Energy drinks have risen in popularity at USF thanks in part to free giveaways. But their potential side effects – weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety and more -have doctors and nutritionists raising their eyebrows. With names like Rock Star, Monster and Crank, these drinks have become just as popular as coffee.
Energy drink companies often target college campuses as places to advertise and market their product.
Red Bull energy drink is one of many that are given away at USF. The drink’s Web site says Red Bull “supplies tired minds and exhausted bodies with vital substances” while also providing immediate energy and replenishing lost vitamins.
Even though the cans come with a lengthy list of unknown and hard-to-pronounce ingredients, many students don’t hesitate to grab one.
“I would have to say I’ve had free samples about four times from different promotions,” said Rose Rezaei, a public relations junior. “It didn’t feel like it made me more alert, but I don’t think it has the same effect on everybody.”
Kimberly May, a registered dietitian for Student Health Services, finds this new dependency on energy drinks dangerous.
“Energy drinks contain additives that may have dangerous side effects,” she said. “Coffee does not contain such additives.”
May said many students do not get enough sleep and therefore are easily fatigued. These drinks represent a quick, but ultimately inefficient fix. She said the caffeine and sugar found in energy drinks provide them with the energy they are looking for, but the same ingredients may just be a temporary solution to the sleepless lifestyles of college students.
“Excessive sugar intake can lead to gastrointestinal distress, laxative effects and weight gain,” she said.
May also said excessive caffeine intake can lead to a fast and irregular heart-beat, high blood pressure, anxiety, tremors and dehydration.
Regardless of the health hazards, some students rely on the drinks to stay energized.
Kayla Kelsey turned to energy drinks because she preferred their taste to coffee.
“I think occasionally they are not bad, but if they are used all the time to supplement for sleep then they are not so great,” she said.
Fernando Villar, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary natural sciences, does not buy into the hype.
“If I’m sleepy I drink coffee rather than spending $2 on a little energy drink can,” Villar said. “I think they are too expensive.”
There are healthier ways for college students to get extra boosts of energy throughout the day, according to May. She encourages students to focus on behaviors that naturally optimize their energy without increasing risks for undesirable or dangerous side effects.
Students can combat the urge to down an energy drink, May said, by sleeping at least eight hours every night, practicing better eating habits, regularly exercising and putting aside some extra time for relaxation.