It’s Sunday night, and you have an important exam tomorrow. Yet you still haven’t started studying. In that case, you figured it would be a good idea to crack open an energy drink or three to power through an all-nighter. However, is that can of Monster really your best bet?
To solve the dilemma of your caffeine of choice, here is a complete guide on energy drinks. This article covers everything from what they are, what they do to your body, as well as the most important question for any sleep-deprived student — how long do energy drinks last?
What Are Energy Drinks?
All you ever hear in the media is that energy drinks are bad. But has anyone ever explained what they are in the first place? Most health authorities classify energy drinks as supplements meant to increase energy and enhance cognitive capabilities.
The main ingredient responsible for this boost is caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in teas, coffee beans, and cacao plants. The compound influences the central nervous system by blocking the effects of adenosine.
Adenosine is a naturally occurring compound that makes you feel tired naturally.
Caffeine negates this effect by blocking the release of adenosine. The stimulant also increases blood adrenaline levels, as well as dopamine and norepinephrine. This combination further stimulates the brain, which in turn improves arousal, alertness, and focus.
However, while things like tea and coffee contain pure caffeine, energy drinks have a whole laundry list of other ingredients as well. One of them is guarana, another natural caffeine source. This bean also contains a plethora of antioxidants and minerals, so it has some benefits for overall health.
The last ingredient in energy drinks is, of course, refined sugar. A lot of popular brands contain heaps of added sugar, sometimes up to 17 teaspoons. For the most part, manufacturers add sugar to improve the taste but also to give users an added energy boost. Sugar is the body’s primary energy source. When ingested, the body converts it into glucose that can be readily oxidized by skeletal muscles.
While refined sugar causes a rapid insulin spike, it is a viable energy source for those who need a quick pick-me-up. It is also one of the many reasons athletes take supplements like energy drinks to boost their performance. Some of the most popular energy drinks currently dominating the market are Red Bull, Monster, 5-hour Energy, AMP, and Rockstar.
Do Energy Drinks Give You Long-Lasting Energy?
Since energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine, you might think they would give you long-lasting energy. However, that isn’t the case.
The amount of energy you receive from your drink depends on the caffeine content of the drink. Most energy drinks contain around 80mg of caffeine, which is significantly less than a standard cup of coffee containing about 95mg. But energy drinks also have other stimulants, like sugar.
While you may feel that gives them an advantage, it’s actually the opposite. Refined sugar causes a sharp and quick insulin spike. However, since the sugar lacks any other nutrients like protein, fiber, or fat to slow down absorption, that spike isn’t going to last long. So, a rapid decrease in blood glucose may end up making you feel even more tired than you were before.
There’s also the risk of weight gain. Since energy drinks don’t provide any other nutrients apart from sugar and stimulants, they are basically empty calories. They won’t contribute to your satiety, like food will.
What’s more, they can actually make you even hungrier, to compensate for the blood sugar drop. That, in turn, can result in overeating, especially of processed food, since your body will be craving another hit of quick energy.
How Long Do Energy Drinks Last in Your Body?
Okay, so you’ve overdone it on energy drinks, and your heart is thumping like a racehorse. That probably makes you feel like you can conquer the world, fight God, or maybe become him. But it doesn’t feel good after a while. So in order to soothe your anxiety about potentially dying from a heart attack, you’ve likely looked up ‘how long do energy drinks last?’
On average, it takes about 10‒15 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream. This will trigger an immediate energy boost, which will reach its peak in about 45 minutes after you’ve drunk your can. Your body will completely absorb the caffeine within that time frame, too, so your concentration will immediately start to drop.
To compensate, your liver will start absorbing as much sugar as possible. However, as discussed, without any fiber to slow down the absorption rate, your body will blow through that sugar very quickly. So you may find yourself tired an hour after you’ve drained the can.
But don’t think that means the caffeine is out of your system. It can take your body 5‒6 hours to reduce the amount of caffeine in your blood by 50%. Overall, it generally takes your body about 12 hours to completely filter all the caffeine from your body. That time can increase even more depending on your health status, the medication you’re taking, and your age.
Comparing Different Brands
As mentioned, it takes your body about an hour to come off the caffeine- and sugar high from energy drinks. However, this is just an estimate based on the caffeine and sugar contents of the average energy drink. Since different energy drinks contain varying amounts of these stimulants, some brands may give you a longer buzz than others.
So, how long do energy drinks last? Comparing the caffeine content of different brands will help with your estimates:
• Red Bull: 113mg per 12 oz
• Rockstar Energy: 160mg per 16oz
• Monster: 140-160mg per 16 oz
• Celsius: 200mg per 12oz
• Bang: 300mg per 16oz
• 5-hour energy shot: 200mg per 1.9oz
As you may have guessed, the more caffeine you ingest, the more energy you’ll get. However, taking too much caffeine will likely backfire, since it comes with a plethora of risks. Just a few of these side-effects include arrhythmia, diarrhea, sweating, increased anxiety, and insomnia.
A much better strategy is to wait to consume your caffeine. Since your body releases cortisol in the morning to wake you up, taking in caffeine first thing in the morning may not be effective. A better strategy would be to consume it an hour or so after waking up. You can also space it out by drinking half of a can and saving the other for later.
Energy Drinks Shelf Life
How long do energy drinks last? Every time you ask this question, you’re likely thinking of the effects the drink has on your body. But what about the shelf life of this product overall? Can energy drinks spoil?
Well, that depends on whether or not your energy drink is opened or unopened.
1. Opened Energy Drink Shelf Life
Like with any other product, your energy drink’s shelf-life is cut drastically once it’s opened. However, the length of time you can safely consume it will depend on storage conditions. On average, if you refrigerate the drink, it will last between 2‒5 days. But keep in mind that if your energy drink is carbonated, it will not taste the same.
Fizzy drinks go flat very quickly if you expose them to air. So after a day, you’ll likely be drinking an energy juice and not an energy soda.
2. Unopened Energy Drink Shelf Life
When it comes to shelf life, unopened energy drinks are a different story. If you store them properly, they will last you around 6‒9 months. And, as long as you keep them refrigerated, you will still be able to drink them safely even after 9 months.
Is One Energy Drink a Day Bad?
Even before reading through this article, you likely knew energy drinks aren’t healthy by any means. However, people like to say moderation is the key to overall well-being. Therefore, one energy drink a day isn’t really going to kill you, right? Well, that depends.
As discussed, the primary ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. Most health experts recommend adults consume no more than 400mg of caffeine. Since the vast majority of energy drinks contain around 80mg per can, one can a day is within the limit.
But energy drinks also contain other ingredients, like guarana. Guarana on its own includes an additional 40mg of caffeine. Since manufacturers aren’t required to list this additional caffeine content on the label, you could easily be consuming twice the amount of caffeine than you think you are.
However, since energy drinks aren’t just pure caffeine, the story doesn’t end there. Unlike black coffee, they’re also loaded with synthetic coloring and added sugar. Most 8.5oz cans contain a whopping 27 grams or about 7 teaspoons of sugar.
That’s one teaspoon more than what health experts recommend for a healthy adult. Larger cans contain even more sugar — around 14 teaspoons for a 16 ounce can of Monster. That’s more sugar than two packets of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Another big problem with energy drinks is can sizes. Since most of them come in large cans, it’s very easy to overconsume them. That is especially true if you’re drinking them while you’re distracted and you can’t properly pay attention to your intake.
So, if you insist on indulging in energy drinks, limit yourself to one small can a day. But if you want to preserve your health, save your added sugar allowance for a nice candy bar.