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Jun 24, 2015

Coffee vs. Energy Drinks

Trying to juggle a full course load and a job doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep. Sometimes you need a pick-me-up when you’re working on such a tight schedule, and with the wide range of coffee concoctions and energy drinks out there, you have a lot of options. How do you choose which one to reach for when you need to push through a long study session or stay alert during a late shift at work?

The Caffeine Connection

According to research done by McGill University, caffeine perks you up in several ways. It works in the brain to block inhibitory neurotransmitters and increase excitatory ones, making you feel more alert. Caffeine increases the rate at which neurons fire, which means you actually think faster after drinking coffee or an energy drink.

Caffeine can also have negative side effects including increased blood pressure and heart rate, jitters or shakiness, sleeplessness and dependency. The amount of caffeine that you take in, how fast you ingest it and where you get it from can all have an impact on what it does to your body.

Coffee Pros and Cons

Coffee has been found to contain antioxidants, which may explain why coffee drinkers are shown to have a lower risk of developing certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, liver disease and type 2 diabetes. Coffee’s nutritional profile also includes small amounts of naturally occurring B vitamins and trace minerals.

Drinking too much coffee can increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis over time. It can also cause blood sugar imbalances and interfere with mineral retention and absorption in the kidneys. Unfiltered coffee such as espresso contains compounds that have been shown to raise blood cholesterol levels. Does this mean that energy drinks are healthier?

Energy Drinks May Be Dangerous

Because they’re served cold, energy drinks are often consumed faster than coffee. This quickly delivers a large amount of caffeine to your bloodstream, resulting in an energy spike that can have serious side effects. A 2013 study showed that energy drinks can cause irregular heartbeats and even death in extreme cases.

There is little evidence to suggest that added ingredients such as ginseng and B vitamins give energy drinks more power than coffee. In fact, many additives may be harmful to your health, including high levels of sugar, artificial flavorings and synthetic colors. A lack of research makes it uncertain whether long-term energy drink consumption can have lasting health consequences.

Making Smart Choices for Energy

The best way to keep your energy levels high is to schedule enough time to get the sleep that you need. For most people, that means seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. When this isn’t possible, coffee is the healthiest choice for a quick energy boost. Choose plain coffee over specialty coffee drinks and be moderate in your consumption. Avoid drinking large amounts of coffee at once, and aim to limit your overall caffeine intake to under 300mg per day. The Mayo Clinic notes that side effects of caffeine are more severe at levels of 500mg to 600mg per day.

No matter how busy you are, it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t rely on caffeine to keep you going indefinitely. Whether from coffee or energy drinks, caffeine is a stimulant that alters the way your body works just like any other drug. Too much caffeine and too little sleep will make it hard to focus on your classes and your job, so be sure to balance your occasional reliance on coffee with good quality sleep and other healthy lifestyle choices.