The Battle of Caffeine: Coffee Versus Energy Drinks

Both coffee and energy drinks have caffeine in common. Therefore, there is a common tendency to confuse the effects of the two. Many people who work long hours with little sleep fill up on sugary energy drinks, but there is a reason why energy drinks are used specifically before high intensity sports activities, and why coffee works best for alertness in more sedentary lifestyles.

The concentrations of caffeine are different in each. There are also plenty of differences in the ways that each drink sits in the stomach. This makes coffee and energy drinks work differently within the body.

Below is a comparison of the two drinks that are rivals in the debate of which can keep you more alert when you need a boost:

Concentrations of Caffeine
Both coffee and energy drinks contain high concentrations of caffeine. However, coffee has higher caffeine content, meaning coffee has a stronger impact on the nervous system. This means that a cup of the best coffee espresso can speed up the heart rate to a far greater extent than a can of an energy beverage can. This makes it unsuitable for sports, since it can cause a strain on the heart, which already has a high rate from the exercise. Conversely, energy drinks have much lower amounts of caffeine, though just enough to give you a boost.

Coffee is available in different doses. There are four to 12 mg decaffeinated varieties, higher doses of 40 to 80 mg in each average cup, as well as highly caffeinated varieties. An eight-ounce cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine and a Starbucks grande (16 ounce) has 300 mg of it, according to a 2012 Consumer Reports survey. In contrast, the report found that the top energy drinks contain anywhere between six mg (in the 5-hour Energy Decaf) to 242 mg (in the 5-hour Energy Extra Strength). Eight ounces of Red Bull or Monster contains 83 to 92 mg of caffeine.

Sugar Levels
While many people do like to add a little bit of sugar to their coffee, the amount that energy drinks contain can be overwhelming, and they give you no control over the amount since it is a packaged drink. Excessive sugar can lead to weight gain and tooth and gum decay, not to mention that the sweet flavor of those drinks can be extremely overwhelming to the taste buds.

The Bottom Line
No matter what you pick up from the store, you should know what you are ingesting and what affects the drink can have on your body. If your goal is really to get a caffeine fix for alertness, both coffee and energy drinks can work, but coffee’s much higher levels of caffeine can help keep you going for longer.

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