Should you drink energy drinks before an exam?

I'm sure everyone's experienced the gut-wrenching nervousness you get before entering an exam room - your palms sweaty and wondering if you studied enough.

Maybe you have a paper you need to finish, or an exam you haven't finished cramming for, but you're starting to feel like you have to turn to energy drinks to give you that extra fuel to get to the finish line. 

In this article, I'll outline the ingredients in energy drinks that give you energy, if they work, what the side effects are, and what energy drinks are best for students to drink. 

Do energy drinks actually work? 

The short answer is, yes. 

Different people may react differently depending on their caffeine and sugar tolerance, but with the average energy drink packing around 100mg of caffeine, it's impossible to not be affected to some degree. 

You can tell if the energy drink has an effect on you if you feel as if your heart rate is elevated, your tiredness has faded, and you feel more energetic and energized than before. 

The effects of the energy drink also depend on your personal metabolism- for some, the effect can last 3-4 hours, while it could be shorter or longer for others. 

Assorted energy drinks arranged together
You have so many different kinds of energy drinks to choose from - but how do you know which one is right for you?

Do energy drinks help you concentrate? 

In studies conducted on energy drinks, they have been proven to help students focus and concentrate better. 

This study done on Red Bull also showed that it can help boost cognitive function (meaning you'll be able to get more done in a short period of time) and also improve your mood. 

The caffeine in the energy drinks help stimulate your nerves both physically and mentally, so you feel less tired overall.

However, that doesn't mean that your body does not need to rest - you just rack up a sleep debt that one way or another, you will have to pay back sooner or later. 

What is the best energy drink for studying? 

If you're seriously considering energy drinks for studying, as a student, of course you need to consider a couple of factors: price, effectiveness, health and ingredients. 

While being on a budget is definitely an issue, that's not easy when you have to consider other things like health as well. Personally, I think that some of the best energy drinks are usually made from organic ingredients, have a minimum of artificial sugars, and try to use real fruit juices. 

However, I completely understand if cheaper, less safe energy drinks such as Monster and Bang may be a more viable option, although potentially less healthy. 

If you're concerned about price but don't want to turn to those kinds of energy drinks, try powdered energy drinks, which fulfil a lot of these criteria, especially REIZE. 

REIZE ships right to your door for around $1, and with 1000mg of taurine in a single serving, it's perfect for those who are looking for a great, clean energy payoff with a minimum of side effects. 

Rather than being packed full of artificial sugars and flavors, REIZE also only uses two artificial sugars in small amounts, aspartame and acesulfate potassium, popular sweeteners used in drinks like Coke Zero.  

Red Bull against a background of greenery
Red Bull might not be the cheapest energy drink out there, but it is the most well known. Lots of people use it as a studying aid. 

Is Red Bull good for studying? 

As energy drinks go, Red Bull is on the smaller side, at 8.4 fl.oz compared to some larger energy drinks which are 16 fl.oz or more. 

It also has only 80mg of caffeine, and 27g of sugar, which although may sound like a lot, is perfectly fine for healthy adults to drink without significant damage to their bodies. 

If you're feeling really tired but you need to power through and study, this might be just the drink to restore you to full power. 

But of course, this does not negate all the potential negative side effects that excessive amounts of Red Bull might have on your body - make sure that if you are under 18, you don't consume this drink at all, and if you're over 18, consume responsibly. 

Caffeine pills and studying 

While caffeine pills typically do not contain any artificial flavoring or sugars, and just give you a solid caffeine boost, there are several downsides to them. 

For one, because of the ease of popping a caffeine pill, you can find yourself slowly having to take larger and larger doses, which can lead to addiction

If you do plan on taking caffeine pills, make sure that you note your body's response, and like energy drinks, take note of any other caffeinated beverages you might be consuming.

For example, don't wash a caffeine pill down with a cup of coffee, as that might cause heart palpitations or headaches! 

If you know that you're sensitive to caffeine but still want to give it a go, I would recommend starting off with small doses first - a quarter or half a pill, so that you can build up some tolerance and try to find where your limits are.  

Is it good to have caffeine before an exam? 

Caffeine pills like Vivarin might be super efficient, but you lose a lot of the tasting experience that you get with other energy boosters, like ready-to-drink energy drinks or powders.

The best thing to have before exam is really 8 hours of sleep so that you're well rested and focused for what is about to come. 

Actually, even better than that is 8 hours of sleep AND some caffeine before an exam. That's the best possible way to really crush it in an exam.

But there are certain caveats that come with that - some people are night owls, so you might not be used to getting up early in the morning regardless of whether you've slept enough or not. In cases like these, caffeine can help you wake up a little faster so that you can adapt to the situation at hand. 

If you've pulled an all nighter, while it is not advisable to do so, you can have caffeine before an exam to ensure that you're still awake enough to take the exam.

However, be warned that this is not a long-term solution, and absolutely not a substitute for sleep. 

