How Energy Drinks Slowly Kill You (And 3 Natural Energy Drink Alternatives)

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Articles, Nutrition

The NY Daily just reported the following:

“FDA probes link between 5-Hour Energy caffeine shot drink and 13 deaths”.

In the report, you learn that the supposedly “safe” 5-Hour Energy drink has been mentioned in 90 FDA filings since 2009, including more than 30 that involved serious or life-threatening events like heart attacks, convulsions, and in one case, a spontaneous abortion.

And yet we continue to be deceived by ludicrous ads like this one below:

5-Hour Energy claims

The website TrayCreative had a great synopsis of the deception behind this ad here:

…“We asked over 3,000 doctors to review 5-Hour Energy. And what they said is amazing. Over 73% who reviewed 5-Hour Energy said they would recommend a low-calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who used energy supplements.”

Hang on. These doctors are generalizing about low-calorie energy supplements; they’re not making any specific recommendation of 5-Hour Energy. So it’s a false equivalency. Basically, the message is, if you’re already using an energy supplement, your doctor says it’s OK to use a low-calorie one. Who knew?

Here’s where it gets interesting. If you were to squint and speed-read the fine print as it flashes onscreen, you’d learn that “of the 73% of primary care physicians who would recommend a low calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements, 56% would specifically recommend 5-Hour Energy for their healthy patients who use energy supplements.”

Ah, so there was a specific recommendation of 5-Hour Energy. But if you do the math, it appears that only 41% of all the doctors surveyed would actually recommend the product to their energy-supplement-taking patients. (A subsequent piece of fine print puts that figure at 47%, but that’s not how our math worked out.)

The point is, a majority of doctors wouldn’t recommend 5-Hour Energy even to patients who are already using energy supplements. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. But who cares, when you can put the terms “73 percent,” “doctors,” and “5-Hour Energy” together in a TV commercial.”


Why I Don't Approve Of Energy Drinks

In a recent podcast, I discussed the findings of this study that investigated how common ingredients in energy drinks can give you a heart attack (via a mechanism called “cardiotoxicity“).

But as you learn in this article about why I don't approve of energy drinks, there are other reasons to avoid energy drinks, including:

1) Danger of Caffeine Overdose and Addiction: The average energy drink contains nearly 4 times the amount of caffeine found in commercial soda beverages and several of the more popular brands contain the caffeine equivalent of 14 Cokes. A 6-ounce cup of coffee has 80-150 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, but the caffeine content of energy drinks ranges from 50-500+ mg, with one popular energy drink “shot” topping out at 570mg, which gives you the equivalent of about three and a half cups of coffee with a single sip!

Why should this concern you? Because caffeine forces your adrenal glands to secrete enormous amounts of adrenaline and “energy” hormones, even when those glands are depleted. The result is a growing tolerance to the effects of caffeine, and eventual burn-out and severe adrenal depletion. This is accompanied by a feeling of increasing tiredness and a need for higher and higher amounts of caffeine to achieve an energy boost. Attempts at quitting the addiction can result in withdrawal symptoms such as severe headaches and complete loss of mental focus and function.

In addition, by inhibiting the activity of the vitamin folate, B12 and B6, high levels of caffeine may interfere with your body’s ability to regulate two significant cardiovascular disease risk factors: homocysteine and cholesterol. By causing blood vessel constriction and increased risk of blood clots, the caffeine content in some energy drinks can literally be deadly for someone with high-stress levels or high blood pressure. Finally, high levels of caffeine consumption have been associated with increased risk of stroke and arthritis, insomnia, heart palpitations, tremors, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, chest pain, and neurological symptoms!

2) Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners. One can of energy drink contains the equivalent of nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar! This amount of sugar causes your sensitive pancreas to create a literal flood of insulin in an attempt to manage all the extra glucose (sugar) that ends up in the bloodstream. Some of this sugar may be used by the muscles, but usually only if you are exercising quite frequently. The remainder of the sugar is converted into fat by the liver. In addition, the body releases both epinephrine and cortisol from your adrenal glands (as if they weren’t already stressed enough from the caffeine!). The result is a quick swing in energy, followed by a subsequent crash, a severely compromised immune system, a surge of cell-damaging “free radicals”, thickened blood and an eventual insensitivity to insulin, also known as type II diabetes.  And you just thought sugar was bad for your teeth!

