I’m constantly fielding questions about different beverages’ health benefits and drawbacks, particularly those with caffeine or claims of providing an energy boost. One of the most popular energy drinks of late is Celsius drinks. Celsius has gained popularity as it has been marketed as a better choice than Red Bull or Monster Energy Drink. But is it? And how does it compare to the tried-and-true OG caffeine, a cup of coffee? Let’s compare Celsius vs. Coffee to determine which the ultimate wake up beverage.
What is caffeine?
First, let’s talk about caffeine. Caffeine is a bitter white alkaloid derived from several plants, including cocoa beans, tea leaves, and coffee beans. It is a central nervous system stimulant that blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine and stimulates the release of epinephrine. By increasing epinephrine and decreasing adenosine, caffeine elicits a feeling of alertness. Many theories surround caffeine in sports, including that it acts as an ergogenic aid, promotes sports performance, is a fat burner, and decreases perceived exertion during activity.
Depending on the form, caffeine can be classified as a food ingredient, a dietary supplement, and even a drug. Caffeine occurs naturally in some foods, like chocolate, and it can also be added to food or beverage products. Because of the pervasiveness of caffeine in our culture, it is estimated that more than 85% of adults in the United States consume caffeine daily. A standard dose of caffeine may range from 100 to 300 milligrams per serving.
Drinking too much caffeine (>400 mg) can lead to adverse effects such as insomnia, high blood pressure, jitters, increased heart rate, and anxiety, particularly in people sensitive to caffeine. High amounts of caffeine can also cause gastrointestinal distress. As caffeine can pass the blood-placenta barrier, pregnant women should abstain from consuming high levels of caffeine, similar to the recommendations for alcohol intake during pregnancy.
Energy drinks are wildly popular among teenagers and college-aged adults. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that diets of caffeine-naïve populations, such as children and adolescents, shouldn’t include caffeine and stimulants in energy drinks. In 2010, the FDA began limiting caffeine as an additive to alcoholic beverages as mixing energy drinks with alcohol has been linked to drinking higher volumes of alcohol and more significant alcohol-related consequences.
Caffeine and Sport Performance
Many theories surround the ergogenic, or sport-performance enhancing, effects of caffeine. Some claims surrounding caffeine include burning fat, decreasing perceived exertion, and improving sprint performance. Because of the purported effects of caffeine, it is often added to energy drinks, sports gels, sports bars, and performance candy.
Caffeine is classified as an ergogenic aid and was even prohibited by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at various times in history. Currently, the IOC allows caffeine use as long as urinary concentrations are no higher than 12 ug/ml. WADA does not restrict caffeine intake, and the NCAA has the strictest rules, limiting urinary concentrations to 15 ug/ml.
Caffeine acts on the central nervous system (CNS), blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine and stimulating the release of epinephrine from the adrenal gland. This stimulation of the CNS increases the muscle and liver glycogen breakdown rate, releases free fatty acids from adipose tissues, and increases the use of muscle triglycerides.
- Fat-Burning: Despite the increased release of fatty acids from adipose tissue, caffeine does not appear to increase fat burning during exercise.
- Provide Energy: Similarly, even though caffeine increases the use of muscle triglycerides, research has not shown that caffeine protects carbohydrate stores from being used during exercise.
- Enhanced Performance during Fatigue: However, some research does suggest that caffeine can enhance endurance aerobic exercise (cycling, running) and athletic performance during sleep deprivation or mental fatigue.
Celsius Energy Drink
Celsius is a carbonated energy drink marketed as a fitness drink. It is marketed as a drink that boosts energy, metabolism and burns calories. They even go as far as to suggest that it can naturally lead to weight loss. Celsius boasts that it has natural ingredients such as green tea extract, ginger, and guarana. Finally, it claims to improve exercise performance.
