Why You Need to Quit Energy Drinks and 4 Healthier Alternatives

Energy drinks are everywhere: vending machines, gas stations, grocery stores and even gyms. Are they all the same? Or are some more beneficial than others? Are there any to avoid?

Not all energy drinks are the same, and some are definitely less healthy than others, says sports medicine specialist Shana Miskovsky, MD.

Some energy drinks are sports beverages commonly used for rehydration, such as Gatorade and Powerade, which have a high level of electrolytes and sugars.

These drinks can be useful for athletes who lose a significant amount of salt when sweating during a strenuous workout or event, Dr. Miskovsky says.

"The sugar concentration in these rehydration drinks gives the athlete a boost and the water contained in these drinks helps prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue, decreased concentration and other issues," she says.

Downsides of Sports Drinks

The drawback to sports drinks is the high calories that come with any sugary beverage, she says.

Then there are energy drinks that contain stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana, taurine and green tea extracts, Dr. Miskovsky says. Examples of these drinks include Rockstar, Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy.

Some energy drinks also contain more dangerous substances, such as ma huang, bitter orange, zhi shi, ephedrine and amphetamines.

"It is important to keep in mind that the FDA does not regulate supplements, including energy drinks," Dr. Miskovsky says. "There is no required testing or approval to sell, and there are no provisions for safety or effectiveness."

Energy drinks that contain stimulants have an alarming number of dangerous potential side effects: dehydration, high heart rate or palpitations, trouble sleeping, anxiety, tremors, mood changes, hallucinations, stroke, heart attack and even sudden death in certain people with underlying heart conditions, Dr. Miskovsky says.

Safer Alternatives to Energy Drinks

A boost of energy doesn't have to come in a bottle. Ditch these products and try these options.

1. A tall drink of water

The cause of your exhaustion may be dehydration. "Water is your best and least expensive option with respect to maintaining your hydration," Dr. Miskovsky says. "Water is one of the most important nutrients, as it acts as a transporter to supply muscles with nutrients, gets rids of waste products from high-intensity training and helps cool the body through sweating."

If you want something flavorful without the extra calories, squeeze a fresh lemon, lime or orange into your water bottle.

2. A reviving catnap

"Lack of sleep is an important contributor to fatigue and leads to the use of energy drinks to compensate,"  Dr. Miskovsky says. The average adult should get at least six hours of sleep a night - but eight is much better. If you're not logging enough hours in bed, try a daytime nap.

"Short catnaps in the middle of the day or early afternoon help with fatigue." Dr. Miskovsky says. She recommends limiting your snoozes to 12 to 15 minutes to avoid a deep sleep that could  make you feel even more tired.

3. A hearty, healthy meal

A balance of lean protein, fruit, vegetables and whole grains can prevent a midday or post-workout crash.

"You can boost your recovery and immune system with foods high in antioxidants, like blueberries, strawberries, oranges, broccoli, asparagus or sweet potatoes," Dr. Miskovsky says. She also recommends having a snack that combines carbohydrates with protein 30 to 60 minutes after a hard workout. Try peanut butter on whole grain toast or yogurt topped with fruit.

4. A mini yoga session

"Yoga and mindful meditation are also helpful in replenishing energy stores," Dr. Miskovsky says.

If you've only got 10 minutes to energize yourself, that's not enough time for a series of sun salutations or a complicated pose that requires a full warm-up. Instead, choose a series of simple standing poses that activate your muscles and turn your focus inward. Learn these poses: warrior, chair, crescent and wide-legged forward bend.

Yoga not your thing? Simply sit cross-legged and spend five minutes breathing deeply and imagining you are in a peaceful, restorative setting.

Shana Miskovsky, MD, is board-certified in Orthopedic Surgery and Orthopedic Sports Medicine.

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