But what about artificial sweeteners? Don’t they eliminate this problem? Unfortunately, research has shown that there is still a release of gastric hormones when you consume an artificial sweeteners. This gives your brain a confusing message: that food is present, but that the food has no “calories”. Subsequently, you develop an appetite craving typically 30-60 minutes after consuming an artificially sweetened beverage.

In addition, these artificially sweetened chemicals (yes, chemicals!) such as aspartame (Nutrasweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium, and sugar alcohols have been linked to upset stomachs, mood swings, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, emotional disorders, epilepsy, seizures, a variety of neurological disorders and even obesity!

3) Acids. Finally, carbonic acid, citric acid and phosphoric acid in popular carbonated energy drinks can dissolve tooth enamel (causing tooth rot and yellow teeth), raise the risk of stomach damage and ulcers, cause bone breakdown, osteoporosis, and bone fractures, and upset the fragile “acid-alkaline” balance in the human body.

The video below shows you how Consumer Reports recently investigated high-caffeine drinks and found several products that are not even accurately listing the level of caffeine on their labels. This is scary stuff:


Three Natural Energy Drink Alternatives

Despite drinking 2-3 energy drinks a day nearly every day during much of my high school and most of my college years (primarily Red Bull, Monster and Rock Star), I've fortunately weaned myself off that habit and now use natural energy drink alternatives, albeit in moderation.

Here is what I keep around my house:

Lifesthoz1. Lifeshotz

When I interviewed my naturopathic physician Dr. Todd Schlapfer about how your cells communicate with one another, he described how the chemicals present in many wild plant alternatives can actually enhance cell communication, through processes and physical energy, without overstimulating the central nervous system like caffeine does.

In our discussion, he mentioned a powdered derivative of these wild plants called “Lifeshotz“, which is basically a blend of 570 mg  of Activin (grape seed extract), grape skin extract, resveratrol, grape powder, wild blueberry extract, cranberry, raspberry powder and seed extract, prune, strawberry, tart cherry, wild bilberry extract, pomegranate extract, pine bark extract, , acetyl l-tyrosine, l-taurine, wolfberry (goji berry), green tea extract, MSM, noni, aloe, and huperzine a.

I've started using Lifeshotz once per day, typically in the mid-afternoon prior to a workout. Compared to a cup of coffee, or any other energy drink or powder option, it gives me mental energy and focus for a tough workout without keeping me awake at night later on.
Lifeshotz comes in a small packet that you simply add to a glass of water (or if you're like me, dump straight into your mouth). You can click here for a full ingredient list and product label for Lifeshotz.


Energy282. Energy28

In my description of a healthy race day nutrition plan and the exact nutrition “mix” I now use for races, you learn that every hour during my triathlons, I'm taking in a full serving of something called “Energy28”.

Described as a “liquid superfood”, Energy28’s primary components are basically adrenal stabilizers, and include:

-Rhodiola rosea – a popular plant in traditional medical systems in Russia and Scandinavian countries for centuries, with a reputation for stimulating the nervous system, enhancing work performance and eliminating fatigue. This came in quite handy, as this race occurred at 5000 feet elevation.

-Organic Peruvian maca – a root vegetable, shaped like a radish, that grows high in the harsh climate of the Andes Mountains in South America at elevations up to 15,000 feet. Native Peruvians have used maca as a high-energy food and cortisol stabilizer for more than two millennia. Maca is high in vitamins as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and other minerals.

-D-ribose – used by all the body’s cells and essential in energy metabolism. Our bodies make ribose innately, but our cells lack the ability to produce it fast enough or in sufficient quantity to effectively offset the loss of energy from our cells.

-Golden Chlorella – a unique nutrient-dense, ultra-pure, mild-tasting microalgae that provides naturally occurring amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It is a complete functional food containing 50 percent omega 3, 6 and 9 oils by weight.

