More than often, we all reach a productivity plateau during which we tend to feel exhausted, unmotivated and sleepless. During this time, we also tend to easily forget stuff, which can be very frustrating especially if what you were dealing with was very urgent.
Logically then, you should know that such a condition is brought about by low energy levels within the body. And because of that, the vast majority mainly rely on caffeine pills or energy drinks to get that extra kick to get things going.
If you have been wondering which one is better between caffeine pills and energy drinks, then you are on the right page.
This article explores both caffeine pills and energy drinks so you get to make an informed decision as to which is better to consume. Both caffeine pills and energy drinks have their own unique benefits, so it is difficult to say whether one is better than the other in every situation. But we are going to try and compare caffeine pills and energy drinks in terms of their benefits, side effects, long-term health risks, and value for money to see if we can say whether one way of consuming caffeine is superior most of the time.
Please feel free to share your experiences using either caffeine pills or energy drinks, or both at the same time, in the comments section at the end. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments and a member of the Vagarights team will respond asap.
What is Caffeine?: Benefits, Side Effects & Pharmacokinetics
Caffeine is one of the few energy supplements and nootropics which doesn’t really need much of an explanation. It is easily the most widely consumed drug in the world; it is much more popular than alcohol globally, and even in countries where alcohol consumption is common, most people are still avid consumers of caffeine.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance that stimulates one’s central nervous system. Caffeine is actually one of the most powerful CNS stimulants regularly used by people. The fact it is consumed so regularly is pretty incredible considering just how strong caffeine is as a stimulant.
The effects of caffeine are almost instant in most people. You can feel initial effects of caffeine after about 5 minutes (depending on the method of ingestion) and they peak around 30-45 minutes after consumption. These effects have both negative and positive components.
The benefits of caffeine include:
- More mental and physical energy
- Decreased tiredness and fatigue
- Increased motivation
- Improved mood
- Faster reaction times
- Enhanced focus and information processing
These benefits are precisely why caffeine is used in some of the best nootropics for energy on the market today. When used correctly, caffeine can drastically improve productivity and mental performance.
As with most substances, these benefits are matched by a range of side effects. These side effects are highly prevalent among all caffeine users. Some adverse effects are more common in heavy caffeine users, and others are usually experienced by infrequent coffee drinkers. These side effects include jitters, anxiety, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, stomach cramps, headaches, diarrhea and sudden energy crashes.
Aswell as being extrmeely fast-acting, caffeine is also known to exert effects for a very long time. Here is a graph showing the half-life of caffeine for the average adult human:
As you can see, caffeine is still active in your system up to 2 days after that cup of coffee!
Caffeine is naturally found in coffee and tea, as well as in fruits and nuts like guarana and gotu kola and in small amounts in chocolate. Most of us consume caffeine every single day through tea or coffee. But increasingly, people are consuming caffeine through more unusual sources such as guarana.
In recent years, the consumption of both energy drinks and caffeine pills has exploded. These caffeinated products have not replaced tea and coffee, but have instead supplemented it around the world. Do energy drinks and caffeine pills have benefits that coffee or tea simply don’t? Why do people use them at all?
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits, negatives and costs of caffeine pills vs energy drinks.
What are Caffeine Pills?
Caffeine pills are a form of anhydrous caffeine produced and consumed as tablets. The pills contain either natural or synthetic caffeine.
The caffeine content of these pills significantly varies depending on the brand that produces them. The best caffeine pills for studying will have strictly controlled caffeine doses per pill. These doses will be reasonable, and ideally combined with natural ingredients to help modulate effects and control side effects.
In many cases, caffeine pills contains 100 to 200mg of pure caffeine per pill. This amount is higher than most coffee cups but lower than certain energy drinks. Of course, some caffeine pills contain far more caffeine than this; these supplements should be avoided entirely.
Here is an estimate by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on caffeine levels found in everyday products; an 8-ounce cup of tea holds 30–50mg of caffeine while an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 80–100mg. Similarly, an 8-ounce energy drink has 40–250 mg of caffeine. This is a very wide range, but it should be noted that the majority of popular energy drinks on the market today contain doses on the higher end, i.e. much more than high quality caffeine pills and nootropics.
So why do people use caffeine pills in the first place?
Caffeine Pills Pros & Cons
It’s time we went through the pros and cons of using caffeine pills. When it comes to most caffeine supplements, people fall into one of two camps: either they think they are dangerous, unhealthy, useless supplements or they think they are the best thing in the world. As usual, a sober look at the pros and cons shows the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Pros of using caffeine pills
Some of the benefits of caffeine pills include:
1. Relief from headaches and migraines
Caffeine can help with migraines and strain headaches, possibly by decreasing a person’s pain perception.
It has been approved by the FDA for use in conjunction with painkillers to treat migraines and headaches. Excedrin and Midol are two great examples of migraine medications that contain caffeine.
On the other hand, caffeine should be limited to no more than two days a week for headache treatment. This is because consuming it more than thrice in a week tends to increase migraine frequency.
Hence, it is advised that those who suffer from frequent headaches avoid caffeine entirely.
2. It improves memory and focus
Caffeine is a popular supplement for increasing alertness and concentration among affected individuals.
A 2014 study looked at the effects of caffeine pills containing 200 mg on memory in 160 adults. The researchers discovered that people who took caffeine pills while performing a learning task performed much better at memory tests a whole day later than those who did not.
3. It boosts athletic performance
When athletes consume the right amounts of caffeine, they tend to experience better results. This is because it allows them to focus, engage and coordinate better with each other. Even better, athletes also note improved endurance and experience less fatigue and pain.
