr. Shirazi says they also support athletic performance. In a very small May 2012 study published in the Journal of Caffeine Research, trained cyclists performed better when they drank Monster Energy, (which was provided for the study by the manufacturer) prior to exercise than when they had a placebo drink, without causing negative cognitive effects.
On top of that, many energy drinks come in a variety of refreshing flavors that you can sip as an alternative to other caffeinated beverages (like coffee or soda) without the overload of sugar.
"Energy drinks come in a wide variety of options, many of which are low- or no-calorie," says Dr. Shirazi, who is also the medical director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center. "A majority of the Monster products sold in the U.S. are low- or no-calorie, providing ample options for consumers who wish to reduce calorie or sugar intake."
Keep reading to find out if you've fallen for any of the most common energy drink myths, and get the real story from this MD.
Myth 1: Energy Drinks Are High in Caffeine
According to Dr. Shirazi, mainstream energy drinks are actually not particularly high in caffeine. "A 16-ounce Monster Green Energy drink contains 160 milligrams of caffeine," he says. "This is about half of the caffeine you would find in a medium (16-ounce) coffeehouse coffee, and roughly the same amount of caffeine that you would find in the same volume of home-brewed coffee."
Myth 2: Energy Drinks Aren't Regulated by the FDA
According to January 2013 research in Hospital Pharmacy, the FDA does regulate the safety of energy drinks.
"After analyzing a wealth of scientific data and information regarding safety and consumption of energy drinks, the FDA did not impose any restrictions on energy drinks' sale or labeling," Dr. Shirazi adds. "Other public health authorities across the globe have studied energy drinks and found that energy drinks can be safely consumed."
Myth 3: Energy Drinks Are Full of Sugar
This is one of the most common myths, but according to Dr. Shirazi, even regular versions of energy drinks aren't any higher in sugar than other sweetened beverages, and there is a wide variety of low- and reduced-sugar versions available, as well.
"Ounce by ounce, regular energy drinks have about the same amount of sugar as standard colas and juices," Dr. Shirazi says. If you're deciding between an energy drink or a glass of OJ, calorie-wise you'll come out even — but the energy drink may give you more of a lift.
Myth 4: All Energy Drinks Contain Stimulants Other Than Caffeine
If your biggest hang-up with energy drinks is the thought of digesting unknown stimulants that aren't in line with your healthy-living goals, it's understandable why you'd be turned off.
However, Monster Energy drinks don't include other stimulants, only energy-supporting ingredients like B vitamins, ginseng extract, L-carnitine and taurine.
These ingredients play important roles in your overall health, with a history of safe use, Dr. Shirazi says. "For example, taurine is found in common infant formulas, and is a healthy ingredient that protects the heart muscle."
- Journal of Caffeine Research:"Effect of an Energy Drink on Physical and Cognitive Performance in Trained Cyclists"
- Hospital Pharmacy: "Energy Drinks: Food, Dietary Supplement, or Drug?"
- Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology:"The Role of Taurine in Infant Nutrition"
- Journal of Biomedical Science: "Physiological roles of taurine in heart and muscle"