I was reading the instructions on a popular bodybuilding energy drink the other day, and it had scarier instructions than most prescription drugs. You are to drink only ¼ of a bottle at a time and only if you’re between the ages of 18 and 50. After 30 minutes, you should assess your tolerance. You shouldn’t have any other caffeine or expose yourself to excessive heat after drinking it. And you definitely shouldn’t drink it if you have blood pressure problems, depression or are pregnant. If you pass all of the criteria, this particular energy drink promises you endurance, performance, and mental focus – none of which are supported by the Food and Drug Administration. Although this particular drink is at the extreme edge of the energy and sports drink spectrum, this concoction and its less-scary siblings are part of the fastest-growing piece of the beverage market. Driven by a combination of young consumers who mix energy drinks like Red Bull with vodka to keep the party going and athletes looking for any kind of edge, this market has grown by 130 percent since 2000. Energy drink manufacturers hand out samples at many sporting events. Classic sports drinks like Gatorade can be found in high school vending machines. Young soccer players drink Vitamin Water, which offers flavors like Tropical Citrus, an “energy” formula laced with more stimulants than a cup of coffee. As the market grows, so do concerns about the safety of combining so much stimulation with exercise — particularly for the weekend or adolescent athlete. The point of drinking any fluid is to rehydrate the body. Water works best to replace your body’s fluids, but sometimes athletes want more. There is value in delivering electrolytes, water, and sugar to an athlete whose body may be compromised under the stress of performance. Intense physical performance knocks out the carbohydrates stored in an athlete’s muscles. Adrenaline speeds up the loss of electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which are critical for nerve and muscle function. Sports drinks like Gatorade replenish carbohydrates through forms of sugar, and electrolytes with added salt and other minerals. Energy drinks take things a step further by adding stimulants including caffeine, vitamin B, and herbs. Caffeine is obtained by adding substances like guarana, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and carnitine. Other energy drinks contain synephrine, a popular new alternative to ephedrine. Ephedrine is the active ingredient in ephedra, once included in some diet and performance-enhancing drinks. The F.D.A. banned ephedra in 2004 after it was linked to heart problems and heatstroke deaths among young athletes. For some athletes, an energy drink laced with stimulants from various sources is problematic because it is impossible to know how much stimulant actually is in each drink. Drinking too much can produce a false sense of well-being and can blunt the perception of pain. Also, if you don’t feel fatigue in a hot, humid environment, your body won’t make you slow down to minimize overheating. This makes heatstroke a real possibility. Energy drinks are particularly appealing for young people. Some of the appeal to young people is believed to be in the psychological as well as physical effects they have on the human body. They can significantly increase the cognitive activities of a person and produce a moderate amount of euphoria. Though energy drinks do not pose serious health risks, it is important that they are consumed correctly. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not use them properly and a high majority of those who consume drinks such as Red Bull and Monster are teenagers and adolescents. If the energy drinks are consumed in large quantities or over a prolonged period of time, the caffeine in these drinks can actually get piled up in the body causing long term side effects. Side Effects of Caffeine in Energy Drinks Energy drinks bear higher percentage of caffeine than other caffeine sources like tea, coffee, and other soft drinks. Short term side effects of this much caffeine intake can include stomach cramping, arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat), and dehydration due to the diuretic action of the caffeine. Long term side effects of high caffeine intake from energy drinks are more serious. Long term side effects are: insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, infertility, heart disease, ulcers, and miscarriage in pregnant women. Caffeine is also known to mask the symptoms of fatigue. When symptoms of fatigue are not apparent, the body is already overworked while the person is continuing to do activity, which puts further strain on the heart. Energy Drinks and Alcohol As I stated earlier, many young people are mixing the energy drinks with alcohol. As we all know, alcohol is a great depressant and energy drinks are stimulants. It is a disastrous combination to consume them both at the same time. It’s like getting into your car and having one foot on the brake and the other on the gas at the same time. Your car would be confused and would probably jolt, and your body does the same exact thing. Dehydration, fatigue, vomiting, heart irregularities, and respiratory depression are observed as side effects of energy drinks mixed with alcohol. When these two liquids are mixed, the user’s motor skills and reaction time are also completely impaired.