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For Immediate Release: October 15, 2009

NN: Are You Having an Energy Crisis?

Nutrition Notes
Week of November 23, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Are You Having an Energy Crisis?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

As people everywhere complain of needing more energy, the number of Americans consuming energy drinks nearly doubled from 17.4 million in 2003 to 34.5 million in 2008. For people who frequently feel their energy flagging, other strategies probably offer a better solution.

Energy drinks provide caffeine and often sugar. Studies show that 100 to 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine (about 1 to 2 cups of regular coffee) are sufficient to increase energy and alertness. Many energy drinks provide caffeine in this range, but extra large portion sizes and additional stimulant ingredients may bring caffeine as high as 500 mg per can or bottle. When people push consumption beyond 250 mg per day, they may experience headache, sleep difficulties or increased anxiety. If caffeine exceeds 1000 mg, they may have heart palpitations.

Energy in food simply means calories, but feeling low on energy does not necessarily mean you need more calories. Energy bars typically contain 200 to 300 calories, mostly carbohydrate. This can be helpful in certain sports. But for everyday life, if you need a snack, it would be less expensive to have a small banana and an ounce of peanuts, with or without a cup of coffee or tea on the side. Some drinks are marketed in 16- to 24-ounce containers, and it’s easy to forget that the calories and sugar listed on the label refer to an eight-ounce serving – a half or third of the container.

As for the drinks and bars with added guarana, taurine and ginseng, amounts reportedly tend to be less than amounts expected to have biological impact. However, manufacturers aren’t required to list amounts added. B vitamins may also be added, but though important in metabolic processes to produce energy from food, adding more B vitamins is not some sort of tonic that makes you feel more energetic.

Using caffeine to increase energy can end up worsening energy problems in the long run. Caffeine can stay in the body longer than people realize, impairing sleep and promoting daytime sleepiness and low energy. It takes at least three hours to clear even half the caffeine from the body, and 15 to 35 hours to eliminate virtually all of it. Certain medications and diseases can make clearance time even longer.

Indeed, lack of sleep is the reason for many people’s lack of energy. The number of Americans reporting less than six hours of sleep nightly climbed to 20 percent in the 2009 Sleep in America Poll by the National Sleep Foundation. Average weekday sleep is now down to 6.7 hours a night. The optimal amount for adults varies, but is typically seven to nine hours a night. Children and teens need more.

Lack of adequate sleep can stem from too little time in bed – going to bed too late for the intended wake up time – or from sleeplessness in bed. Experts recommend setting a regular bedtime. To help your body be ready to sleep, avoid television and computer use near bedtime, turn lighting low near bedtime and don’t exercise within three hours of bedtime. Avoiding caffeine, at least in the evening and late afternoon, can help. Tolerances and speed of clearing caffeine vary, so keep notes and you’ll be able to track how late in the day you can have caffeine without paying a price in poor sleep.

Regular physical activity that is not within a few hours of bedtime has been linked with shorter time to fall asleep and better quality sleep. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing or meditation, especially near bedtime, may reduce anxiety to promote a better sleep.

If you often feel tired, talk with your doctor so problems such as hypothyroidism, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and anemia can be considered.


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