I still cringe when I recall the conversation . . .
“Tom, what do you have to boost energy? I have youth athletes coming in after school and they need to train hard. They always come to training tired. Their parents ask about the best pre-workout energy drink or shot. I want to get them something good to get their energy levels up for training.”
My response: “We don’t have anything with a serious stimulant in it, like commercial energy drinks.”
His response: “But that’s what they’re asking for, so I need to recommend something that will give their kids a boost, something with caffeine in it.”
My response: “We don’t have anything like that. We don’t plan to have anything like that. Teens and young adults are already the highest consumers of energy drinks. I’m not interested in fueling a bad habit. They need sleep and better nutrition, not an evening energy drink so they miss another night of sleep. On the very rare occasion they need something, a small coffee mixed with a chocolate whey protein shake is about as aggressive as I’d ever recommend for kids.”
This is a paraphrased conversation I had with a facility that specializes in training youth athletes.
These kids aren’t suffering from a lack of stimulants, what they lack is sleep and good nutrition.
Are there good ways to enhance training performance without resorting to nervous system stimulants? Yes, there are – and we’ll get to that.
At the end of the day our goal is to help people live and perform at their best for as long as they can.
Very few, if any, commercial energy drinks are created with that goal in mind.
Instead, they’re designed for occasional use and have a short-term effect on the body, often leaving the user more tired than before the energy drink was consumed. Many people don’t use them on “occasion” – they use them on a daily basis.
Energy Drink History
Energy drinks were first introduced in Europe and Asia in the 1960s. They hit the United States’ market around 1997 when Red Bull was first marketed.[i]
As an aside, while we do not recommend the regular use of energy drinks, including Red Bull, I do have to give some recognition to Red Bull for the impact they’ve had on adventure sports. They’ve made enormous contributions as a brand to a variety of sports. Heck, they even funded the first skydive from space!
But as cool as all of that is, our primary focus is on the regular use of energy drinks, their impact on health, and the discussion of alternatives to relying on nervous system stimulants to perform well.
One out of three 18-24 year-olds regularly use energy drinks.[ii]
Energy drinks are associated with a number poor nutrition and lifestyle choices, including substance abuse.[iii] However, it’s hard to believe the energy drinks cause these choices.
Instead, it’s much more likely that those who make poor nutrition and lifestyle choices are reaching for energy drinks to give them a boost.
That said, there is concern that excessive consumption of energy drink leads to adverse impacts on adrenal health, disrupts sleep, and has negative effects on mood.
The potential problems stem from the large amounts of caffeine contained in commercial energy drinks. Though small amounts of caffeine can have a positive effect on fat metabolism, endurance improvements, and the ability to ward off fatigue, in high doses caffeine can become problematic.
Energy Drinks and Unlimited Caffeine?
Energy drink makers can put as much caffeine in their products as they want to. Isn’t that amazing?
Energy drink makers don’t have to follow the same FDA regulations that soft drink makers do, so these manufacturers can decide how much caffeine they want to include in a formula!
“In the United States, energy drink companies have no limitations over the caffeine content of their beverages because the FDA has placed no restrictions on an upper caffeine limit in these types of beverages. Thus, scientific as well as public concern has developed due to the increasing numbers of energy drinks entering the market having caffeine concentrations well above those of mainstream energy drinks, which contain on average 10 mg/oz.”[iv]
To complicate things even more, although the total amount of ingredients must be listed on a label, the actual amount of caffeine alone does not need to be disclosed.
A product could contain 1,200 mg of a combination of caffeine, taurine, ginseng, and other ingredients. But the manufacturer is only required to list the total amount of these combined ingredients, not the amounts of each.
It could well include 1,100 mg of caffeine and only 100 mg of the remaining three ingredients and consumers would never know!
Ingredients like taurine, guarana, and kola nut extract are often included in energy drinks as well. The average amount of taurine used in an eight-ounce serving is 753 milligrams, which some think is quite high.[v] Guarana and kola nut are additional caffeine sources that can add caffeine to the formula. Overall, however, these other ingredients seem to have a fairly good safety record.
It is the high amount of caffeine that raises the greatest concern, especially for regular users.
Aside from the active ingredients in most energy drinks and shots, most of them also contain artificial colors, sweeteners, and flavors.
Because we recommend staying away from these ingredients, be sure to check the label for the three most common artificial sweeteners in these beverages – acesulfame-potassium (Ace-K), sucralose, and aspartame.
