You’ve probably seen energy shots like 5-hour ENERGY and Verve – maybe you’ve even taken a swig before a workout thinking it will boost your performance. The shots are quite popular in the energy drink market. But do they really improve your workouts? And are they safe? FatFighterTV got some answers from Jim White, RD – Spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

FatFighterTV : Can energy shots really help you perform better when you exercise?

Jim White: The companies market these shots to athletes with promises of increased endurance, reaction time, and concentration. If any of these benefits are experienced, it is likely the caffeine that causes it. A small amount of caffeine may improve mental and physical performance. While caffeine prior to exercise can be safe and effective, the amount of caffeine tested in much of the scientific research is far lower than that found in many energy shots. High levels of caffeine increase the risks of negative side effects, while little evidence suggests that it increases athletic benefits. In other words, more caffeine doesn’t translate to better performance.

FFTV: Are there safety concerns with taking energy shots before exercising?

JW: There are several safety concerns regarding energy shots. For instance, if you drink one prior to working out, it may make your heart rate rev up, which in and of itself, is not overly detrimental. But combine that with exercise, the point of which is to get your blood pumping and your heart rate up, and you could suffer. You don’t want to go into exercise already amped up because it could result in high blood pressure, a stroke, or even a heart attack.

Many people run into trouble when they combine these shots with other forms of caffeine like coffee, teas, and other energy drinks. All of that adds up to caffeine overload. Two hundred to three hundred milligrams a day is fine but much beyond that could be problematic. It may result in nervousness, increased urination, sleeping issues, nausea, vomiting, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure. With too much caffeine, you also run the risk of dehydration and cramping, a perilous situation for any exerciser. If left untreated, it could lead to an abnormal heart rate and seizures. If you must drink these shots prior to exercise, increase your water intake as well.

FFTV: Should you avoid energy shots if you have specific health concerns?

JW: Those who are sensitive to B3 (niacin) may experience a niacin flush that may cause the skin to become red and feel hot and tingly due to the increased blood flow to the skin. Those who have been diagnosed with phenylketonuria should avoid these types of beverages because of the artificial sweetener – phenlalanine – may cause severe brain damage and mental retardation. Those who are pregnant or nursing should avoid consuming these products as well. People with heart conditions and/or high blood pressure may want to avoid them, too.

FFTV: Are they safe for healthy people to consume?

JW: These shots are safe enough for healthy individuals to consume on occasion, but it is not something to be consumed daily or included in your regular routine. Using them multiple times per day is definitely not advisable. If you have to rely on them, you are lacking something as it may be part of a larger problem. For instance, you may not be meeting your nutritional requirements via your diet, not getting enough sleep, or simply over-stressed. These shots only mask the problem and potentially make it worse with their negative side effects. Get rid of the shots and get to the root of the problem.

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FFTV got this response from Elaine Lutz, 5-hour ENERGY Spokesperson:

“5-hour ENERGY is not promoted for physical performance, but as a way to get you going for a workout. Since our product contains no sugar and has only four calories, the energy delivered is not caloric energy. It is also not a water replacement, so it’s still important to hydrate during physical activities. Consumers who have caffeine sensitivities should consult with a physician before taking, and can consider the ‘decaf’ version.”

I’m sensitive to caffeine, so I have no desire to try energy shots before a workout, or at all really. How about you?  Have you ever taken them before exercising?