The New York Times’ Barry Meier looks at the evidence and concludes that “energy drinks” are just a really expensive way of purchasing caffeine.
A 16-ounce energy drink that sells for $2.99 a can contains about the same amount of caffeine as a tablet of NoDoz that costs 30 cents. Even Starbucks coffee is cheap by comparison; a 12-ounce cup that costs $1.85 has even more caffeine.
… Caffeine is called the world’s most widely used drug. A stimulant, it increases alertness, awareness and, if taken at the right time, improves athletic performance, studies show.
… “These are caffeine delivery systems,” said Dr. Roland Griffiths, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has studied energy drinks. “They don’t want to say this is equivalent to a NoDoz because that is not a very sexy sales message.”
All that other stuff added to “energy drinks” — taurine, B-vitamins, “glucuronolactone,” etc. — doesn’t really do anything. It’s just, to quote Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “A recipe for very expensive urine.”
No sense splurging for the name-brand NoDoz, either. Get the generic kind, then cut ’em in half, and you’re in the range of 5 cents for 100mg, which is probably the cheapest “caffeine delivery system” you’ll find.
The problem isn’t that this is just “not a very sexy sales message,” but that swallowing a tablet is too stark a reminder that caffeine is a drug. Ingesting that drug via coffee masks that somewhat. All those B-vitamin compounds and herbal whatnots in energy drinks do the same thing. They’re just in there so we can pretend we’re doing something nutritional and wholesome rather than just finding another flavor for the delivery system for our preferred stimulant drug.
I’m not judging or condemning, mind you. Just comparing notes, one addict to another.
(P.S. The caffeinated drink mixes — Crystal Light, etc. — aren’t bad either at about 25 cents for 60 mg, if you’re OK with the aspartame. Target’s cheaper store-brand variety, alas, only seems to come in strawberry.)