Are Energy Drinks Good for Working Out?

Many factors come together to make for a good, effective workout. From your diet to paying attention to form, from your choice of weights (or lack thereof) to your balance between cardio and strength training– it’s really a whole lot of stuff to consider!

Because of that, it’s all too natural that some workout elements receive far less attention. One of these is the humble energy drink.

We don’t know about you, but most people we know who drink a can of their favorite brand before a long workout do so mostly because they enjoy the taste compared to plain water. Others might be used to them just because they get so aggressively marketed towards people at sports events and competitions.

But is that wise? Are energy drinks good for working out, to begin with? In this article, we will dismantle the myths around energy drinks for working out.

Energy Drink Benefits

Energy drinks being so heavily marketed towards the fitness and wellness crowd is no coincidence. The reason why they are such a staple these days, especially among fitness enthusiasts, is concrete and simple: they’re good for you! In a way…sometimes.
Yes, maybe it isn’t that simple. But the fact of the matter is, energy drinks do come with some important proven benefits.

As central nervous system stimulants, caffeine-rich energy drinks give you a temporary energy boost, improving performance during workouts.

Particularly in intense cardio and endurance exercise, you can often feel the difference in a huge way. But generally speaking, almost anyone should be able to squeeze out just a few more reps by going for an energy drink before their workout routine.

It’s not all physical, either: the same compounds in energy drinks that fire up our metabolism and help us last longer under effort also contribute to our mental functioning, allowing us to think sharper and concentrate better.

Though the exact effects may differ from person to person, most people also experience a general mood lift when consuming energy drinks. They can give you a feeling of lightness, freeing up space in the head and clearing intrusive thoughts to improve concentration.

This is also part of the reason why so many rely on energy drinks to get themselves through long hours at work, particularly if working a late or night shift.

Are Energy Drinks Good for Exercise?

So, with the benefits above in mind, can you conclude that energy drinks are good for working out? Again, it’s a more complicated answer than what you might expect.

On the one hand, energy drinks can definitely improve your performance, particularly in shorter, higher-intensity workouts. This is not to be underestimated, as even a small boost like this can dramatically affect your results and future gains for the better.

On the other hand, there are also several drawbacks to using energy drinks for exercise, especially if you find yourself outright relying on them.

Just like coffee, energy drinks can cause you to crash after the initial effects wear off. This can lead to shivers, jitteriness, a foggy feeling in your head, as well as dizziness and other kinds of physical discomfort.

Worse, excessive use of energy drinks is also associated with bloating and poor hydration. While an energy drink can help you power through your sets, it should by no means be a replacement for adequate hydration, which is even more essential for performance and is best achieved with water.

There is also the very real danger of accidentally overdosing on caffeine by consuming too many energy drinks per day. More than two cans can already put you near or over the limit – and side effects can range from mild nausea to developing an irregular heart rate or worse.

Are Energy Drinks Good Pre-Workout?

Many rely on an energy drink as a pre-workout energy boost, giving them the oomph they need to warm themselves up and get those joints moving.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this approach, and in theory, using energy drinks in moderation like this should be perfectly fine.

However, as mentioned previously, it is a bit too easy to fall into the trap of overconsumption if you’re not careful. The danger not only lies in caffeine overdose. Many energy drinks are also extremely high in sugar, which can further compromise your health in the long run if you’re not careful enough.

Should I Drink an Energy Drink Before Working Out?

Some of the potential side effects of energy drinks might worry you. Otherwise, maybe you do need something to get yourself out of bed and into the gym or onto the track faster – so what do you choose? Is drinking an energy drink pre-workout fair game?

As we saw above, energy drinks come with genuinely helpful advantages and a fair few pitfalls. Ultimately, it is up to you to weigh them against one another.

However, as a pre-workout supplement, there is hardly anything that combines the potency and sheer convenience of a good energy drink. If you really just need a quick fix to heighten your senses and you go for a can of Red Bull, that’s fine. 

The key here is not to become dependent on energy drinks and to not overconsume them – this is where most struggle.

Are Energy Drinks Good for Working Out?

What does science say about the effectiveness of energy drinks in promoting healthier, more effective workouts?

Well, the bulk of what makes energy drinks so powerful (for better and worse) is their concentration of caffeine. An average can contains about as much caffeine as a whole cup of coffee, making the mix extremely potent and fast-acting.

On the one hand, this does actually improve your performance in some ways. It ramps up your metabolism somewhat, allowing you to burn more calories. It also carries similar benefits for the brain, improving concentration, short-term memory, and your ability to stay focused on complex tasks.

