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Universiteit Leiden

What really gives us wings (and who is more likely to fly high)

What really gives us wings (and who is more likely to fly high) Image via Flickr

Energy drinks become more and more popular amongst consumers and are advertised to improve mental and physical performance. Is that true – for anyone of us? Aren’t there any better alternatives to improve ourselves?

Most energy drinks contain several ingredients from which the most important ones are caffeine, taurine and sugar.
Commonly it is believed, that the performance enhancing effect of energy drinks is mainly related to caffeine. However, recent research has shown, that – after energy drink consumption – performance is more increased than it is after solely-caffeine consumption.
From that it seems clear that either the combination of the components of energy drinks or other components alone are responsible for mental and physical performance improvements related to energy drink consumption.

Prins and colleagues found a performance improvement in trained endurance runners one hour after participants consumed a commercially available energy drink. But the differences between the energy drink- and the placebo-group were rather small.
Garcia and colleagues tested in a study three different energy drinks and found rather mixed results: For two of three energy drinks, there were no mental performance improvements. Two of three energy drinks also increased blood pressure and heart-rate. For one energy drink, there was even an increase in stress hormone cortisol.

What do we learn from that? First, not all energy drinks are equally good in improving performance – there were no effects at all for some energy drinks. Second, consuming energy drinks can even be very risky, especially for those amongst us, who suffer from cardiac-disorders. Even some healthy people report some side effects by consuming energy drinks, such as headache, tremor and stomach ache.

A safer alternative for those who are interested in enhancing their mental or physical performance lies in the single-consumption of the other main component of energy drinks – taurine. Taurine is a precursor of the amino acid methionine and has several important functions: It is responsible for optimal cell development and has antioxidant-functions – for it protects the DNA from heavy metals and toxins. Also, it is responsible for better muscle functioning.

Mainly, the body produces taurine itself, but there are also – besides energy drinks – several healthy and natural foods that contain taurine; especially fish and meat. No reported side effects are known to be caused by taurine.

There are several recent studies investigating the effects of taurine on physical performance. For example, Balshaw and colleagues found that a 1g-taurine doses given two hours before training, improved performance in trained middle-distance runners. This finding goes along with other studies, which seems to be a strong support for taurine as a useful supplement. It is to mention that taurine seems to especially support trained individuals.

In a long-term, effects for taurine are even stronger: A seven-day 6g-taurine treatment improved not only physical performance but also prevented the DNA from exercise-induced stress as the study from Zhang and colleagues found out.   
Further, taurine is known to improve mood and mental performance as Giles and colleagues found out. Interestingly, taurine did not improve mental performance via decreased reaction times but via increased accuracy. 

Taken together, taurine – taken as a single-supplement – has clearly positive effects for performance, especially for trained athletes. There are short-term effects and even more stronger long-term effects. Studies suggest that for short-term effects taurine should be taken in a 1g doses one hour before exercise. For long-term effects, even doses about 3g twice a day can improve performance without any risks.

So why not eat a healthy meal with fish or meat every day to gain physical and mental performance improvements in a long-term?

Regardless the remaining research gap concerning the mechanism behind taurine consumption, it can be said that – especially at a regularly consumption – taurine improves physical and mental performance and even mood. Compared to energy drink consumption the single-taurine consumption has no known risks or side effects and therefore – clearly – is the healthier alternative to improve ourselves.

Therefore, it is meat and fish that gives us – and especially trained individuals – wings in a healthy way.

1 Comment

Maurits van der Heijde
Posted by Maurits van der Heijde on December 14, 2016 at 11:44

Thanks for the very interesting article. But definetly it’s possible to get wings on a non meat and non fish diet! I argue if eating meat and fish is “the healthy way”.

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