Monday, January 21, 2013

Spotlight: Energy Supplements & Vitamins


Stimulants are one way to get extra energy.
Stimulants are one way to get extra energy.
Image: 5 Hour Energy
Life moves quickly these days, and it always seems like there isn’t enough time in a day to get all the things done we needed or wanted to. We’re tired and run down sometimes, and going to the grocery store seems to scream a singular solution: energy bars, pills, drinks, and more. But do you really know what you need versus what you’re getting?

There are multiple types of energy supplements and vitamins available for purchase, and they accomplish different ends because they affect your body differently. And you might not even “need” one at all.

Stimulants basically rev up your metabolism. Stimulants include caffeine, guarana, yerba mate, kola nut, green tea, capsaicin (red pepper), Asian ginseng, and Bitter Orange (synephrine). These will help pick you up when you feel groggy or sluggish in the middle of your day. Caffeine is one of the most potent and effective stimulants. Many natural alternatives to caffeine still contain it or something similar to it; most have the same or similar effects as caffeine. They will give you a temporary boost in energy when you need it.

Green tea contains caffeine, which can give you a boost.
Green tea contains caffeine, which can give you a boost.
Image: Shutterstock
Substances that affect energy metabolism are a different kind of “energy” supplement. This category includes products like Coenzyme Q10, B vitamins, folic acid, thamine, niacin, Creatine, carnitine, and amino acids. Rather than temporarily boosting our metabolism, these products change the way our bodies process and convert nutrients to energy. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will generally get you the same effects as taking these supplements. Taking them on their own isn’t proven to increase energy except in those who are deficient in those substances. In those who are deficient, taking supplements could be of some benefit to your energy levels.
Calories are energy.
Calories are, simply put, energy.
Image: Shutterstock

Calories, much to the disbelief of many, are not the same thing as fat. Calories are, simply put, energy. Carbohydrates (including sugars) are easy for our bodies to break down and absorb as energy, and that’s generally what energy drinks, bars, and gels are full of. The problem is that with too much sugar, our bodies’ glucose levels get spiked and we experience an insulin surge—which can cause problems on its own. For athletes working their bodies hard, carbs can give them the boost they need to refuel or recover. But when you’re not exercising, that spike in glucose will likely quickly lead to a crash, which will make you feel sleepy. And those calories you don’t burn will get converted into fat.

Eating a healthy diet will help give you an energy boost.
Eating a healthy diet will help give you an energy boost.
Image: Shutterstock
When choosing whether or not to use a supplement, consider whether or not you have a medical condition that would affect you adversely. Some supplements could be dangerous for you. Remember that many of the “energy” supplements haven’t been scientifically studied—or they may just be straight sugar and carbs.

Consider whether or not you really need it before you try it, too. If you’re regularly going on just a few hours of sleep, constantly taking energy supplements could not only be less than optimally effective, it could be dangerous. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, the best way to boost energy is to get enough sleep and exercise and eat a healthy diet.
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