Energy Drinks: The Physical and Psychological Effects

Over the past few years energy drinks have been growing steadily in popularity, particularly among the younger generation and they can have both positive and negative side effects. I am going to be honest, I am sitting here right now with an empty can of energy drink resting next to me. I find that it allows me to focus on my writing and type just that little bit faster but is this the case or am I just another victim of the placebo effect?

A study performed by Duncan and Hankey, 2013 set out to test if people were actually able to perform better during exercise after an energy drink or if they only thought that the energy drink was giving them ‘special powers’.

The study was performed on 14 active adults, 7 male and 7 female, and after taking either an energy drink or placebo they were asked to cycle for 1 hour.

During this time various things were measured including their perceived leg pain, their heart rate, their perceived exertion and their readiness to invest in physical effort both before and after the run.

The results collected tended to back up the fact that energy drinks do help during exercise. The participants reported less leg pain, less exertion, had a higher heart rate and were more ready to engage in physical activity when they had an energy drink rather than a placebo.

Another study performed by Smit et al, 2004 looked at the mental effects of energy drinks and whether they allowed you to be more tenacious when performing cognitively demanding tasks.

They were again tested in both an energy drink and placebo condition and the results showed that people who took the energy drink were in a better mood or maintain the same mood throughout a mentally demanding task.

When do Energy Drinks Become a Problem?

There are however many downsides to energy drinks. For example looking at the ingredients on the back of my empty can two of the vitamins it provides are double my recommended daily allowance in just one can. So if you drink more than one can a day you are getting far to much of certain vitamins not to mention caffeine.

People also use energy drinks as a mood adjuster which is definitely not their intended use. For example many people now tend to mix them with alcohol to counteract the drowsy effects of the liquor. This has the effect of pulling your nervous system in two different directions.

Also because of the high caffeine content energy drinks can have a detrimental effect on your sleeping patterns. An energy drink before bed will make it difficult for you to get a good nights sleep. Yanik et al, 1987 performed a study on rats and the affects of caffeine on their sleep cycle. The results showed that all of the rats were affected by even the smallest dose of caffeine but for the rats in the high dose condition the caffeine affected all areas of their sleep as well as total duration of sleep.

How Are Energy Drinks Perceived?

With the huge branding and advertising campaigns performed by the energy drink companies the perception of these drinks is heavily geared towards active males. Adverts containing people performing extreme sports and slogans such as ‘red bull gives you wings’ have clearly shown where they want their main market to be but have their efforts worked?

A survey performed by Miller(2008) studied 795 students at universities attitudes towards and the amount of energy drink that they consume. A total of 39% of participants had consumed and energy drink in the last month and of these the results showed that men drink just over double the amount of energy drink than women.

But this survey went even deeper that just finding out how many energy drinks were consumed but also what type of people were drinking them. Many of the questions were trying to find out whether the participants were ‘jocks’ (an American term commonly associated with sports and high risk taking behavior). They used a combination of asking questions about their self image e.g. do you perceive yourself as a jock? as well as asking them about risk taking behavior e.g. have you engaged in sexual intercourse without a condom in the last month?.

The results to this showed that there was a very strong correlation between the ‘jock’ stereotype and consumption of both energy drinks and mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

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About Alexander Burgemeester

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