Some studies have also shown that caffeine may be capable of assisting our muscles, our cardiovascular system, and other parts of the body to improve coordination and strength. This could be especially helpful in fast-paced, high-intensity exercise.

On the other hand, caffeine can very well work against you. Caffeine is known as a potent diuretic, promoting a stronger-than-usual urge to urinate. This can not just throw you off track during exercise; it can also cause you to lose fluids more quickly than you might realize.

In some people, caffeine may also act as a laxative, stimulating bowel movements. Likewise, this can not just distract, but contribute to a further degree of dehydration.

Energy Drink Benefits After Exercise

With these warnings and side effects in mind, you might think that using energy drinks for exercise at all is a gamble at best and outright bad for your health at worst.

However, there is a hidden upside to using energy drinks as a supplement that is rarely talked about. Instead of using them pre-workout, many formulations of energy drinks are actually much more effective and desirable as a post-workout supplement.

The reason for this is rather simple. Taken before a round of exercise, an energy drink does get you pumped up and ready – but it also contributes to dehydration. The only way to counteract this side effect is to generously hydrate with water a few hours before, which for most is not feasible.

After your workout, however, things look different. Sure, no matter when you use them, the fact remains that energy drinks are not a good, healthy source of hydration in the long term. 

Still, the effects of caffeine can help your freshly worked-out and exhausted body to regain some of its strength faster and can help you to re-hydrate and nourish yourself post-workout.

In this way, energy drinks after exercise can actually be a companion to a hugely important step in recovery.

Best Alternatives to Energy Drinks

So what if the benefits of energy drinks entice you, but you are worried or weary of the side effects? It’s all too easy to want the best of both worlds, all the good without the bad – but is this actually possible with regards to caffeinated energy drinks?

The answer is – not quite, but much more so than you might think.

There are plenty of natural alternatives to energy drinks that you might not have heard of or considered before, and plenty of them are much better for your health while offering similar, if not identical benefits to performance.

Tea is a classic option. It still contains caffeine, though to a much lesser extent. And unless you add a lot, it won’t have nearly the same excessive amounts of sugar as a can of Red Bull, either. Tea is available in countless flavors suiting just about any taste, and there are even decaf varieties for a completely caffeine-free experience.

On the other hand, some types like matcha are much more potent in caffeine (though still below that of coffee by a large distance). However, unlike most other caffeinated drinks, tea is naturally rich in L-theanine, which regulates the release of the stimulant into the bloodstream. This way, you don’t get many of the side effects commonly associated with high caffeine use, such as anxiety, dizziness, or irritability. You are also much less likely to “crash” after the tea’s effects begin to wear off.

Many these days also go for alternative health drinks such as Kombucha, which can be another health-friendly option that works for lots of people. Some consider Kombucha to be a type of tea because it is made from tea leaves as well, but that is a topic for another day. 

The bottom line is that Kombucha is nearly sugar-free while providing a healthy and safe dose of caffeine that is enough to get you moving but not high enough to be detrimental to your health. Because Kombucha is produced through fermentation, it contains a culture of yeast that some studies indicate might also improve gastrointestinal functioning.

Good old coffee should also not be ignored! In moderate amounts, coffee is both more potent than tea and safer for your health than energy drinks, striking an important middle ground.

Healthy Alternatives to Energy Drinks

If you thought the list of health-promoting alternatives to traditional energy drinks stopped at tea, coffee, and their derivatives, you’re going to be surprised to see how many more there are out there!

For example, water-based sports drinks rich in leafy greens can stimulate your metabolism almost as much as most energy drinks, but without any of the sugar or caffeine!

Also consider protein shakes as an easy supplement for better results, both pre and post-workout.

Functional Mushroom Benefits

The story doesn’t stop there! More recently, some have taken to using a very unconventional supplement to improve performance at a level that’s comparable to processed high-caffeine drinks, yet without any of the side effects. Sounds too good to be true? 

Well, what if I told you that this supplement has been a time-tested, proven success story for over two thousand years? What if I told you it was a mushroom?

Yes, that’s right! So-called functional mushrooms are all the rage currently, and for good reason. Some species, such as the infamous cordyceps, have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia with great success, including as a performance supplement for athletes.   

The cordyceps has the ability to supercharge our metabolism to an extent that is rivaled by very few organic, natural supplements on Earth. But because it contains zero caffeine, you don’t really need to worry about any serious side effects when consuming it, either!

Other functional mushrooms include chaga, reishi, maitake, and lion’s mane. Their unique effects differ from mushroom to mushroom, but nearly all of them can improve your performance to some extent. 

This can include increasing the efficiency of your nervous system, improving cardiovascular function, funneling more oxygen to your muscles, and more!