Health News Digest


February 13, 2017

Energy, Sports Drinks, And Energy Supplements

By Michael D. Shaw

Most people can always use more of at least two things: Time and money. And, given a few seconds to think further about it, most people would also add…energy. We remember from our early science classes that “energy” (in this context) is the capacity for doing work. Energy can exist in many forms, including chemical, electrical, kinetic, nuclear, and thermal.

In biological systems, all energy is wrapped up into the ATP-ADP cycle—that is, the release of potential energy stored in the adenosine triphosphate molecule, as it breaks down to adenosine diphosphate. In turn, via a process called “cellular respiration,” a third phosphate group is re-attached, and energy is again stored as ATP. Back in my undergraduate days, a wacky physiology professor once informed us that the main purpose of life is to…”Break down ATP, and then build it back up.” Knowing that guy, he probably wasn’t kidding.

One popular analogy for cellular respiration likens it to a change machine at a coin-op laundromat—surely familiar to generations of college students. While the machines only run on quarters (ATP), you must first change your $10 bill (carbs, fats, proteins) into quarters. Purists might object, noting the so-called “4-4-9 rule,” whereby carbohydrates and proteins each contain 4 calories per gram, while fats contain 9 calories per gram. Still, you get the idea.

Which brings us to sports drinks. As noted by athlete, coach, and writer Matt Fitzgerald, “Sports drinks are easy to define. They are beverages formulated specifically for use during exercise and for the sake of enhancing exercise performance. Even though more than 99 percent of the two most popular sports drinks are not consumed in the exercise context, they are in fact intended for that context.”

As such, energy supplements in beverage form would be a part of that category. Nowadays, energy drinks are usually assumed to contain some amount of caffeine. Or, as Fitzgerald puts it, “They are a hybrid of lifestyle beverages and functional beverages. Like other soft drinks, they provide refreshment and flavor at meals, between meals, whenever. But they also contain functional ingredients—mainly caffeine—to provide perceptions of wakefulness and energy for whenever they are needed.”

Yet, the earliest predecessor in this space—Lucozade, introduced in 1927 to replace “lost energy” during illness—blurred the lines. The beverage featured glucose, in a citrus flavored solution. Fast forward forty years to 1967, add some electrolytes, and bill it as a “sports drink” or “thirst quencher,” identify it with a winning college sports program, and you have…Gatorade.

With 1987 came Red Bull, riffing on the 1962 Japanese drink Liptovitan, containing B-vitamins and taurine, by adding caffeine, to become the world’s leading energy drink—among hundreds of competitors. Taurine, an amino acid found in meats and fish, and utilized by the body during exercise and in times of stress, is widely consumed as a supplement.

Caffeine, of course, is the most commonly used mood-altering drug in the world, and is well-known to provide a temporary boost…often followed by more intense crash, along with jitters, heightened anxiety, and an elevated heart rate. Let’s hear from Matt Konig, on behalf of Alpha Levo Energize:

“Enhancing energy can increase productivity, alertness, and creativity. Those benefits should not come at the expense of health and wellness. By placing a premium on all-natural ingredients, particularly stimulants without the attendant crash that comes after taking this or that product, we demonstrate that you can be energized without then feeling enervated. This comes down to avoiding the chemicals, additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives that add unnecessary anxiety—and calories—to a person’s already stressful life.”

I’ll give the last word to our new president: “Without passion you don’t have energy, without energy you have nothing.”