Nutritionists are also concerned about other ingredients in the shots and how they might interact. They would like to see more studies on the safety and effectiveness of the blends. Because they are marketed as dietary supplements, energy shots do not require FDA approval before hitting the market.
"A lot of these products contain multiple amounts of ingredients such as taurine and tyrosine and phenylalanine, and of course caffeine and guarana," White says. "There’s not enough research on how they’re going to react together, especially down the road."
Bauer says drinkers may get some energy benefits from taurine but not from high doses of B vitamins. 5-Hour Energy, for example, claims to provide more than 8,000% of the recommended daily intake for B12, which is found in animal products and helps form red blood cells, and 2,000% of the recommended intake of B6. Vitamin B6, also found in animal products as well as in beans, whole grains, and fortified cereals and breads, helps boost the immune system and produce red blood cells.
"None of them are going to boost energy unless you’re B-deficient," Bauer says.
In general, B vitamins aren’t toxic in large amounts, Rosenbloom says. They’re water-soluble, which means they pass out of the body in urine. But high doses of B6 can cause nerve damage, tingling, and numbness in the arms and legs.
Living Essentials' spokesperson Petersmarck says the products are safe. "Everything in 5-Hour Energy is already contained in foods, such as apples, avocados, grains, and nuts, or is naturally occurring in your body," she says.
The company warns that those who are sensitive to vitamin B3 (niacin) may experience a niacin flush that involves a brief reddening of the skin and a hot, prickly feeling. One shot of 5-Hour Energy contains 150% of the recommended daily intake of niacin, which is found in animal products, beans, and fortified cereals and breads and helps the body convert food to energy.
Behind Red Eyes
Instead of reaching for an energy shot next time you need a pick-me-up, try looking at what’s behind that tiredness, says Bauer.
"If you took it once or twice a year because you wanted to be more alert for an exam, that’s different than if you’re taking it two or three times a day," Bauer says. "If you need something chronically, then there’s something wrong. That’s your body telling you to change something, whether it’s your diet, your exercise, your stress level, your sleep."
If you want to boost energy levels naturally, try these expert suggestions:
- Eat several small meals throughout the day rather than three large ones.
- Avoid large amounts of sugar and fat.
- Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast.
- Take a quick exercise break, such as a short walk.
- Exercise regularly.
- Consider paced breathing, which can improve your heart rate and boost relaxation, or meditating for a short time.
- Reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep.