Energy Shot or Not

Caution: 5-Hour Energy is high in caffeine but low on natural energy.

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You’ve probably seen 5-Hour Energy shots stacked on convenience store counters. The tiny bottles promise a big energy boost, which has tired people gulping down 9 million of the shots every week! Does this drink really provide instant energy or is it just hype? Here are answers to three important questions:

What’s in it?

5-Hour Energy has two main ingredients. One is a large dose of B vitamins, much more than the recommended daily allowance. Most people get enough B vitamins, which help turn food into energy, from the food they eat. Extra B vitamins won’t increase the body’s energy production, according to Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, which tests nutritional products. “In fact, you could get too much, which could be harmful,” Cooperman says. Too much vitamin B could impair your nerves and muscles.

The second ingredient is what the manufacturer of 5-Hour Energy calls an “energy blend”—a mix of caffeine, citicoline, ­tyrosine, phenylalanine, taurine, and malic acid.

Does it work?

The caffeine in 5-Hour Energy will give most people a temporary lift. That’s because caffeine is a type of drug called a stimulant. It acts on your nervous system, tricking your brain into thinking it’s not tired. As a result, your body releases adrenaline, which raises your heart rate and blood pressure so you feel invigorated. But this caffeine kick isn’t the same as real energy, warns Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and a professor at Boston University. Real energy comes from food in the form of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. 5-Hour Energy contains none of these nutrients. “It’s not fueling your body,” Salge Blake says.

Should you drink it?

Caffeine may help wake you up, but too much can leave you feeling anxious, irritable, or nauseated. Commercials for 5-Hour Energy say it contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, but consumers may actually be getting more caffeine than expected, according to Cooperman. His laboratory found that one 2-ounce 5-Hour Energy shot contains 207 milligrams of caffeine—15 percent more than an 8-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee. It’s also more than twice the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended daily limit on caffeine for adolescents.

Drinking an energy shot for a late-night study session, for example, could make it hard to fall asleep later on. In the morning, you may wake up fatigued and reach for another shot to get you going. Instead of wasting money on canned caffeine, Salge Blake recommends a healthier alternative for getting energized: Eat right, get enough rest, and exercise.

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