Do energy drinks improve your gaming performance?

Energy drinks often get a bad press. However if used correctly, they can be very useful for performance optimisation.

Many use energy drinks before playing to improve their cognition and resulting performance. However, it is not uncommon for one to become reliant on energy drinks and feel inadequate without them.

Previously, we learnt how Hydration is vital for competitive advantage within esports. However, in today’s current landscape there is a rise in the number of gamer’s who are more focused on consuming energy drinks to enhance their performance and keep them going for longer. This is not surprising given the excessive amount of time that gamer’s spend training and competing, however, the reliance on energy drinks to maintain gaming performance is a slippery slope that can not only damage performance but also general quality of life. This is aggravated by the number of energy drink sponsors that are entering the esports space. 

That being said, energy drinks often get a bad reputation, but if used correctly, they can be a highly effective performance enhancer! Below we will delve deeper into the pro’s and con’s of energy drinks and powders, and provide some valuable insights into how you can use them effectively.

What exactly is an energy drink?

“Energy drinks are a group of beverages used by consumers to provide an extra boost in energy, promote wakefulness, maintain alertness, and provide cognitive and mood enhancement (1)”. These drinks normally contain high levels of caffeine, sugar, vitamins and many other ingredients. However, we will focus solely on caffeine and sugar given that these are two of the most common ingredients.

Why are they so popular in esports and is this a good thing?

There are several reasons as to why gamers decide to consume energy drinks, most notably the positive effect they have on cognitive performance. This is mainly due to the ingredient caffeine which is the most popular legal stimulant worldwide (2). Caffeine acts by stimulating the release of dopamine and adrenaline, and by blocking adenosine receptors which are responsible for sleep. Collectively, this helps to improve several domains of cognition including, reaction time, vigilance, attention, judgement, perception of effort and importantly – fatigue resistance (3-8). It is almost as if caffeine has been created for gamers … 

Although surprising to some, caffeine also has several other health benefits including reduced risk of certain cancers (4), metabolic and cardiovascular conditions (5), alongside its function as an antioxidant (6)! Furthermore, caffeine also improves mood and gives you that ‘feel good’ feeling. This feeling is heightened by the accompanying high sugar content within the drink that further promotes the release of dopamine and euphoria. Although the high levels of sugar may help to increase short-term energy, there is a ‘double-edged sword’ effect. When blood sugar levels begin to drop it is common for individuals to feel a lull in mood and increased fatigue. When coupled with the fleeting effects of caffeine the users’ mood may drop further and so too may performance. 

The issue within the esports industry is not the number of energy drink companies that are moving into the space, rather, it is the education that comes with it

Jamie Kiff

In addition, the extremely high levels of sugar that are contained within some of today’s energy drinks – which can be as high as 66g of sugar per 500ml, can pose serious health risks including:

  • Obesity 
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased Inflammation 
  • Increased risk of several cancers 
  • Dental issues 
  • Depression and anxiety

The high levels of caffeine in many of these energy drinks can also pose a number of issues for gamers. Many use energy drinks before playing to improve their cognition and resulting performance. However, it is not uncommon for one to become reliant on energy drinks and feel inadequate without them. Chronic consumption of caffeine will result in the individual feeling like they need more to achieve the same initial effects. As such, users can easily become addicted and should therefore be approached with caution. 

Consuming too much caffeine can also have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health and potentially increase anxiety and depression – especially in those who are particularly sensitive to the stimulant. Unsurprisingly, caffeine and sleep don’t go well together and in an industry where many individuals already experience poor sleep as a result of excessive exposure to blue light, caffeine further exacerbates these issues by blocking the receptors in your body that initiate sleep. 

The current recommended daily upper limit of caffeine is around 400mg (9). This may seem like a lot, however, many energy drinks currently on the market contain 300mg per 500ml can. You can therefore see why it is very easy for gamers to consistently go over these limits and put themselves at risk of serious health issues. However, the issue within the esports industry is not the number of energy drink companies that are moving into the space, rather, it is the education that comes with it. It is the responsibility of the providers to give as much information as possible about the effects of their products and how people can use them effectively. Furthermore, users need to do their own research and understand how these drinks affect them personally. Everyone will react differently! 

Here are some top tips if you do decide to consume energy drinks or want something to boost your cognitive performance:

  1. Switch out energy drinks for caffeine pills or coffee. That way you don’t have to consume all of the added ingredients that are contained within energy drinks and you will have a much better understanding of exactly what you are taking.
  2. Choose a reduced or zero sugar alternative.
  3. Avoid consuming energy drinks after 4pm. On average, caffeine has a 6 hour half-life. Simply, this means that if you consume a coffee with 150mg of caffeine at 4pm, at 10pm 75mg will still be present within your system! 
  4. Avoid consuming energy drinks for training and save them for competition. Train low, compete high. This will enable you to continuously get the cognitive benefits without building up a dependency.
  5. If you are using energy drinks for performance, consume them between 30-60 minutes before competing with a dose of around 2-3mg/kg. However, this depends on sensitivity and personal preference. 
  6. If you have a long competition that is throughout the day then reduce the dosage and spread it into smaller intervals. 
  7. Educate yourself. One of the most prevalent issues with energy drinks today is that gamer’s don’t know how much they are taking. Take a look at the back of the can and understand exactly how much and what you are putting in your body. 
  8. Take a break from energy drinks or eliminate them from your diet all together. Caffeine dependency is fairly easy to build up. Therefore, taking a break will ensure that you are not having to consume more in order to get the same effects. 

REFERENCES

  1. Ishak, W.W., Ugochukwu, C., Bagot, K., Khalili, D. and Zaky, C., 2012. Energy drinks: psychological effects and impact on well-being and quality of life—a literature review. Innovations in clinical neuroscience, 9(1), p.25.
  2. Fredholm, B.B., Bättig, K., Holmén, J., Nehlig, A. and Zvartau, E.E., 1999. Actions of caffeine in the brain with special reference to factors that contribute to its widespread use.Pharmacological reviews,51(1), pp.83-133. 
  3. Santos, V., Santos, V., Felippe, L., Almeida Jr, J., Bertuzzi, R., Kiss, M. and Lima-Silva, A., 2014. Caffeine reduces reaction time and improves performance in simulated-contest of taekwondo.Nutrients,6(2), pp.637-649. 
  4. Lieberman, H.R., Spring, B.J. and Garfield, G.S., 1986. The behavioral effects of food constituents: strategies used in studies of amino acids, protein, carbohydrate and caffeine.Nutrition Reviews,44, pp.61-70. 
  5. Einöther, S.J. and Giesbrecht, T., 2013. Caffeine as an attention enhancer: reviewing existing assumptions.Psychopharmacology,225(2), pp.251-274. 
  6. McLellan, T.M., Caldwell, J.A. and Lieberman, H.R., 2016. A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 71, pp.294-312. 
  7. McLellan, T.M., Caldwell, J.A. and Lieberman, H.R., 2016. A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance.Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,71, pp.294-312. 
  8. Maughan, R.J. and Gleeson, M., 2010. ‘The endurance athlete’. In: (2nd ed) The biochemical basis of sports performance. Oxford University Press (pp 127-173)
  9. Crippa, A., Discacciati, A., Larsson, S.C., Wolk, A. and Orsini, N., 2014. Coffee consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: a dose-response meta-analysis. American journal of epidemiology, 180(8), pp.763-775.