While there are some trace amounts of fructose from these superfood extracts in Energy28, there is still far, far less than what you get from typical energy drinks, and for my races, I find that Energy28 gives me a far more stable focus than caffeine, without the post-race jitters.


deltae3. deltaE

I used to drink 2-3 energy drinks per day, typically a combination of Red Bull, Monster and RockStar.

This was about 5 years ago, and deltaE was the very first natural energy drink alternative I every tried, when a friend gave me a packet of this “pink powder”. It contains 75mg of caffeine – the equivalent of just one-half cup of coffee, but more importantly, it includes large doses of something called “L-Theanine”.

L-Theanine is an amino acid that increases alpha brain wave activity and produces a dose-dependent state of relaxed alertness about 45 minutes after you ingest it. Compared with placebos, it's been shown to do everything from reduce anxiety in schizophrenic patients to having a potent antipsychotic effect.

I still avoid consuming deltaE in the evenings (due to the caffeine content), but have found that 1-2 packets of deltaE are perfect before a very hard, long workout, or before a big race. It's definitely not something I use every day, but in a pinch, when you do need caffeine, it is way more potent than a cup of coffee or other caffeine source (due to the L-Theanine content).

You can get the full ingredients list and label for deltaE here.


Natural Energy Drink Alternative Summary

So I realize that by me giving you 3 natural energy drink alternatives, it makes me seem like some kind of stimulant junkie. But the fact is, I use this stuff in a sparing and calculated manner. Here's how:

1) 1 Lifeshotz per day in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon.

2) 1 serving Energy28 per hour during races (mixed into bike water bottle or run flask).

3) 1 deltaE 30-45 minutes before a race or very long, hard workout (i.e. a 2+ hour bike ride).

If you want to get all this stuff in one convenient package, then you can just grab the Natural Energy Package. It contains one bottle of Energy28, 1 box Lifeshotz and 1 box of deltaE.

Enjoy, and leave any questions, comments or feedback about these natural energy drink alternatives below.

Natural Energy Package

Ask Ben a Podcast Question

26 thoughts on “How Energy Drinks Slowly Kill You (And 3 Natural Energy Drink Alternatives)

  1. Jennifer says:

    Have you researched zipfizz?

    1. Yes! Take a look at this page… Look for the question from Jim.

  2. nippysmilk12 says:

    I’ve read so much about the cons of energy drinks. Many of them do not live up to their promise, so I drink the old, reliable water. I’m glad you’ve provided safe alternatives for people who are sick of drinking water during their workouts.

  3. Ashley says:

    Ben, have you heard of Neon energy drink, yet? If so, what do you think of it? If not, here’s some info:
    I value your opinion.

    1. The fact that I can't find an ingredient list on that website – but I can become a reseller – raises a huge red flag!

  4. Paul says:

    Hi Ben, you mentioned using Lifeshotz in an earlier reply. Is that okay to have 4/5 times a week?

  5. @mattfeato says:

    Mentioned Tianchi as well either here or elsewhere. Been taking it for a week now after buying a 10-day "test." That stuff is amazing. So long Red Bulls & "5-Hour Shots" (these actually cost about the same per hit as the aforementioned). No "crash" either (except maybe late at night when it finally has worn off but I'm tired as is there anyway). Haven't even needed a coffee either (though that's rough as I love my Dunkin) during the day. Really have felt a lot better and more calmer during the day….

    I don't always agree on the caffeine over-dosage as it can still take quite a bit (ingested in a shorter time) to fully OD, but at the same time the downside of course are those crashes. After a while on stuff or coffee, they can be brutal at times or mostly ineffective. All the 5-hour shots mainly do is jack up the B-vitamins plus add a few other ingredients…Stacker 2 even makes one that's exact in ingredients (amounts slightly differ), and the Family Dollar by me has them for $1 a piece…don't take a lot of them, but had short stretches where I'd need pretty much 1/day.

    1. Glad you discovered it Matt. The stuff is AMAZING.

  6. Jeremy says:

    Hey Ben, great article! What do you have to say about Bio-35?

