Energy drinks and nutrition bars often make big promises. Some say they'll increase energy and alertness, others offer extra nutrition, and some even claim to boost your athletic performance or powers of concentration.
But once you cut through the hype and look past the flashy packaging on energy products, chances are what you're mostly getting is a stiff dose of sugar and caffeine.
With so much going on in our lives, lots of people feel tired and run down. And many of us find ourselves skipping a meal sometimes. So it's not surprising that nutrition, protein, and energy drinks and food bars have flooded the market, offering the convenience of energy on the go.
Sometimes, this can be good news — like for the person who doesn't have time for breakfast. Food bars will never beat a well-balanced meal or snack when it comes to meeting our nutrition needs. But many of them do contain more nutrients than a candy bar or a bag of chips. But just because a product contains vitamins and minerals does not automatically mean it is good for you.
Here are some facts to keep in mind when it comes to food bars or energy drinks:
They contain excessive sugar and calories. Did you know that some energy bars and drinks contain hundreds of calories? That may be OK for athletes who burn lots of calories in high-intensity activities, like competitive cycling. But for many teens the extra sugar and calories just contribute to weight gain, not to mention tooth decay.
Energy drinks are often full of caffeine. Caffeine may be legal, but it is a stimulant drug. It can cause side effects like jitteriness, upset stomach, headaches, and sleep problems — all of which drag you down, not power you up! Large amounts of caffeine can have even more serious side effects (including fast or irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures), especially for people who have certain medical conditions or who take medications or supplements. Energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks. They should not be used to rehydrate because they contain so much caffeine.
Food bars don't make good meal replacements. You never really see someone eat an energy bar for dinner and then sit back with a satisfied grin. Nothing beats a real meal for both that well-fed feeling and the nutritional satisfaction your body needs.
Although many nutrition bars have vitamins and minerals added, they can't give you all the different nutrients your body needs to grow, develop, play sports, and handle all the other stuff on your schedule. The only way to get that is through eating a balanced diet and not skipping meals.
They may contain mysterious ingredients. In addition to caffeine and sugar, some brands of energy drinks and food bars can have ingredients whose safety and effectiveness haven't been tested — things like guarana (a source of caffeine) and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance caffeine's effect). Some contain herbal supplements that are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), such as ginseng.
These kinds of ingredients may cause problems, especially for people who are taking certain medications or have a health condition. So play it safe. Always check the label carefully before you eat or drink any kind of energy supplement.
They're expensive. Though energy bars and drinks are everywhere these days, they don't come cheap. At about $3 a pop, you can get a better (and cheaper) energy boost by eating a whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese. And you can get better hydration by drinking 8 ounces of tap water. Other on-the-go foods that provide plenty of nutritional bang for the buck include trail mix, fresh or dried fruits, and whole-grain cereals.
There's some clever marketing behind energy bars and drinks, and you've got to be a pretty savvy consumer to see through it. So be critical when reading labels. As with everything, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
These products aren't the healthy choices the advertising hype makes them out to be. According to experts, kids and teens should not drink energy drinks because of concerns about their safety and their effect on health. The truth is, the best energy boost comes from healthy living. People who eat well, drink water, and get enough physical activity and sleep will have plenty of energy — the natural way.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Quick Guide to Healthy Eating Looking for an easy way to eat healthier? This article provides tips on choosing the right foods - and an easy-to-follow chart to guide you.|
|A Guide to Eating for Sports You've prepared for the game in almost every way possible: but now what should you eat? Read about performance foods, nutritional supplements, and more.|
|Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body needs to work properly. They boost the immune system, promote normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.|
|Smart Supermarket Shopping You don't need to be a dietitian to figure out how to make healthy food choices. Before grabbing a shopping cart and heading for the aisles, read this article to make grocery shopping a snap.|
|Eating Well While Eating Out We all know the importance of eating well. But how are you supposed to do so when your schedule is so demanding you're never at home? Find out how to make healthy food choices on the go.|
|Figuring Out Fat and Calories From all you hear, you'd think fat and calories are really bad for you, but we all need a certain amount of them in our diets. Find out the truth about fat and calories.|
|Nutrition & Fitness Center Visit our nutrition and fitness center for teens to get information and advice on food, exercise, and sports.|
|What's a Healthy Alternative to Water? Find out what the experts have to say|
|Which Foods Will Give Me Energy? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Smart Snacking Healthy snacks are essential for busy teens. Find out how eating small, nutritious meals throughout the day can keep your energy level high and your mind alert.|
|Sports Supplements Sports supplements are products used to enhance athletic performance. Lots of people who want to improve their performance have questions about how supplements work and whether they're safe.|
|Caffeine Caffeine has probably helped you through long nights of studying or filling out college applications. But how much do you know about caffeine and its side effects?|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.