Energy Supplements: Do They Actually Work?
Both athletes and the common populace look to supplements as a means of getting necessary vitamins and minerals. Even though a majority of these nutrients can be easily obtained through a healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense food, taking a pill or adding powder seems to be a quicker and easier approach. On the market today, there are a ton of supplements promising you increased energy. Drinks, pills, bars, and gelatinous candy all promise improvements in athletic activity and/or just making it through the day. But, do these really work? Or are we spending a ton of money and feeling every bit as sluggish?
If your goal is to increase your metabolism you’re looking for a stimulant. Common stimulants found in energy supplements include: caffeine, herbal sources of caffeine (i.e. guarana, yerba mate), green tea, red pepper, ginseng and bitter orange. Many people who are looking for quick energy are just trying to stave off exhaustion. And in that case, caffeine can be your friend. Caffeine is proven to provide, at least temporarily, mental focus and actual physical energy. So, if one consumes a supplement with caffeine or a caffeine derivative you will in fact temporarily experience a boost. But, is it any different from consuming say a cup of coffee? Not really. And the cup of coffee is going to be much cheaper.
A second type of energy supplement is substances that affect energy metabolism. Some of these include: Coenzyme Q10, B vitamins, Creatine, carnitine, and amino acids like tyrosine, phenylalanine, and taurin. These energy supplements are derived from nutrients, proteins, fats and amino acids that we already have in our body or get through food consumption. These work by affecting how the body processed nutrients and converts them into energy. For many people, a healthy diet is already providing these energy boosting nutrients. But, for some; athletes who push themselves hard or people with poor diets or people who take regular medications; taking these supplements may actually help with a lack in these nutrients. Will they ultimately boost energy for the common populace? You will probably only notice if you are indeed deficient.
The last bit of the puzzle with regards to energy supplements are calories. Calories ‘in’ provide energy and many supplements contain calories, usually in the form of carbohydrates, which our bodies can easily break down and absorb as energy. Bars, gels, drinks and enhanced waters mostly contain high-glycemic carbohydrates, which unfortunately spike the blood glucose levels and cause a reactive insulin surge. This process can ultimately result in increased inflammation and pain in the long run. For people who run marathons or race triathlons for example, these are an attractive go-to. These items give you the fuel to keep on going and even help aid in post-workout recovery. But for the common person who’s just looking for an energy boost, take with caution. People who rely on high-calorie energy boosting drinks and food can ultimately lead to weight gain and inflammation.
Ultimately, energy boosting supplements do deliver on the promises they make. But, always look towards food as the primary means of obtaining your daily nutrients, vitamins and minerals. High-calorie, high-sugar drinks, gels and bars should be avoided. With those come an eventual crash, as well as the risk of weight gain.