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What's the Buzz About Energy Drinks?

There are healthier ways to get an energy boost, experts say.

Energy Drinks and Alcohol

Because alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant, mixing energy drinks with alcohol is a bad idea, experts say.

"Both are also diuretics that can lead to dehydration and ultimately, drinking more alcohol, because the burst of energy from the sugar and caffeine misrepresent the state of inebriation," says Farrell.

She compares it to the misconception that coffee can sober someone who has had too much to drink: "Using coffee to sober up just makes you feel more energetic; it does not decrease the effects of inebriation."

The result is that you may feel less intoxicated than you really are. "These products may be natural, but they can be very dangerous when mixed with alcohol," says Sass.

Club soda, water, and fruit juices are better mixers with alcohol. Sass recommends choosing a mixer you have had before, so the result is more predictable.

If you want to dance all night long, a glass of water is a better choice than an energy drink between cocktails, to keep you well-hydrated.

And whatever you do, don't drink alcohol on an empty stomach. "Have a snack before you go out so the absorption of alcohol is slower and safer," says Farrell.

Fuel for Workouts?

Don't be misled into thinking energy drinks will power up your workouts, Sass says.

"If you take an energy drink before exercise, it could increase your blood pressure, overstimulate your heart or nervous system, resulting in a number of potential side effects on your body," she says. "You might think there would be no risk to drinking an energy drink, but some of these products have powerful, drug-like effects and should not be underestimated."

Her advice: "If you have any medical condition, hypertension, or heart disease, avoid all drinks that have multiple stimulants."

If you want to try an energy drink, she recommends trying a small amount the first time with a meal to see how your body reacts to it. She advises avoiding physical exertion during this trial period.

Need a Boost?

When you need a boost -- whether to study for a test, prepare for a workout, or just get past an afternoon slump -- there are healthier ways than energy drinks, the experts say. Among the energy-boosters they recommend are a healthy diet, physical activity, and a good night's sleep.

And when you need a quick fix? "Energy drinks sound like they would be better than a latte, but a coffee drink made with skim or soy milk is a much better choice because we know more about the effects of caffeine," says Sass.

They recommend no more than 2-3 servings a day of caffeinated beverages, preferably served along with food. If you find caffeine overly stimulating, try decaf or half-caffeinated beverages.

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