Let’s Take an “Energy” Break!

My last post focused on my favorite inorganic molecule, water. I haven’t forgotten about brake pads, but my co-host is busy starting a new semester and writing essays for admission to universities, thus, that topic has temporarily come to a grinding halt. (It’s ok to groan.)

In the meantime, I thought that I could let you in on a secret (ingredient, that is) and discuss my favorite organic molecule, caffeine!

Now, before you think that I’ve gone “off topic” and left motorcycles out of the equation, just think about how many times that you have seen the logo of an energy drink on a motorcycle racer’s leathers, helmet, fairing, etc. Or, for that matter, at a race track on billboards, bridges, or even as part of the title of a circuit in Austria! Aha! What is the main ingredient in most energy drinks? That’s right – my favorite organic molecule – 1,3,7-trimethylpurine-2,6-dione. (No wonder we chemists mostly refer to it by its common name, caffeine. That’s a mouthful!)

Being a “baby boomer”, I tend to get my caffeine “fix” from my two cups (approximately 16 fluid oz. or 475 milliliters, mL) of coffee each morning. That’s about 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, depending on the brew. (I like mine strong; that’s why they call our generation the “coffee achievers”, I guess.)

So, if “boomers” are the coffee achievers, then perhaps the folks from Gen X, Gen Y, and the “millennials” could be referred to as the “energy drink dynamos”! They typically tend to drink more of those types of beverages than they do coffee. However, a 16 oz energy drink (like the one that causes you to grow feathery appendages, or the one that might be in a scary creature feature), contains only about 160 mg of caffeine; just a little over half that of my two cups o’ joe. To be as dynamic, they’ll just have to drink two cans of their favorite energy drink, then.

So, is caffeine the secret to the “energy” you get from an energy drink or a cup of coffee? No, not really. Caffeine acts on certain sites (receptors) in the brain that normally are activated by the molecule adenosine. When adenosine molecules build up over time, they create a chain of events that make you begin to feel drowsy. Caffeine molecules are similar in structure to adenosine, so that they effectively block the action of adenosine but do not trigger the same effect. (It’s kind of like having a key that fits into your bike’s ignition but won’t actually engage the starter.)   Caffeine molecules temporarily keep you from feeling sleepy and they also cause other molecules to be released into the brain that stimulate the central nervous system and give you that feeling of being alert and energized!

Caffeine, then, makes you more alert and is actually known to temporarily increase performance on certain tasks. However, the majority of energy drinks have another ingredient that contributes much more to the “rush” that people describe after imbibing their beverage of choice. That ingredient is good old-fashioned sugar! Each 16 oz energy drink typically has about 30 grams of sugar that provides 110 Calories of “energy”! I don’t plan to sermonize, but those calories are of the type that the American Heart Association (AHA) and other medical related groups refer to as “empty” calories. They give you a very quick energy boost (that sugar “rush”) but are metabolized rapidly and thus may leave you feeling tired and “drained” of energy a few hours later. Also, that 30 grams of sugar is already over the AHA daily limit recommended for women (24 grams) and pushing the limit for men (36 grams).

Don’t worry. I’m not going to criticize anyone’s nutritional habits or choice of beverage. I am a firm believer in “all things in moderation” and allowing people to make their own choices. Before you do so, just be sure that you know as much as possible about that choice and whether or not it’s right for you. If you want to explore some good links that I found enlightening, see below:



See you on the road or at the track! I’ll be the one drinking the … H2O.


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