Ingredients in energy drinks that help with focus

Many energy drinks state that they have the following ingredients in them, but are not really upfront about the exact amounts of these ingredients.

Still, let's have a look at the beneficial properties of the following ingredients:

Panax ginseng root

Most people have heard of the ginseng root, a traditional Chinese herb, and a staple in some energy drinks. Panax ginseng root grows mostly in the eastern hemisphere of the world, mainly in Korea and China. 

Ginseng root comes with a myriad of benefits, such as being a good source of antioxidants like green tea, helping heal damaged cells and in recovery, and it can be used in the prevention of cancer as well, and in boosting the immune system. 

Guarana seed extract

Guarana seed extract is derived from the guarana plant, which is named after the Guarani tribe in the Amazon. 

Guarana contains caffeine, which in turn, stimulates the central nervous system and gives you the energy boost that you need.

Besides caffeine, guarana also contains the chemicals theophylline and theobromine, which have a similar effect on the body as caffeine does. 

Guarana has no known side effects besides those that usually come with an overconsumption of caffeine - as already mentioned above. 

Taurine

Taurine is an amino acid that is found in the body and commonly used as a dietary supplement.

Studies suggest that the combination of taurine with caffeine can be effective for the brain, but these studies are only preliminary. 

REIZE is packed with healthy ingredients including taurine to boost any student's brain before an exam.

Potential side effects of energy drinks 

Energy drinks do come with certain side effects if you consume them over a long period of time or in excess. If you're studying or about to take exams, make sure you know what the effects are on your own body before drinking a 16 fl.oz can. 

Also, do keep in mind that each person responds differently - some stimulants like caffeine may not affect some people as much as others. 

Caffeine

Caffeine can give you a great boost when you need to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper, but it can also come with some serious side-effects if taken in excess. 

A lot of energy drinks contain almost half of the daily limit of caffeine consumption - 400mg, so it's not advised that you drink more than one of these per day, and you need to be aware of what other drinks containing caffeine that you're consuming alongside them, or else you run the risk of a caffeine overdose. 

Some possible side-effects of too much caffeine include: 

  • Anxiety/panic attacks

  • Dehydration 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Headaches

  • Inability to concentrate 

  • Jitters

Children under the age of 18 or people who are very sensitive to caffeine are advised not to drink energy drinks, because they could harm rather than help, especially before an exam. 

Check out my list of energy drinks with the highest caffeine content if you want to read more.

Sucralose

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is supposed to replace natural sugars in food and drink.

Although Sucralose has been deemed safe by government authorities, there are still concerns about the side effects that occur after consuming this sweetener. 

Sucralose is a simple sugar made from sugar in a chemical process where 3 hydrogen-oxygen groups are replaced with chlorine atoms. 

Sucralose has been found to reduce good gut bacteria (the ones that help improve your digestion- this study found that up to 12 weeks after the experiment, the gut bacteria had still not returned).

It can also help you lose weight to some extent, if you replace sugar in your diet with Sucralose - but not enough evidence about the effects of long-term use of Sucralose have been examined. 

As with many modern chemicals, there often isn't enough data for scientists and researchers to clearly state that these are side effects that are associated with the chemicals in question - only data collected over a longer time will tell what effects the chemicals really have on the human body. 

Guru energy drinks in a line
Guru may be another option for those looking for a healthy alternative - but be warned, it's a little pricey.

Energy drinks to drink while studying- some suggestions 

If you're looking for drinks that don't give you an overdose of caffeine, while also giving you that great energy boost you need to pull an all-nighter or focus before an exam, try some of these low-caffeine solutions that keep you in the optimum range without any negative side effects. 

Liquid based energy drinks: 

Red Bull (I personally drink Red Bull before exams, and find it quite helpful. There is also a cola version.) 

Guru (This is mostly organic, so does not have artificial sweeteners and flavors like other energy drinks do)

XS (the price tag is likely to be a turn-off for most students though)

Bing (Made from fruit juice concentrate, but does have artificial sweeteners.) 

Powdered energy drinks are also an option, and they tend to be more convenient and also more affordable than a lot of the market's top energy drinks, but with the same great flavor and efficacy:  

 Gfuel 

 Zipfizz 

 Advocare Spark 

• REIZE (I think this is the best choice for students!)

You could also take a look at Vivarin caffeine pills if you're looking for something that's quick and easy to take. At 200mg of caffeine, it's around the same amount of caffeine that regular energy drinks do, but without the great, energizing taste. 

Of course, there are also loads of other caffeinated products out there that you could turn to for your energy needs. Something like Make It Mio immediately comes to mind, which is supposed to flavor your water and give you an energy boost at the same time, for those who are a bit more health-conscious. 

REIZE is a lot more convenient and versatile, since you can add all types of liquids to it - soda, hot water, cold water, flavored juice, it's up to you.

REIZE ships right to your door for around $1 per drink, which is cheaper than most of the energy drinks on the market, and without any seriously negative side-effects on young adults around exam time.