Chuck, my college-age son drinks those new energy drinks daily. It concerns me. What do you think about them? What do you do to boost your energy level? – “Fatigued” in Lewiston, Maine
Energy drinks have become a multibillion-dollar industry. You can find them at nearly every checkout stand, promising immediate and sustained energy.
Energy drinks claim to contain performance enhancers, such as tyrosine or phenylalanine, and antioxidants like green tea, as well as megadoses of B vitamins. Some purport that they are sugar- and caffeine-free, but the primary stimulants in most are sugars and caffeine (sometimes in the form of guarana or maté).
Alcoholic energy drinks are the latest craze, being marketed as a way to get drunk without feeling drowsy. These dangerous premixed concoctions can have an alcohol content as high as 12 percent.
Though some reports boast of increased mental alertness and body performance, others detail risks of overconsumption. Some of the negative effects include increased nervousness, agitation, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, caffeine headaches, nausea and abnormal heart rhythms.
These detrimental repercussions have prompted a few countries, including France and Denmark, to ban certain energy drinks. A host of even U.S. schools and organizations have sought the same.
Regarding even the more natural among energy drinks, a recent Berkeley Wellness Alert reported that “the claim that vitamins or herbal cocktails are ‘energizing’ is false. Vitamins and herbs do not give you energy.”
In the end, one won’t get much more from these energy drinks than what one could get from a strong cup or two of coffee.
I’ll be straight with you: If I have a chance to go natural over synthetic, I’ll go natural every time. If you want a quick and sustained energy boost, then here’s what I propose: Eat a banana.
Every ripe banana provides a great blend of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates that bolsters the body’s optimal performance. The combination of a banana’s carbohydrates, simple sugars, starch and dietary fiber provides a rapid boost and sustained release of energy to help improve endurance and concentration.
Our bodies convert foods into simple carbohydrates (sugars) for fuel, so the carbohydrates in a ripe banana, already in their simplest form, are easily digested. Yet a banana’s soluble fiber (3 grams) slows digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, leading to a more tempered and steady release of natural energy. The carbohydrates in a banana are both simple and complex, forming three natural sugars – fructose (or fruit sugar, 4.9 grams), glucose (5 grams) and sucrose (2.4 grams) – and giving the consumer instant and lasting energy.
In addition to a banana’s being a good source of manganese, vitamin C (20 percent of the recommended daily allowance), vitamin B6 (25 percent of RDA) and dietary fiber (16 percent of RDA), each contains a gram of protein and small amounts of calcium and iron, among other vitamins and minerals. And bananas have no fat, cholesterol or sodium.
A single banana is also a fantastic source of the mineral potassium (11 percent of RDA). Potassium is involved in proper muscle contraction and electrolyte balance in blood and tissue cells, including in the heart. It is an essential mineral for protein synthesis and the building of muscle because it stimulates nerve impulses for muscle contraction. Potassium also is used by the body to convert glucose into energy, which then is stored and utilized by the muscles and liver. Potassium can reduce blood pressure and the risks of heart disease and stroke, and it assists in getting oxygen to the brain and enhancing mental clarity. An insufficient potassium level is one of the main causes of fatigue and cramping.
Therefore, bananas have been used as nature’s prescription to prevent or relieve the following: tiredness, muscle spasms, stress, anxiety, heartburn and nausea. Some even believe the rubbing of the inside of a banana skin on the infected area of a mosquito bite can soothe the irritation and itching.
Internet folklore has falsely reported that two bananas can provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout; even this wonder food cannot deliver that intensity. But a banana can provide a lift from afternoon drowsiness, enhanced mental performance or a dose of energy for moderate aerobic activity. Bananas’ carbohydrates also are used to replace the muscle glycogen (muscle sugar) used during exercise.
Because bananas rank high among fruits in carbohydrates (26 grams) and calories (105), some people on low-carb diets avoid them. But as we’ve seen lately in Japan, where the “Morning Banana” diet is taking the nation by storm, bananas are helping people to lose weight. That is likely because of their prebiotic fiber and resistant starch, two compounds that can increase fat burning and lessen appetite. Similarly, the Dole Nutrition Institute has created the Go Bananas 2-A-Day Challenge, in which participants consume two bananas and a glass of water in the morning to jump-start their metabolisms and bolster weight loss.
All of these benefits of bananas are yours for a fraction of the price of an energy drink. In fact, for the price of one of those herbal cocktails, you can get a bunch of bananas, and they are 100 percent natural with no side effects.
When one even compares an apple with a banana, an apple has less than one-tenth of the vitamin C, less than half the potassium, less than half the protein and twice the carbohydrates of a banana.
So if it’s true for an apple, it’s definitely true for a banana: A banana a day can keep the doctor away.
And if you cut up one and put it on a slice of multi-grain bread with organic peanut butter, you will have the secret recipe for the Norris family breakfast of champions.