Energy Drinks Aren’t the Solution to Avoid Being Tired
When someone says they want “more energy,” usually they’re asking for a solution to be less tired.
In this case, the solution probably is not an energy drink.
Instead, the solution is better health and recovery strategies. To improve energy levels and make sure you don’t have something going awry with your metabolism:
- Get a comprehensive lab test to make sure the lack of energy isn’t a result of a metabolic dysfunction
- Eat less processed carbohydrates and sugar
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night
- Eat more protein and vegetables
- Consider adding a high-quality multivitamin and other basic nutritional supplements to your nutrition plan.
Treat your body right and you will have an easier time maintaining normal energy levels.
Enhancing Performance vs. Boosting Energy
For most training sessions or athletic events, the problem is not the level of strength, speed, or power created at the beginning of a session. The issue soon becomes how long a high level of performance can be sustained.
Exercise volume and intensity are major factors in improving fitness levels. If you can train longer, at a higher intensity (and provide an environment for optimal recovery), then you can improve fitness and performance levels faster.
Therefore, the purpose of ThorneFX’s pre-workout shot, Elevate®, is to combat fatigue and improve stamina.
Most people don’t talk about how well they performed at the beginning of a training session. Instead, they talk about how hard they were able to train through the entire training session while still feeling mentally clear and motivated when the training session came to an end.
Elevate® is effective for two key reasons.
- The extracts in it are pure and consistent from one bottle to the next because of the patented extraction technology used.
- The botanicals in the formula have been used for centuries to support vigor, stamina, mental focus, and a number of other performance effects.
Patented Production Process
The major problem with herbal formulas is that their bioactive components are inconsistent from one batch to the next and are often contaminated.
Through an exclusive partner, Thorne uses a patented screening and extraction process for the Elevate® stamina shot. Their partner houses the largest database of botanicals in the world, they can identify the primary goals of the shot (increased stamina, mental focus, and motivation to train/mood) and then find the botanicals that will provide these effects.
Before manufacturing the shot, the botanicals are screened for:
- Heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic at levels far lower than what is considered safe by the FDA
- Microorganisms, including E. coli, salmonella, yeast, and mold
- 806 known pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides
- 479 pharmaceuticals and drugs of abuse
- 543 chemicals listed in California’s Proposition 65
This patented technology also tests for the presence of the bioactive components of the herbs and ensures they are consistent from one bottle to the next and one round of products to the next.
Elevate® is a formula with four time-tested herbs that can make a big difference in maintaining stamina, mental focus, and motivation during training and events.
The plant world offers hundreds, if not thousands, of sources of natural supplements. Many of these botanicals have been used for thousands of years.
Rhodiola is an adaptogen that has been used for centuries in Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia[vi] to “increase physical endurance, work productivity and longevity, enhance energy levels, resist high altitude sickness, and to treat fatigue, depression…”[vii]*
Although Rhodiola has undergone an enormous amount of research, most of it is published in Slavic and Scandinavian languages, making it a challenge to review and reference.
- Physical and mental stress-related adaptogenic benefits*
- Protection of cardiovascular tissue and maintenance of normal inflammation levels*
- Antioxidant properties*
- Support of mental focus, memory, and attention* (valuable in skill-based training and sports)
- Combating fatigue*
- Support of mood, likely by supporting serotonin production*
- Balancing hormones*
If you are searching for something to help you through a grueling workout, you might be happy to know the Vikings (not the Minnesota ones, the original ones) used Rhodiola rosea to enhance endurance and strength.[xi]*
Dan Shen (Salvia Miltiorrhiza)
Dan Shen, or Salvia miltiorrhiza, has been used in Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Like Rhodiola rosea, it has a variety of benefits, including maintenance of normal inflammation and lipid levels and having antioxidant support.[xii]*
Dan Shen has demonstrated effects on supporting cardiovascular function, which should enhance physical performance.*
Pharmacology studies show Dan Shen’s effects include “supporting coronary blood flow, reducing excitability and conductivity of myocardial muscle, supporting microcirculation…” and other effects.[xiii]*
Enhanced blood flow should lead to better oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles and the brain during exercise.*
Of the four ingredients in Elevate®, the most familiar is probably green tea. Talk about a long history of use! Green tea was first discovered more than 5,000 years ago![xiv]
Research on green tea shows it can cause a pronounced increase in fat metabolism.* Although caffeine also stimulates fat metabolism, green tea’s effect seems to come from other components found in the leaf. Green tea also has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity.[xv]*
Enhancing fat metabolism conserves glycogen (carbohydrate stores).