  7. Glenn says:

    also been using low cal FRS, i really rate it for endurance training

    1. Glenn says:

      downside of frs, they do use sucralose though*

  8. Glenn says:

    if you're a coffee drinker and seeking a healthier alternative, I highly recommend 'Fitness Coffee' an Italiian ground coffee product that includes a good mix of antioxidants and natural fat burners in it's ingredient list, it's available on Amazon. or check it out here: curious to get your thoughts on it too Ben.

    1. Interesting Glenn. Thanks for the heads up. Looks like they have some fresh herbs that they use too. I may have to get my hands on some.Have you seen this stuff ?

  9. Cara says:

    I sent this post to my husband who used to drink 1-2 mountain dew sodas each day at work. I found a drink called Give Energy… which seemed to be a step above Mountain Dew. After reading your post, he had me stop his subscription to ordering the give energy drink but wants to know if the Life Shots would be a good replacement. He only works out 1-2 times a week playing racquetball so he doesn't need the drink for competing. He often has to work really late in which case he will use the drink to help him get stay up. And if Life Shots isn't what you'd recommend, what else would you suggest? Thanks in advance.

    1. This stuff is packed with sugar, Cara…I'd steer clear! Lifeshotz would definitely be a good replacement!

  10. Skip says:

    Somewhat confused with the post here. 5-hour energy is talked about with energy drinks and it seems to be implied that it has a high level of caffeine though it's label says "Contains caffeine comparable to a cup of the leading premium coffee." Not sure what that exactly means.
    I only use it during an Ironman after hearing your podcast with Stacy Sims of Osmo Nutrition. Should I not use it?

    1. I'm getting to be a bigger fan of just skipping caffeine altogether during long endurance events, or at least limited it extensively. I've simply found my energy levels tend to be way more stabilized. That being said, if you WERE going to use 5 hour energy, that would be the time to do it and not when you're sitting at the office during the day.

  11. dennis says:

    Devastating! As a more-than-occasional user of 5HrE, (and once consumer of fine wheat breads) I will now put them in the 'Emergency Only' bin. One cup of bullet proof coffee is my kick start.

  12. leon says:

    ok for us here in New Zealand do you know of any similar products? thanks Ben…

    1. You can get all this stuff shipped to New Zealand Leon, but feel free to send me links to alternative products you find there and I can look into them!

  13. Tod Dale says:

    I currently am using 2 Beach Body products:

    P90X by Tony Horton
    Insanity by Shaun T.

    Went from 174 lbs to 149 lbs in about 3 months and I am maintaining that weight currently.

    Interested in the new "Combat" workout by Les Mills, since I am a martial artist.

    Use the Nutri Bullet 1 – 2 times daily and eat pretty sensible.

    Still enjoy sweets, but will be cutting back for 2013… (Assuming the world doesn't end on 12.21.12)

    Shop extensively for supplements at, but I find some good deals at and Ebay as well.

    I use a caffeine pre workout (Jack3d or Cardio Igniter) and post workout (mocha latte protien powder) as well as a cup of coffee during the day.

    I stay away from ALL other energy related products…

    Thanks for the input.


  14. Brian says:

    My wife has been taking a product called Zija for energy which markets its benefits from Moringa extract. Have you done any research on this product?


    1. That's really more of just an antioxidant, Brian – an extremely overpriced one! Here are the ingredients: Moringa Oleifera Leaf Powder, Moringa Oleifera Leaf Puree, Moringa Oleifera Seed Cake, Moringa Oleifera Fruit Powder, Moringa Oleifera Fruit Juice, Dutch Cocoa Powder, Trace Mineral Complex, Phenylethylamine HCI, 1,3-dimethylpentylamine (active from geranium), Natural Caffeine, Calcium (Coral), Magnesium (Coral), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine HCI), Chromium (Polynicotinate), Cellulose, Silica, Magnesium Stearate, Gelatin (Kosher) Capsule, Stearic Acid

      1. Stephen says:

        What would be a good replacement for Zija? I’ve been drinking it for about 6 years and it has lowered my liver enzymes.

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