Caffeine: What to Look for & Stay Away from


What to look for: natural sources of caffeine like coffee, tea; ≤400 mg caffeine per day

What to stay away from: un-natural sources of caffeine like energy drinks; caffeine-alcohol combinations; ≥400 mg caffeine per day

When consumed in moderation, caffeine has some health benefits. The issue arises when too much coffee, energy drinks, or supplements high in caffeine are consumed. High amounts of caffeine can negatively impact cognitive and physical performance. The effects are even worse when caffeine is combined with alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can blunt the “downer” effects of alcohol, reducing the feeling of drunkenness and further impairing the ability to exercise good judgment and make good decisions.

Energy drinks may be one of the most widely consumed sources of caffeine among military personnel. Like other dietary supplements, energy drinks are not considered “food” or “drink” by the FDA and therefore do not have regulations for caffeine content or other stimulants included in their products. In fact, it is not mandatory to list all ingredients on the label, which leaves consumers in the dark as to what ingredients they are actually drinking.

Known adverse effects of energy drink consumption include: nausea, kidney damage, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and heart attack.  Coffee and tea are safer alternatives to energy drinks since they are made from natural sources (cocoa beans and tea plants). Dietitians suggest consuming no more than 1 to 3 8 ounce cups per day. Go easy on the cream and sugar to limit the extra calories from sugar and fat. Coffee, tea, and dark chocolate also contain heart healthy antioxidants.

Take Home Point:  The best way to keep energy levels steady is to eat a balanced diet with snacks that are low in refined sugar, and drink plenty of water. When choosing to consume caffeine, be sure to do so in moderation and select natural sources over manufactured energy drinks.