Green tea has a number of other possible benefits, but its effects on metabolism and insulin sensitivity are the most applicable to exercise performance and recovery.*
Reishi (Ganodema lucidum)
Reishi is a mushroom with more than 2,000 years of use. Its traditional use is to support the immune system and normal blood sugar levels.* In a Chinese medical text from the fifth century AD, reishi was recommended for “enhancing vital energy, strengthening cardiac function, increasing memory and anti-aging effects.”*
From a performance standpoint, reishi extracts have a positive effect on the inflammatory process and immune system, help maintain normal blood sugar levels, and enhance endurance, possibly by increasing the synthesis of nitric oxide (NO).[xvi]*
Elevate® should be consumed 15-30 minutes before exercise, ideally on an empty stomach.
For students or those who have to sit down for an extended period of time and stay focused on something, Elevate® can be beneficial for combating mental fatigue.*
Elevate® is also a great supplement for training or sports at altitude.
If you really need an energy drink before each workout as a “pick me up” just to get through it, then work with a fitness professional to improve your lifestyle and nutrition choices. You don’t need a stimulant just to get through a training session.
Clean up your diet, manage your stress, and get more quality sleep. This is especially important for youth athletes.
When it comes to improving performance, the purpose of Elevate® is to help you last longer – to train hard throughout your session rather than getting worn out during the second half of your training. Elevate® is designed to combat fatigue, support mental focus, and modulate stress and its effects on mental motivation.*
We fully expect people to feel a difference in their performance during training when using Elevate®. But we still encourage athletes and weekend warriors to first make sure they’re healthy from the inside out, then be sure they’ve established great habits for optimal recovery.
After all, if you have your best session ever after using Elevate®, but you haven’t set yourself up to recover from it, there’s little value in one great training session.
Thanks for reading. If you liked it, please share.
|*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.|
[i] Ressig C, Strain E, Griffiths R. Caffeinated energy drinks a growing problem. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2009;99:1-10.
[ii] Packaged Facts. Energy Drinks and Shots: U.S. Market Trends. Market Research Group, LLC. Jan 29, 2013 http://www.packagedfacts.com/Energy-Drinks-Shots-7124908/
[iii] University of Waterloo. Energy drinks linked to teen health risks. ScienceDaily. March 6 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140306095358.htm
[iv] Hekman M, Sherry K, de Mejia E. Energy drinks: An assessment of their market size, consumer demographics, ingredient profile, functionality, and regulation in the United States. CRFSFS 2010;9:303-317.
[v] Triebel S, Sproll C, Reiusch H, et al. Rapid analysis of taurine in energy drinks using amino acid analyzer and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy as basis for toxicological evaluation. Amino Acids 2007;33:451-457.
[vi] Gospodaryov D, Yurkevych I, Jafari M, et al. Lifespan extension and delay of age-related functional decline caused by Rhodiola rosea depends on dietary macronutrient balance. Longevity & Healthspan 2013;2:5. http://www.longevityandhealthspan.com/content/2/1/5
[vii] Dwyer A, Whitten D, Hawrelak J. Herbal medicines, other than St. John’s Wort, in the treatment of depression: A systematic review. Altern Med Rev 2010;16(1):40-49.
[viii] Panossian A, Wikman G, Sarris J. Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): Traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine 2010;17:481-493.
[ix] Saratikov A, Krasnov E. Rhodiola rosea is a valuable medicinal plant (Golden Root). Tomsk State University Press; 1987.
[x] Kelly G. Rhodiola rosea: a possible plant adaptogen. Altern Med Rev 2001;6:293–302.
[xi] Magnusson B. Fägringar: Växter som berör oss (Beauty: herbs that touch us). Östersund, Sweden: Berndtssons; 1992;66-67.
[xii] Qi F, Wang Z, Cai P, et al. Traditional Chinese medicine and related active compounds: A review of their role on hepatitis B virus infection. Drug Discov Ther2013;7(6):212-224.
[xiv] Kuroda Y, Hara Y. Activity of tea polyphenols. Mutat Res 1999;436:69-97.
[xv] Dulloo A, Duret C, Rohrer D, et al. Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70:1040-1045.
[xvi] Benzie I, Wachtel-Galor S. Ganodema lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): A Medicinal Mushroom. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd Edition. Chapter 9. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press;2011.