Want a jolt of energy to help you cram for finals, ace an interview, finish a big project or drive across the country?
You could down a 2.5-ounce glug of Redline Power Rush or, say, 10 Cokes or a quart of Starbucks Caffè Mocha. All carry the same 350 milligrams of caffeine.
Or there’s a different route — one that won’t leave you jittery, irritable or suffering from sleepless exhaustion when it’s all over.
“Caffeine has a place, but there are alternatives to a super dose to keep alert and wakeful,” said Robert Pettitt, an associate professor and researcher at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
There are ways to crack open your energy reserves without the crash and burn that comes after high doses of caffeine, experts say. Some are easy (eat some nuts), while others are downright jolting (take a winter run — in your swimsuit).
Pettitt’s research into energy drinks at Mankato’s Department of Human Performance has led him to conclude the enhanced performance and mental sharpness gained from those drinks come only from the caffeine — not the highly touted additives. Drinks like 5-Hour Energy claim that the mix of additives, which might include taurine, ginseng and vitamin B, will give you an additional boost.
Caffeine in moderation — two to four cups of coffee a day — actually can improve health for most people, recent research shows, including better concentration and alertness. But some benefits seem to disappear with heavy doses, which can make you irritable and tired. Concentrated caffeine also can bring on headaches, an upset stomach and rapid heartbeat.
“We’re learning that a lot of caffeine can be dangerous and even send you to the hospital,” he said, citing recent research.
“In reasonable amounts, caffeine can certainly give you a boost when you need it, and it won’t harm you,” he said. “But when you really need to dig deeper, think about your options. A good brisk walk when it’s 10 below? That may be a better choice.”
Ponder these alternatives. Some might be obvious, some kind of odd:
Finger workout: Getting a massage can improve your blood circulation and ease fatigue. No time? Try massaging the back of your neck, temples and the top of your head, and use acupressure on your hands by pinching the meaty area between your thumb and index finger. Better yet, get somebody else to do it for you.
Leap into action: Even a short amount of movement will boost your energy. Run up and down a set of stairs, lift a few weights, walk the dog, take some deep breaths of frigid outdoor air. It’ll increase your body’s serotonin and dopamine, making you feel better and more alert.
Take a cold shower: Cold water speeds up circulation and raises your energy. Can’t take the cold? Start with a warm shower, then slowly cool it down and hold it at cold for a few minutes.
“T” is for theophylline: The chemical is found in tea, coffee and especially cocoa. It has some of the same properties as caffeine, raising energy by increasing heart rate and constricting blood vessels. In stronger doses, the drug is used to treat respiratory diseases.
Go nuts about nuts: Some people turn to candy for a sugar rush, but that can end in a sugar crash. Instead, snack on foods with a good mix of protein, healthy fat and carbs — maybe a half cup of trail mix, a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Hello to H2O: Stay hydrated to stay alert and focused. Sports drinks give you extra calories and sugar you don’t need unless you’re preparing to work out for more than an hour. Dehydration can make you feel weak and sluggish.
Eat a root: What happens when you ingest energy drink alternatives by themselves? Most won’t harm or help you, Pettitt said. Ginseng root has long been used as an energy booster in Chinese medicine, and a Mayo Clinic study found significant easing of fatigue among cancer patients after two months’ use, but no short-term benefit. Taurine, a common ingredient in many energy drinks, is found in meat and seafood and helps regulate heartbeat and energy, but extra supplements seem neither to cause harm or increased energy. Riboflavin, niacin and other B vitamins help the body convert food to energy but oral doses appear not to be absorbed well and have little effect on energy. For those seeking a quick jolt of energy, Pettitt said, these ingredients typically add costs without benefit.