Second Wind Solutions

Proper nutrition and sleep are smarter choices than energy drinks for rejuvenation

We all have our moment. For some, it’s around 2 or 3 p.m. in the office. For others, it’s the fourth day of practice in a row before the big game. Or maybe it’s the need for more cramming the night before end-of-semester exams.

Whatever the reason, there comes a point when we need a pick-me-up. A second wind.

Energy drink manufacturers claim to have the solution—a can, or in some cases a tiny bottle, that you buy at any grocery or convenience store. But is that the smartest choice?

“Typically, these drinks have a mix of things like B vitamins, amino acids and a lot of caffeine,” explains St. Joseph’s/Candler dietitian Rachel Binkley. “Some brands include sugar as well. Some are not even considered beverages but are labeled as dietary supplements. Their marketing claims that their products provide increased alertness and improved performance, both mentally and physically.”

College students and other twentysomethings are some of the main consumers of energy drinks or shots. Truck drivers and other workers with extra-long shifts may also use them. While an energy drink is not considered harmful to the average person, Binkley says they are not exactly ideal, either.

“The recommendation for caffeine is to stay under 400 milligrams a day,” Binkley says. “Some of these drinks can have more than 200 milligrams in one can. So if you’ve had coffee in the morning and then drink an energy drink, or if you have two of them in a row, you’re already getting right up there.”

Too much caffeine can have adverse effects such as irritability, nervousness and insomnia. Then after its effects have worn off, there can be withdrawal symptoms such as headaches.

“If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, these drinks can actually be dangerous,” Binkley says. “Too much caffeine can cause abnormal heart rhythms.”

A Better Way

The need for an energy boost is very common, and there’s nothing wrong with going to foods or beverages to get it. But there is a better way to think about what you’re hoping to achieve.

“Simple carbohydrates will give you energy really fast, but it is short-term,” Binkley says. “But combining a carb with a protein or healthy fat will satisfy your hunger longer, which in turn helps with things like attention span.”

Afternoon snacks that Binkley believes can be helpful include peanut butter combined with an apple or other piece of fruit. If you prefer to snack on crackers, add cheese as a protein source. If you’re only eating a carbohydrate, choose a complex one such as whole grain toast. Whole grain foods have not been stripped of their fiber and other nutrients and also don’t have the added simple sugars of processed baked goods.

Protein bars can be a way to make sure you are getting that carb and protein balance if you need a portable, packaged snack.

“A cup of tea or even a cup of coffee can help too, as long as you are aware of your caffeine-sensitivity,” Binkley says.

A little bit of exercise can also help give you a boost, especially if your tiredness is the result of sitting at a desk for most of the day. Simply going for a walk can improve your breathing rate and blood pressure, making you feel less sluggish.

It Will Catch Up To You

There is an irony hidden behind energy shots and drinks as well, in that even if they work for you, over time they will lead to the exact opposite results of what you are looking for.

“You may be able to fend off sleep without being harmed by the caffeine content,” Binkley says. “But lack of sleep will catch up with you. It can affect your memory, your attention span, and at a certain point, you may even feel inebriated. In short, it will negatively affect your mental and physical performance.”

Too little sleep also makes the body crave the quick, pleasurable energy surge that comes from unhealthy items like candy and soda. So then the person’s eating habits begin to decline, creating a cycle of lacking energy and then picking the wrong items to get it back long-term and healthfully.

“When it comes to energy,” Binkley says, “whether it’s a momentary boost or over the long term, nothing can replace good sleep and nutrition.”

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