Viewpoint: Have We Become Too Obsessed with “Energy”?

We all want more energy yet display a profound misunderstanding of where it comes from

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This past year, we became aware of the dangers of energy drinks. Amid allegations linking these popular beverages to various illnesses and even death, the Food and Drug Administration has launched an investigation. However, the ongoing probe hasn’t seemed to have dampened enthusiasm for energy drinks. In fact, consumption is skyrocketing—sales topped $8 billion in 2012 in the U.S. alone, a nearly 15 % increase from a year ago. What’s more, the success of energy drinks has inspired the launch of “energy” versions of popular snacks like popcorn, potato chips, jelly beans, and even sunflower seeds.

We have become obsessed with the concept of “energy” and yet display a profound misunderstanding of what energy is. On a purely biological level, it’s molecules that help cells do the work they need to do—the carbohydrate, protein and fat we get from food that feeds our muscles and brain. By contrast, the active ingredient in “energy” drinks is not energy but a chemical stimulant: caffeine.

(MORE: Are Energy Drinks Fatally Caffeinated?)

Most energy drinks contain at least one and a half times the amount of caffeine in a single cup of coffee—and some contain more. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, a molecule that helps us slow down. The end result is we produce more adrenaline, which speeds us up and enhances our performance—until we crash. Eventually, we develop a caffeine tolerance, so that consuming the same amount does nothing more than prevent withdrawal symptoms. Not surprisingly, manufacturers’ of energy drinks like to claim there is more to their bottles of oomph than just caffeine. But this really isn’t true.  With the exception of some weak evidence for guarana and glucose, there is no scientific proof to support claims that flashy ingredients—like taurine, ginseng, and various herbal extracts—enhance cognitive or physical performance. Only caffeine does.

Why do we turn to stimulants? Some of us consume caffeine because we have used it for years and can’t tolerate withdrawal. We may look for an additional boost when we’re stressed out or sleep-deprived. Many consumers know that what they’re really getting in energy drinks is caffeine, and yet they continue to rely on them. Our energy levels naturally vary throughout the day, but we rarely tune in to them by taking breaks or power naps. In addition from healthy eating, here’s what also really gives you energy: adequate sleep, exercise, play and stress management. Some new research even suggests that simply having an emotionally positive workday may be the greatest determinant of our energy level at the end of the day and in the evening.

(MORE: Does Listening To Music While Working Make You Less Productive?)

Our energy obsession isn’t all bad. On the surface, we are working harder, performing better and are more productive. But this makes us vulnerable to the belief that we just need more “energy” to be able to keep up. But until we reckon with our susceptibility to this sales pitch, and have a better understanding of what energy really is, we will simply be running on a treadmill with no end in sight.

3 comments
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solafide134
solafide134

How are people supposed to "tune into [their] bodies by taking breaks and power naps" when employers don't allow for even the most basic control over one's working day?

KountyKobbler
KountyKobbler

When you use chemistry to alter your ability to think and do things  it can cause heart rate to go up to a point  that is detrimental to your health the thing is this everyone's body Chemistry is slightly different  depending on your health  and what else you have in your system.. If your on  beta blocker Blood pressure medication  then the energy can negate  a good bit of why your taking that prescription drug  If your an ESRD patient   your body takes a lot longer to get a medication out of your system  so before you play with  hyper caffine  Know what it can do to you and for you  be safe   and avoid  congestive heart failure  from  a bottle to many.

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

Energy needs are maybe a factor of autonomy?  The more autonomy you desire to have the more energy reserve you need.  On the other hand you can autonomously choose to sit on a couch to watch TV and then need only de minimus reserves.  But if your going dancing and expect to kiss a cuddle-mate then your going to need energy reserves.  And if the cuddle -mate doesn't want you to kiss her/him; you will need maybe some electrolyte reserves to figure out what to say that may be civilly persuasive.  Or take the easy way out and stare at porno at home and you can turn into a lump of spud.  Perhaps.  I think I would rather obsess about energy than not.