A Dietitian's Take on 5-Hour Energy Drinks

By , SparkPeople Blogger
(Photo credit: Flickr)

The break room was set up with my presentation displayed on the large white wall, handouts neatly stacked on a corner table.  The alarm sounded and 100 assembly line workers hustled into the room.  They each grabbed a packed lunch, found a seat, and prepared to devour their meal along with the ''lunch and learn'' topic of the day.  Exactly 22 minutes later, they were all out the door and back to work.  This scenario took place five times throughout the day to assure that all shifts received the same information. 

These are not the folks who live a sedentary nine to five lifestyle, pushing pencils and attached to a computer screen.  Rather, these folks are working very early mornings and graveyard shifts…lifting, toting, screwing, wiring, welding, and painting.  This work forces the body to develop an unnatural alarm clock, accompanied by many missed family functions and numerous stress-related health complications.  These folks are trying to make ends meet, feed the family, and pray daily that their line doesn’t get moved out of the country. 

As I talked with these men and women about feeding their families healthy foods, the question that surfaced again and again each and every shift was: ''Hey Becky, What do you think about the 5-Hour Energy Drink?''

What About 5-Hour Energy Drinks?  I recently read a Forbes Magazine article that detailed the story of 5-Hour Energy Drink founder Manoj Bhargava's rise to billionaire status. Here’s a man who found himself at a natural products trade show in 2003.  He tasted this secret concoction which claimed to boost energy and felt the results.  Not wanting to share shelf space with the numerous 16-ounce versions of energy drinks already on the market, Mr. Bhargava decided to make it gulp-sized, just two ounces.  A cute, sexy little bottle, running-man logo and highly coveted shelf space in the check-out lines at various superstores…and the rest is history. 

Who doesn’t enjoy reading about the ''little guy'' who, with hard work and dedication, makes it big?  I know I do.  It’s one of the reasons I have such admiration and respect for our SparkPeople founder, Chris Downie. However, the comparison stops there! 

My Take on the Secret Sauce: 
  • For a healthy adult, one 5-Hour Energy Drink per day doesn’t present any major potential health risk.  The drink provides about 157 milligrams of caffeine, based on a Forbes-commissioned lab test.  Remember that the recommendation for caffeine intake for the healthy adult is no more than 400 milligrams daily.  Now, if you are downing several 5-Hour Energy Drinks, along with cups of coffee and cans of soda, you could be easily exceeding the recommendation, which may result in an overstimulated heart and body.  Yes, there have been hospital admissions due to excessive caffeine intake. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, the recommendation for caffeine is no more than 200 milligrams daily.  As for children and teens, The American Academy of Pediatrics states that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have ''no place'' in the diet of children and adolescents. That’s right, no place in their diets!
  • What about the other ingredients in the drink, like taurine and B-vitamins, which are found in levels thousands of times higher than your recommended daily allowance? To be honest, you are probably just ''feeding your toilet.'' (B vitamins are water-soluble, which means any extra will be excreted in the urine not stored in the body.) You got it… these ingredients don't really add any significant ''energizing'' benefits and are there to just look pretty and make this little bottle appear important.  Don’t be fooled by fancy marketing!
  • As for the cost: each tiny bottle is $3.99!  A big part of my job is to help families budget their dollars so they can obtain the nutritious foods they need.  So let’s do some quick calculations.  It would cost about $16 for a family of four with mom, dad, and two teens each consuming one of these drinks a day.  Over the course of a year, this adds up to roughly $5,800.  That’s a whole lotta fresh fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains and lowfat dairy.   Do this for 10 years and you are up to $58,000, which basically pays for two years of college at a state school in my home state of Indiana—at current tuition rates.
Isn’t it time to just give up this energy? Start eating healthier, exercise about 30 minutes most days of the week, get seven to eight hours of sleep each night and reap the benefits of true energy, while pocketing major savings! 5-Hour Energy isn’t going to kill you, but we don't know the long-term effects of the drink--plus, it sure could break your piggy bank for just a little afternoon caffeine buzz!