Celsius Caffeine Content
The original Celsius Live variety (peach mango green tea) contains 10 calories and a proprietary blend of taurine, guarana extract, caffeine, gluconolactone, ginger extract, and green tea leaf extract. A “proprietary blend” is commonly seen in supplements. It is essentially a trade secret or a trademark, and the company believes that releasing the exact amounts of each item would compromise their recipe. Because we don’t know the exact amounts of each item, it is impossible to know precisely how much caffeine is in Celsius. The label says 200 mg of total caffeine per serving, but Celsius contains both caffeine as well as guarana seed extract, which it claims has twice as much caffeine as a coffee bean. This variety of Celsius has a supplement label, not a food label, which means the FDA does not inspect it. We need an inspection to ensure the drink contains what the brand claims.
Celsius claims that green tea extract boosts the body’s ability to burn more calories. It contains chromium which it purports to enhance the metabolism of macronutrients. Additional ingredients include Vitamin C and B vitamins, like Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12, and Biotin, with various claims about immune function and metabolism support. Finally, it contains sucralose, an artificial sweetener. The newer varieties of Celsius products contain different ingredients:
- Celsius Heat (amino acid L-citrulline and higher caffeine content)
- Celsius Stevia (Stevia sweetener instead of sucralose)
- Celsius BCAA +Energy (amino acids, tart cherry, and D3
Coffee is a beverage enjoyed worldwide for its rich flavor and stimulating effects. Black coffee is derived from coffee beans and typically has between 80-100 mg of caffeine per eight-ounce serving. While coffee contains caffeine, it also contains antioxidants, likely in the form of tannins. Tannins are found in various products, including coffee and wine, and provide coffee with its bitter and astringent properties. Tannins are antioxidants that fight cell damage and may help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. However, some people may react adversely to tannins, experiencing headaches or stomach irritation.
Coffee is typically brewed straight from coffee beans, so it is straightforward and not inherently unhealthy. Different farming practices and soil composition mean coffee may contain other chemical compounds. And, of course, depending on whether you enjoy the bitter taste, you may add sugar or an artificial sweetener to your coffee.
Celsius vs. Coffee
Let’s take a closer look to compare Celsius vs. coffee:
- Energy boost: Both beverages contain caffeine and can boost alertness.
- Ingredients: Coffee’s ingredients are transparent, containing mainly caffeine and tannins. Celsius contains a proprietary amount of caffeine-containing compounds and added vitamins, sugar, and other ingredients.
- Calorie Content: Here, the difference between the two beverages is negligible. One cup of coffee contains just two calories, while one can of Celsius contains ten calories.
- Caffeine Content: Brewed coffee contains 80-100 mg per 8 ounces. Celsius claims to have 200 mg of caffeine per 12 ounces. However, Celsius is designated as a supplement, which means the FDA does not regulate it. We cannot be certain the caffeine content matches its claims.
- Athlete Safety: Because the FDA doesn’t regulate Celsius and it contains vitamins, athletes assume a risk when consuming these drinks. Coffee also poses a risk to athletes, but only when consumed in high amounts that affect urine concentration.
- Health Benefits: There is no convincing evidence that the ingredients in Celsius provide health benefits, like increased metabolism. Coffee contains tannins that have been shown to benefit the drinker.
- Cost: One can of Celsius will set you back about $3. Coffee costs can vary widely. One cup averages $3 from a store and costs about 27 cents to brew at home.
The original cup of joe is the superior option regarding cost, ingredients, and caffeine content. However, if you like your coffee sweet, adding sugar and creamer, Celsius might be a lower-sugar option. And if you are a coffee shop regular, racking up a costly tab, a can of Celsius might be a more economical choice. No matter how you get your caffeine fix, do it smartly. Know the regulations within your sport governing body, keep your overall caffeine intake below 400 mg per day, and reduce caffeine intake during times of high anxiety or if you experience feelings of jitteriness. Remember that a sports dietitian can calculate how much caffeine you consume daily and help you adjust your schedule if your caffeine intake affects your sleep or gut health.
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