Whether it’s Gatorade®, Powerade®, VitaminWater®, 5-Hour Energy®, Red Bull®, Monster® or Fuze Beverage®, Sports and Energy Drinks form a multibillion-dollar energy-drink industry. Hugely popular, especially among young adults, these flavored beverages come in various forms from carbonated fruit drinks enriched with vitamins to vitamin enhanced water to blends of water, electrolytes and carbohydrates. And yet, a simple Google search reveals that the experts take issue with health claims that accompany many of these beverages. In fact, court cases have been associated with some brands. To help separate the marketing spin from reality, Halal Consumer spoke with nutritional experts, Zaira Ahmad and Sarene Alsharif (www.healthyplate5.com; www.healthyplate5.blogspot.com).

“First, let’s start with the difference between Sports Drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade and Energy Drinks like 5-Hour Energy and Red Bull. The main difference is caffeine. In general, Sports Drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes while some also include vitamins, minerals and amino acids,” says Sarene Alsharif, a nutritionist, public health educator and consultant with a Master’s degree in Public Health. “Energy Drinks, on the other hand, have caffeine in extremely high amounts and can contain any mixture of carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.”

“Sports Drinks are meant for high intensity workouts lasting over an hour long (and are intended) to replace fluids and electrolytes lost in prolonged sweating and energy expenditure. They typically do not contain caffeine,” adds Zaira Ahmad, a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science, who works as a Clinical Dietitian in Somerville, New Jersey.


Sports Drinks vs Water

“Marketers know that flavors sell,” says Naperville resident, Shahana Khan, mother to three sports aficionados ages 11 to 15. Not only is she well acquainted with what appeals to young people, but with her sons in basketball, football, baseball, swimming and gymnastics, Mrs. Khan also knows what athletes need.

Drinks like Gatorade are meant to balance electrolytes that are lost when the body is sweating profusely, she says. Rather than opting for the calories and sugars that come with Sports Drinks, her sons prefer coconut water to get the electrolytes they need. They bottle it with ice to keep it from spoiling when in the hot sun, once the original packaging has been opened.

As for vitamin waters such as VitaminWater or Fuze Beverage that tout a slew of vitamins, again, Shahana Khan’s family chooses to skip the calories that come with those flavors. “Take a multivitamin with water before you head out to exercise, practice or a game,” is her advice.

“Drinks that began as Sports Drinks to replenish depleted athletes, are consumed today by people whose bodies are already overwrought by calories and chemicals,” says Linda Gardner, a mother of two children under age ten. Her family’s replenishments of choice: water, sparkling water, coconut water, water kefir, kombucha, and cool herbal teas.

“Younger folk are prone to choosing Sports Drinks to accompany a meal thinking it is a “healthier” choice than soda and sugary drinks. I like to tell people that if they aren’t running a marathon while eating their lunch, there’s really no need for a Sports Drink. In reality, Sports Drinks tend to be high in sugar since they are meant to restore energy in an athlete,” says Zaira Ahmad. Despite how frequently we see Sports Drinks at sports trainings and gyms, “for low or moderate 30-60 minute exercising, water during the workout and a light snack following it suffice.”

Besides there being no evidence of benefits associated with the consumption of Sports Drinks when engaging in average amounts of physical activity, Sarene Alsharif says that research is sketchy even when it comes to supporting the consumption of Sports Drinks by elite athletes. “The best way to remain hydrated is to drink water before, during, and after physical activity. If you are thirsty, go get a drink of water.”


Are Energy Drinks a Good Idea?

Neither Zaira Ahmad nor Sarene Alsharif would recommend Energy Drinks under any circumstances. “The average Energy Drink is highly caffeinated, larger than one serving size, high in sugar, and costly. Energy Drinks tend to be packaged in cans and may have up to 3 servings in them, depending on the brand. In reality, since it is a single can, a person will drink the entire three servings in one sitting,” Zaira Ahmad explains.

No more than 300-400 mg of caffeine is recommended for adults per day. Yet, a common experience is getting too little sleep and resorting to caffeine to stay alert the morning after, getting over caffeinated in the process, and then having trouble sleeping the following night. It’s a vicious cycle. Many of us are familiar with one too many caffeinated beverages leaving us with jitters and feeling anxious, and in some cases even causing headaches and elevating heart rates.

Despite these side effects, these over-caffeinated Energy Drinks are often marketed to teens and young adults. “In general, this age group may be negligent of their caffeine intake and consume a combination of (various) caffeinated beverages in a day, including coffee, tea, sodas, and Energy Drinks. This can make them more susceptible to the side effects of too much caffeine. The culture of overindulgence can be dangerous,” says Zaira Ahmad. “The added sugars also play a part in the obesity epidemic in the United States.”

“Consumption of high amounts of caffeine is known to disrupt heart beats resulting in atrial fibrillations in some cases”, says Sarene Alsharif. “Water and a balanced diet typically provide enough hydration and nutrition to keep people healthy.”


Death by Caffeine?

In 2012, the FDA investigated 13 deaths including one non-fatal heart attack linked to Energy Drinks. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that “emergency room visits due to Energy Drinks have doubled over the last four years from 10,000 in 2007 to 20,000 in 2011.” According to CBSNews, “American Heart Association’s 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans revealed that Energy Drinks may increase blood pressure and change the heart’s rhythm.”

“Children younger than 12 should eliminate caffeine in their diets and pregnant and breastfeeding women should restrict it to 200 mg or less per day”, says Zaira Ahmad. Those with pre-existing heart conditions are most at risk of complications associated with having over-caffeinated drinks. “It may cause increased blood pressure and irregular or racing heart beats. Anyone with pre-existing gastrointestinal conditions may further irritate their digestive systems with high caffeine intake. Individuals with pre-existing conditions such as these should avoid caffeinated beverages generally.”

“All in all, there is no immediate risk when caffeine or Energy Drinks are consumed by a healthy adult in moderation and with good sense. If a person is aware of their caffeine intake, refined sugar intake, and past medical history there is really nothing wrong with having one energy drink, once in a while. If they utilized their good sense, however, they may find that the problem isn’t really a lack of energy that a drink can fix, but rather a need to readjust their lifestyle to feel more energized in natural and safer ways.”

ABOUT THE WRITER: Naazish YarKhan is a content strategist and publicist. Her work has been featured by NPR, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Public Radio, Common Ground News Service, Saudi Aramco Magazine and in over 50 outlets internationally.