Alternative Fuels


We’re guzzling energy drinks and shots at record rates but feeling more lethargic than ever. Sales of these products have more than doubled in the past 5 years, with 35% of men aged 18 to 24 drinking them regularly, a new Mintel survey reveals.

“Energy drinks emphasise vigour, power, all the things that appeal to men,” says Cecile Marczinski, an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University. Guys willingly swallow the bottled boosters’ claims, when they should really be asking, “Why am I so damn tired?”

“We don’t use our bodies the way they’re built to be used,” says Matthew Edlund, author of The Power of Rest. “We guzzle energy drinks and then can’t sleep at night. We sit all day and then read emails at 3am.” It’s no wonder we walk around like zombies—and treat these drinks like liquid life support. As sales and heart rates spike, it’s a good time to question the trends and find healthier ways to power up.


Decaf Energy Drinks

Marketers of energy drinks are clever—they remove a well-known, often worrisome compound and then tout the resulting drink as a “healthier” version of the original. The first vilified ingredient was sugar. Now it’s caffeine. Makes sense: Some 38% of men who buy energy drinks now look for low caffeine content, the Mintel survey found. So what’s the alleged alternate energy source? Most often, B vitamins. A decaf shot, for example, packs several thousand times your daily recommended B12 and B6, plus 100% of your folic acid. But here’s the thing: You won’t feel a B-induced boost, since the energy provided by B vitamins isn’t stimulating like caffeine. “They simply help extract energy from your food, and you need only a little bit,” says Tod Cooperman MD, president of, an independent tester of health and nutritional products. “The science is misused to lead people to believe that a megadose of B vitamins will somehow energise them. It won’t.” Plus, if you eat fortified foods or take a multi vitamin, energy shots could send you over the folic-acid edge—which in the long term, he warns, could raise your cancer risk.

YOUR MOVE For a caffeine-free boost, sip on energy drinks free of folic acid and contain reasonable levels of the other B vitamins. What makes them effective is quercetin, an antioxidant that can help you fight fatigue during exercise, a 2010 University of South Carolina study found. Like caffeine, quercetin also blocks brain receptors for adenosine—a chemical that makes you sleepy —to make you feel energised, says study author Mark Davis PhD. “Over time, it can also increase the number of mitochondria in your cells,” he says, “which provide energy for your muscles.”


Energy Shots

According to a Mintel estimate, Americans dropped about RM4bn on energy shots in 2011—more than 17 times the RM226m they spent in 2006. What’s the lure? The promise of crash free energy in just a couple of sips— in other words, the very effect that makes these drinks dangerous. “Shots contain all the stimulants of large energy drinks,” says Marczinski. “But because they’re only a couple of sips, people often drink more than one. They’re using energy shots to stay up all night.”

YOUR MOVE There’s a better way to fuel up before a night out. “Drink a lukewarm cup of coffee really quickly, and then close your eyes for 15 to 20 minutes,” says Michael Breus PhD, a sleep specialist in Virginia Beach. “You’ll get enough rest to decrease your sleep drive. Then after you start moving again, the caffeine will kick in to keep you awake.” Before you head out, grab a protein-rich snack, too, like a handful of almonds. “Protein helps increase insulin production, and insulin can have an alerting effect,” he says.


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Words by Laura Roberson. Image from Stockexchange


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