Question of the Week

September 24, 2009


When people think of needing a quick energy boost, they often think of caffeine.

"Caffeine is a drug that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. It's also produced artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system, causing increased alertness. Caffeine gives most people a temporary energy boost and elevates mood. Caffeine is in tea, coffee, chocolate, many soft drinks, and pain relievers and other over-the-counter medications. In its natural form, caffeine tastes very bitter. But most caffeinated drinks have gone through enough processing to camouflage the bitter taste. Teens usually get most of their caffeine from soft drinks and energy drinks. (In addition to caffeine, these also can have added sugar and artificial flavors.) Caffeine is not stored in the body, but you may feel its effects for up to 6 hours."

Caffeine, in moderation, is harmless for most people. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for people to know how much caffeine they are getting in the foods and drinks they consume, and it is important for people to take into consideration the additional calories (often empty calories) that they are getting with the caffeine in these foods and drinks.

"Energy drinks and nutrition bars often make big promises. Some say they'll increase energy and alertness, others offer extra nutrition, and some even claim to boost your athletic performance or powers of concentration. But once you cut through the hype and look past the flashy packaging on energy products, chances are what you're mostly getting is a stiff dose of sugar and caffeine. So should you eat or drink these products? As with everything, they're OK in moderation. The occasional energy drink is fine and a protein bar in the morning is a better choice than not getting any breakfast at all. But people like Javier — who usually has about three or four energy drinks and a couple of protein bars every day — are overdoing it."

Some energy products advertise that they have caffeine and and the carbohydrates your body needs for energy.

"Carbohydrates are one of the main types of food. Your liver breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar). Your body uses this sugar for energy for your cells, tissues and organs. Carbohydrates are called simple or complex, depending on how fast your body digests and absorbs the sugar. You get simple carbohydrates from fruits, milk products and table sugar. Complex carbohydrates include whole grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables and legumes. Complex carbohydrates and some simple carbohydrates provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. Products made with refined sugar provide little nutrition. It is wise to limit these products."

We all want an extra energy boost from time to time, but finding the best way to get it isn't always easy.

"[A] sugar boost will just leave you lagging again in an hour. For a nearly instant energy boost that lasts, eat a healthy snack containing protein and a complex carbohydrate, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and a weight control researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia. One place to find complex carbs is in whole grain bread products. 'Try a whole grain cracker with low-fat cheese,' Gerbstadt says. 'Or a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread.' The secret? 'That combination of protein and a complex carbohydrate (digested more slowly than simple carbs) increases your blood glucose in a sustained way,' she says."

When you go shopping, look for other snacks to keep on hand around the house, at school, or at work.

"Try looking at the Glycemic index of foods - this is a measure of how much and how fast a food will cause your blood sugar to rise. Although this is very dependent on the individual, there are tables available from many sources that provide a rough idea. Simple sugars such as candy cause a very rapid increase, but some starchy foods can also cause a very large but slower increase. ... Go easy on high sugar or high glycemic index foods to avoid a "sugar crash" that can occur when your blood sugar rapidly rises and then falls again."

Questions of the Week:
What foods or drinks do you turn to when you are looking for an energy boost? During your week, when might some food or drink choices be better than others (before or after exercise, if you need to miss a meal, in the morning or the evening, etc.)? What are foods or drinks that you like that will also be good choices? What foods and drinks should you only consume in moderation?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
Note: While I have written about foods and natural methods for a quick energy boost, there are alternative health methods employed by others. Namely the use of supplements known as eugeroics: wakefulness stimulating agents. The way that these work is that they combat the sleepy feelings that often kick in around noon time on a long workday. Adrafinil capsules are the most common due to their legality in the continental United States and relatively safe risk profile compared to other stimulants. That all being said, we at AE don't recommend you try any supplement or health advice before consulting with a medical professional.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site