Last Updated on March 14, 2021 by admin
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and you have a big project due by the end of the day, but it’s 2 o’clock and your energy is sagging. What do you do? Reach for an energy drink, of course. Within a few minutes, you feel ready to finish your project, but have you ever wondered why that is? What’s in an energy drink that boosts your energy?
Caffeine is the chief ingredient that gives your body a bolt when you consume an energy drink. Your brain usually receives a chemical called adenosine that makes you sleepy, but caffeine prevents adenosine while triggering brain neurons that activate a fight or flight reaction. This dilates the pupils and increases heart rate. Whether energy drinks give you energy is debatable, but their effect certainly wakes you up for a little while.
In this article, we’ll discuss what caffeine is and elaborate further on what it does to the brain, the liver, and other parts of the body. We’ll even have a section devoted to how much caffeine is in your favorite energy drink brands, so you’re not going to want to miss it!
What Is Caffeine?
It’s an ingredient we’re all too familiar with, but do you really know what caffeine is? A stimulant of the central nervous system, caffeine is technically a drug, and a psychoactive one at that. To be a psychoactive means the drug can alter how the nervous system works, including changing behavior, cognition, consciousness level, mood, and perception, which caffeine certainly does.
In its purest form, caffeine is an alkaloid or an organic compound. It has a crystal-like texture akin to sugar, a bitter taste, and white color. Caffeine is derived from several plant species, either their leaves, nuts, or seeds. The Coffea plant, which is where we also harvest coffee beans, is a primary caffeine source.
Although caffeine is most-known for being a starring ingredient in coffee, you can also find caffeine in soda, energy drinks, and some teas.
How Does the Caffeine in Energy Drinks Increase Your Energy?
As we said in the intro, you’re not technically elevating your energy through the consumption of an energy drink. Rather, you’re causing your body to undergo processes that make you feel more awake and alert. The reaction is akin to having more energy, but it’s not the real deal. Experts say you should avoid added sugar to naturally raise your energy levels, and energy drinks have tons of added sugar.
That said, let’s take a closer look at what energy drinks can do to make you feel up and at ‘em.
The prime ingredients in your energy drink that generate a response are caffeine and sugar. First the caffeine does its thing, stopping adenosine from working. Adenosine is a type of organic compound that occurs naturally as we digest food. That’s why you may feel like you’re in a food coma after a big meal, also known as postprandial somnolence.
When adenosine can’t work due to caffeine’s effects, you automatically feel less sleepy. In the meantime, the sheer amount of caffeine flowing through your system has also activated the brain, triggering neurons there.
This neuron activation gets the attention of your pituitary gland, which produces adrenaline, or the hormone in charge of creating fight or flight responses that can save our lives. When you’re in fight or flight mode, your eyes will become dilated and your heart will begin beating faster. You’ll certainly feel more alert.
The last part of the process occurs in the liver. If you’ve read our posts on fasting, then you know the liver takes the glucose from the foods you eat, converts it to usable glycogen, and stores the excess sugar. In fight or flight mode, the liver lets the sugar go, which courses into your bloodstream.
According to this article in Medical News Today, it takes about 10 minutes for the effects of caffeine to begin. You’ll feel your best for the next 15 to 45 minutes or so as the caffeine has hit your bloodstream at its highest quantity. Your body will absorb most of the caffeine in that can of energy drink in about 50 minutes, but that doesn’t mean the caffeine is out of your system.
Within an hour, your energy will go from sky-high levels to maybe your lowest of the day. You have less caffeine in your system and the sugar is gone too, as your blood has absorbed it all by now. Still, caffeine has a surprisingly long lifespan, reaching only it its half-life at six hours in. That means you have half the quantity of caffeine as you did before.
In about 12 hours, all the caffeine should have cycled through your system, which could cause withdrawal symptoms depending on how much caffeine you ingest daily. If you do get withdrawals, the common side effects are constipation, moodiness, and headache.
How Much Caffeine Is in an Average Energy Drink? Is It More Than Coffee?
How much caffeine does it take to cause the response your body undergoes as described above? Well, the average cup of coffee contains 95 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, but who ever has just one cup? Not many people.
Mayo Clinic says ingesting 400 milligrams of caffeine daily is typical for adults and safe. Using that number as our guide, let’s see how much caffeine is in a can of your favorite energy drink.
- Red Bull – 111 milligrams per 12 fluid ounces
- Monster – 86 milligrams per 240 grams
- Rockstar – 160 milligrams per 16 fluid ounces
- NOS – 160 milligrams per 16 fluid ounces
- Bang – 300 milligrams per 16 fluid ounces
- Amp – 74 milligrams per 240 grams
Granted, the serving sizes of all those drinks is not identical, but you can see that per single serving, you’re getting quite a lot of caffeine. Every energy drink brand besides Amp and Monster has at least the same amount of caffeine as what’s in an average cup of coffee. NOS and Rockstar contain almost twice the average amount of caffeine per a cup of coffee and Bang has three times the caffeine!
Energy drinks block the chemicals that make us tired and generate a fight or flight response, but this effect lasts for typically about an hour, if that. Then we tend to crash, consuming another energy drink and repeating the process all over again. Given that caffeine can stay in your system for 12 hours (even though we don’t feel its effects by that point), overdoing it on the caffeine isn’t wise. Most energy drinks have about twice, sometimes thrice the caffeine than a cup of coffee, so monitor your caffeine intake!