If you're looking for your next pick-me-up, ask yourself: Should you run on Dunkin or get your wings from Red Bull? The answer's in your cup.
While an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains about 150 milligrams of caffeine, energy drinks pack anywhere from 154 mg in a 16-ounce Red Bull to 505 mg in a 24-ounce Wired X505. And the most popular juicer around, 5-Hour Energy, has 200 mg of caffeine in a single-serve shot.
Caffeine blocks fatigue-inducing neurotransmitters, increases neural firing, and triggers the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, according to research from McGill University. All that equals a better mood, a sharper brain, and a faster metabolism. One caveat: Excessive intake has been linked to a variety of adverse effects, including high blood pressure and even sudden death. About 200 to 300 mg a day is a safe zone for most people, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But when it comes to getting a healthy dose of energy, there's a lot more to drink than caffeine.
Energy drinks are chock-full of other vitamins and minerals—including vitamin B, ginseng, and taurine—that are advertised to amp up your energy. "But there's no evidence that those huge doses have any impact on mental functioning or energy," says licensed nutritionist Monica Reinagel. 5-Hour Energy, for example, contains more than 8,000 percent of your RDA of B12—which is really just expensive pee. "It's all window dressing," Reinagel says.
In fact, both coffee and 5-Hour Energy produce the same brain-wave energy perk despite the latter's signature cocktail of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science.
Meanwhile, coffee has a lot more than caffeine going on, says Reinagel. It's actually the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the average American's diet, outpacing both fruits and veggies combined, according to research from the University of Scranton. It's rich in polyphenols, antioxidant compounds that stave off cognitive decline, protect against diabetes, and promote weight loss.
Granted, if you drink your coffee in Frappuccino form or consume it in massive quantities (five or more cups a day), you could pack on some extra pounds or up your insulin resistance, both of which can predispose you to diabetes, according to a new study by Australian researchers. While excessive coffee drinking has also been linked to acid reflux, diarrhea, dehydration, and increased blood pressure, if you stick to no more than four (eight-ounce!) cups a day, you should reap all of coffee's benefits without its less-than-spectacular side effects.
The bottom line: Put down the Monster and back away from the Rockstar. Drinking coffee is the best way to up your energy—aside from sleeping, that is.
—K. Aleisha Fetters