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Red Bull gives you... a few extra pounds?
Nathan Borowski
Antelope Staff

Need to stay up all night and study? No problem, just grab an energy drink and you’ll be at it for hours. Or so you thought. But does Red Bull really “revitalize your body and mind,” will Monster really “unleash the beast” and can Rockstar really make you “party like a rockstar?”

According to research done by UNK student Janae Nienhueser, energy drinks may not live up to the hype of their slogans. So while energy drinks claim to help “revitalize your body and mind,” they may actually be helping you put a couple of extra pounds on your body.

Nienhueser, a senior exercise science major and pre-physical therapy student from York, spent last summer researching energy drinks as part of the Summer Student Research Program.

The SSRP is open to all UNK students and pays students for research done under the guidance of a UNK faculty member as a mentor. “It was like taking a summer class, but I was getting paid for it,” Nienhueser said. “So it was kind of nice.”

For her research; “Effects of energy drinks on resting and submaximal metabolism in college age males,” Nienhueser used 10 male students ages 19 to 24. After recording each participant’s height and weight Nienhueser tested them on treadmills to assess their level of VO2 max (or their maximal aerobic capacity). “Oxygen consumption was measured using a metabolic cart, and heart rate was measured with a heart monitor. Data for VO2 and heart rate were measured continuously then averaged over 20 second intervals,” Nienhueser said. “The assessment of VO2 max ceased when the subject reached volitional fatigue.”

Once the VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) of each participant was found Nienhueser used 50 percent of that value to determine their submaximal exercise metabolism. “Submaximal exercise would just be a moderate intensity exercise for them,” Nienhueser said. “We used the maximal test to find what their submaximal would be. So it was different for each guy.”

Nienhueser then met the participants in the Human Performance Lab to carry out the testing. “They’d come in and we’d take their resting metabolic rate (RMR). It had to be in the morning before they ate, so they had to be fasted. I would give them a drink, which was randomly picked each day. We would wait an hour so it could metabolize, and then we took their resting metabolic rate again and did submaximal exercise right after that.”

These tests were run four separate times using Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar. A fifth test was also run with the use of the sugar-free, caffeine-free beverage Fresca. Nienhueser said the energy drinks were chosen based on a recent survey of the top-selling energy drinks in the United States.

What was the outcome of the testing and research?

The results as they were written in the conclusion of Nienhueser’s report read “These data indicate that energy drink consumption increases RMR and carbohydrate utilization at rest, but oxygen consumption and substrate used during submaximal exercise are not changed, along with heart rate during rest and exercise. The present data also indicate that the magnitude of increase in RMR does not compensate for the calories provided by an energy drink.  Therefore, energy drinks may contribute to obesity and do not appear to be ergogenic during short-term submaximal exercise.”

Nienhueser paraphrased this by saying, “The drinks did not affect submaximal exercise at all. It didn’t increase the intensity or anything like that. It did increase the resting metabolic rate but not enough to compensate for the calories of the drink, so it predisposes males to obesity.”

Nienhueser presented her research at the UNK Student Research Day last fall and recently returned from presenting at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, which was hosted by the University of Montana in Missoula.

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