Whether going for an early-morning run or hike, or waking up to the daily grind of work, school and everyday life, the body needs energy. It’s a necessary physiological and cellular conversation that takes place on a continuous basis; and, just like any other conversation in the body, when interrupted, it can cause a negative effect. Interruptions in energy can occur for many reasons, including age, diet, lack of sleep, depletion of essential nutrients or vitamins, etc. These interruptions are clearly prevalent in consumers and are reinforced in the marketplace, as sales of energy-marketed goods are swelling. According to SPINS, energy bars and gels grew 17.4 percent since 2010 (52-week period ending March 19, 2011) in the conventional and natural channels combined. They also reported energy and other functional beverages saw a jump in sales the past year, with a combined channel increase of 8.7 percent, but more notably, sales in the natural channel alone jumped from $6,215,481 in March 2010 to $7,400,705 in March 2011—a 19.1-percent increase. An interesting note is SPINS reported sales of functional juice drinks and Kombucha, the effervescent tea touted for energizing, longevity and mental clarity, declined in 2011 by 9.1 percent. Another energy medium is supplements. According to Euromonitor International,2009 sales of dietary supplements with energy positioning achieved US$1.2 billion in total retail value sales.
These numbers prove the natural products industry is getting consumers’ attention. Here’s a run down of the science backing some of these ingredients that are the talk of the marketplace:
Percolated, popped or however else consumers like it, caffeine has been an energy staple and America’s go-to jump-starter for centuries. Caffeine’s mechanism of action differs from other energy sources and systems, in that it stimulates the central nervous system, making it neurological versus cellular. One of the major players, outside of coffee, is Red Bull™. Red Bull and Hype energy drinks were the subjects of an Iranian study in which 10 male student athletes performed three randomized maximal oxygen consumption tests on a treadmill. Each test was separated by four days, and participants were asked to ingest Red Bull, Hype or placebo drinks 40 minutes before the exercise.1 Researchers said drinking Red Bull and Hype prior to exercise testing is effective on some indices of cardiorespiratory fitness, but not on the blood lactate levels. Separately, a randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study published in April 2011 examined the effect of Red Bull on repeated sprint performance in 15 female soccer players.2 Subjects performed three sets of eight bouts of the modified test after ingestion of 255 mL of placebo or Red Bull one hour pre-exercise. Their findings indicated 255 mL of Red Bull containing 1.3 mg/kg of caffeine and 1 g of taurine did not alter repeated sprint performance, rating of perceived exertion or heart rate in women athletes versus placebo, noting one serving of Red Bull provided no ergogenic benefit for women athletes engaging in sprint-based exercise.
JAMA recently published a commentary on the dangers of energy drinks, mainly due to the recent uproar over alcoholic energy drinks.3 According to Amelia M. Arria, Ph.D., and Mary Claire O’Brien, M.D., from University of Maryland School of Public Health, “Energy drinks, with or without alcohol, pose a threat to individual and public health and safety and more research is needed to guide regulation,” highlighting a few reasons, including:
- Among adolescents, caffeine consumption has been linked to elevated blood pressure and sleep disturbances. In pregnant women, high caffeine intake is associated with risk for late miscarriages, stillbirths and small-for-gestational-age infants;
- Regardless of whether energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, recent research suggests energy drink use might confer a risk for alcohol dependence and perhaps nonmedical prescription drug use. The mechanisms underlying these associations are unclear; and
- Caffeine’s neuropharmacologic effects might play a role in the propensity for addiction.
However, in February 2011, researchers from the New York Department of Health said: “We did not find convincing evidence of an association between maternal caffeine intake and the birth defects included in this study.”4