Spend enough time with a demographic which closely resembles the target viewing audience for adventure sporting events, and you cannot help but notice the large drink cans close by. Even after nine weeks of boot camp, with plenty of exercise and the finest food the military has to offer, (all right, there's a good reason the dining facilities are called "mess halls) the young men and women I encountered on a weekly basis in my classroom drank can after can of sugary "energy drinks."
When my wife makes the decision to party she doesn't hit the white zinfandel or the belgian Trappist ale. She resorts to a very popular energy drink, often mixed with vodka. The drink mixture makes as much sense as my Sunday brunch switch between a large cup of Seattle's finest export, the name of which rhymes with "four bucks," and a chilled flute of mimosa. Take enough of the stuff in and you have a buzz in two different forms...a very alert drunk. But that's a different editorial statement altogether.
The folks who make the beverage in the little blue and silver cans seem to be everywhere in the past couple of months. Whether it's a guy who wants to go the speed of sound without an aircraft or a bunch of runners who want to outrun roller derby girls, the beverage and it's logo is darned near ubiquitous. And the advertising is more, er, mature now. I haven't seen as many of the silly black-and-white line-drawing animated cartoons. They're back to focusing on a message of: 'drink this if you want to go farther than anyone else.'
That little blue and silver can...what's it got? Well, about the same amount of sugar or sweetener as a typical soda...about 65 percent of the caffeine of the same sized coffee...some B-vitamins, a chemical found in detox drinks, and the amino acid taurine. If you're used to drinking coffee before a race or a workout, there's a really good chance you probably won't be hurt drinking the beverage that reportedly "gives you wings." In fact, it's not just the caffeine that may help your run performance, but the taurine.
First, taurine is commonly found in skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle and brain tissue; the chemical has been suspected to have a strong role in a number of physiological actions but until recently there was little research done. Four researchers in the United Kingdom recently investigated the amino acid's effect on endurance performance, testing run performance for a three-kilometer time trial. They found the subjects who took the taurine two hours prior to a maximum simulated 3K effort on a treadmill improved their performance by an average of 1.7 (and up to 4.2) percent, without appreciable change in heart rate, oxygen intake or perceived effort. The researchers weren't able to explain the specific reason for the improved performance, however.
But, the little aluminum can is not necessarily the "two percent solution." Energy drinks containing the two known ergogenics (caffeine and taurine) in other studies were shown to aid in endurance and resistance to fatigue, but the additional ingredients may slow or limit the body's ability to benefit from them.
REFERENCE: Balshaw, TG, Bampouras, TM, Barry, TJ, Sparks, A (2012). The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle distance runners. Amino acids. Springer-Verlag, Aug 2