1 August 2009

Talking Turkey with Prof Trim

Are ‘energy’ drinks all they’re cracked up to be?
Caffeinated ‘energy drinks’ (‘Red Bull’; ‘Mother’; ‘V’ etc.) have become a popular part of the soft drink market, and are also sometimes used as a way of losing weight. But are they all they’re cracked up to be? Do they provide energy? And are there any particular downsides?


The answers are simple – but complicated. In the first place, such products tend to be loaded with both caffeine and sugar. The caffeine (often the equivalent of 2–3 good strong cups of coffee in a serving), is likely to provide an energy ‘hit’ to the around 50% of the population who are caffeine sensitive. For these people, such ‘energy’ drinks are likely to cause jitteriness and inability to sleep, and possibly increase the adverse effects of stress. (It’s no coincidence that manufacturers have specifically targeted the youth market who tend to ‘binge’ on such drinks to keep themselves ‘up’ while drinking alcohol until late which otherwise might bring them ‘down’). For this reason, it’s also possible that such drinks might have a weight loss effect in some people (by reducing hunger levels).

The sugar in these drinks provides the biological ‘energy’, or calories, which makes them truly able to be called ‘energy’ drinks. This is likely to offset any weight loss benefits by increasing calorie intake (unless the caffeine is very effective in reducing other food intake). The energy it provides to carry out activity could be brief and intermittent.

A potentially more serious downside is death. A January 2009 article in the Medical Journal of Australia details the case of an 18 year old otherwise healthy young man in Port Macquarie NSW, who died after a day of moto-cross racing and drinking ‘energy’ drinks. Surgeons claim the excessive ingestion of caffeine and taurine in the drinks, combined with strenuous physical activity, can produce a heart attack by inducing coronary vasospasm.

Dr Garry Egger aka Prof Trim

For more information on weight loss for men, check out Professor Trim.


Unknown said...

What about the sugar-free version of Red Bull? Is there benefit to that?

GI Group said...

Hi Thomas, we'll pass this on to Prof Trim and get back to you. Watch this space.

GI Group said...

Prof Trim says:
'There will be a bit of benefit - not the sugar hit as in the full version. But there's still the caffeine to contend with. And if you're someone that is sensitive to caffeine (about 50% of the population are), it still could be a problem.'

ven_deez said...

So can you gain weight from drinking sugar-free V drinks??

GI Group said...

Hi Thomas, sugar-free Red Bull (with sucralose in Australia) has less calories than the standard energy version (with glucose). But check out our story in News Briefs on the use of artificial sweeteners and weight loss.

Unknown said...

It appears that your News Brief is suggesting that I, as an overweight diabetic (typeII) should switch from Splenda to sugar and lose weight? Or am I misreading the article?

GI Group said...

Hi Thomas, News Brief just reports on study findings. It doesn't give 'advice'. In fact Dr Alan Barclay in GI Symbol News in this issue makes the point that much more research is needed to answer the question whether non-nutritive sweeteners help with weight loss? He says (and we quote from his article: "A recent review found little evidence that non-nutritive sweeteners had any benefits for weightloss. And there’s an interesting coincidence: aspartame and sucralose, for example, were introduced into the Australian food supply in the early 1980s and 1990s, respectively, and since then sugar consumption has been reduced by about 20%, suggesting that we have been using them instead of sugar as intended. However, since the early 1980s, rates of overweight and obesity have nearly doubled in Australia. Is this because people eat more high calorie foods when they use non-nutritive sweeteners – for example, eating a hamburger with the “works” and a large chips when they buy a diet soft drink? Or is that non-nutritive sweeteners confuse the way our brain regulates our feelings of hunger and fullness."

If you are still confused, why not have a chat with a registered dietitian.