By Cheryl Higley
Need a jolt to stay awake as you face another long night of plowing? Before you reach for any of the popular energy drinks on the market, registered dietician Amy Jamieson-Petonic, program manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Enterprise, hopes you’ll think again.
It isn’t so much the caffeine (although some have more than 200 mg in a serving) that is the problem, she says. Rather it is the combination of ingredients that is of greater concern. Typically, the beverages contain high amounts of sugar, guarana, taurine and other additives and preservatives. Combined, they pack a punch—one the Center for Food Safety says links the consumption of 5-Hour Energy and Monster Energy Drinks to 18 deaths. Those claims are currently under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration.
“In today’s busy society, people are looking for ways to get more done with less sleep,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “What we’re finding is people aren’t drinking just one of these drinks. They’re consuming two to three. That is quite a bit of caffeine, sugar and stimulants in concentrated form in a short bit of time.”
Because most energy drinks are classified as dietary supplements, they are not bound by FDA regulations that limit the amount of caffeine per serving. Scientists and legislators in the U.S. are pushing for increased scrutiny of the drinks, and Health Canada already has reclassified them as beverages and has limited their caffeine content to 180 mg per serving.
Jamieson-Petonic says people seeking a quick pick-me-up will be disappointed because it takes about 45 minutes for the caffeine to enter the bloodstream and take effect. Reliance on energy drinks to keep you going, she cautions, may give the consumer more than they bargained for. Side effects attributed to the drinks include increased heart rate, shaking, irritability, gastrointestinal upset, chest pain, dizziness, tingling or numbing of the skin, insomnia, respiratory distress and headaches—any of which could prove harmful while in the field during a snow event.
“In the snow industry, you need to be cognitively sharp. If you’re driving or operating heavy equipment and have one of these episodes, that is a scary thought,” she says. “If you’re going to drink them, I urge caution on how many you are consuming.”
Jamieson-Petonic suggests caffeinated beverages such as black coffee or tea as a better option: “If you’re looking specifically for ways to stay awake, you can get enough fuel from good healthy food and drink choices.”
Read this related story from Snow Safety Week 2013: Health snacks can provide safe energy boosts.
Thank you to Snow Safety Week sponsors BOSS Snowplows & Progressive Insurance. Cheryl Higley is editorial director of Snow Business magazine.