Cons of using caffeine pills
Clearly there are some significant benefits to using caffeine pills. But as always, there are also some heavy costs.
1. Side Effects
Obviously, the main con of using caffeine pills is that they can cause side effects when used in excess or improperly (or if using low quality caffeine pills).
Caffeine has been linked to some pretty nasty side effects in humans. For instance:
- It heightens anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia
- Since it can end up causing an abrupt heartbeat, it has been associated with a higher risk of a sudden cardiac arrest leading to death
- Coffee contains chemicals that raise cholesterol levels. However, you could lessen this risk by using a paper filter when making coffee
- Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee quite frequently. This can result in dehydration, particularly if you do not hydrate enough or exercise vigorously
- Caffeine makes your body lose calcium over time, which can contribute to the loss of bone density and osteoporosis
These side effects of caffeine pills are obviously all simply the side effects of caffeine. The fact that the caffeine is delivered in a pill does not make side effects more likely. This contrasts significantly to energy drinks, as we’ll see in the next section.
Another major con of caffeine pills is that they can quite easily lead to dependency. If left unchecked, this dependency can even lead to full blown caffeine addiction.
It must be said here that caffeine dependency is quite common. The vast majority of working adults in the US today actually show symptoms of caffeine dependence, and a sizeable number show clear signs of full blown caffeine addiction. Without coffee, they simply can’t function; their mood crashes, they have no motivation, they experience intense fatigue, and sometimes they may even show signs of physical withdrawal.
Caffeine pills do have an elevated risk of causing dependency and addiction than coffee. The simple reason for this is that it is incredibly easy to slowly increase caffeine intake over time when using caffeine pills. There is only so much coffee you can drink, and most people stay set on a coffee drinking schedule for months and years at a time. But with caffeine pills, adding in another pill later in the day, or maybe upping your morning dose to 2 pills instead of 1, is so easy to do.
Energy Drinks Pros and Cons
An energy drink is a drink that contains stimulant compounds, most commonly caffeine, sugar, and other supplements, such as vitamins and carnitine.
Studies have shown that the stimulant characteristics of energy drinks are primarily a result of the caffeine in these drinks.
Consequently, they are branded as energy drinks but are entirely distinct from energy-giving foods. They can be carbonated or not, and mainly contain herbal extracts, sugar, other sweeteners, amino acids, and taurine.
Pros of energy drinks
1. Energy drinks improve brain function.
Several studies have found that energy drinks can enhance brain function. Caffeine affects memory, concentration, and reaction time while significantly lowering mental fatigue.
One study found that consuming just one 500-ml can of Red Bull elevates concentration and memory levels by about 24%!
Many scientists claim that the uptick in brain function could be directly attributed to caffeine. In contrast, others believe that the mixture of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks is required to see the most significant benefit.
2. Energy drinks make it possible to work through extreme fatigue
People also take energy drinks to help them perform when exhausted or sleep-deprived. Drivers on long, late-night road trips frequently reach for energy drinks to keep them awake behind the wheel.
Students and office workers have also been observed to use energy drinks when performing highly demanding tasks. These include paperwork processing duty at work, studying, preparing for tests, or completing class assignments.
Similarly, numerous night-shift staff use energy drinks to help them complete tasks even during late hours.
Cons of using energy drinks
Energy drinks are not all fun and games, however. They do pose some disadvantages like:
1. Energy drinks can cause severe heart and blood vessel issues
Did you know that energy drinks could bring about serious medical issues to its users? Such issues include irregular heartbeats and intensities in blood pressure and heart rate. Energy drinks may also harm children’s nervous and cardiovascular systems as they are still developing.
2. Impaired judgement
People who mix caffeinated drinks with alcohol may be unable to tell how incapacitated they are. They may only perceive themselves to be less intoxicated. Therefore, just as expected, their motor coordination, as well as response time, will be as impaired.
3. Poor sleep patterns and behaviour change in teens.
Excessive consumption of energy drinks may disrupt adolescent sleep patterns. In addition to that, such drinks trigger higher risk-taking behaviour among teens.
Side Effects of Energy Drinks
Caffeine can be found in caffeine pills as well as most energy drinks. It can be harmful, especially if consumed in large quantities or by people who are caffeine sensitive.
Some side effects of caffeine include; anxiety, high blood pressure, diarrhea, sleep problems, nervousness, headache, dysphoria, dizziness, heartburn, sadness, shaking, fast heart rate, nausea, and severe thirst.
What is much more worrying than the actual side effects themselves is their prevalence among regular energy drink users. Practically everybody who consumes energy drinks on a fairly regular basis will experience some kind of moderate to severe side effects. The prevalence of the most serious side effects among daily energy drink users is extremely high. The graph below shows how common certain side effects are among people who consume one energy drink per day:
Take Away: Are caffeine pills better than energy drinks?
To sum it up, caffeine pills and energy drinks are just two different ways of consuming caffeine (and other stimulants in a lot of cases). They both offer numerous benefits when used responsibly. In the same light, they both result in undesirable consequcnes when they are misused or abused.
However, we do not disregard the fact that they play a vital role in increasing productivity. So, in many cases, the benefits of using energy drinks or caffeine pills will outweight the negatives. It may simply be necessary for you to use either caffeine pills or energy drinks. You might be a gamer or trader who needs to put in marathon sessions at your computer. You might be a long distance truck driver who needs to stay alert on the road for 9 hours at a time. Or you could be a single parent working 2 jobs to get by.
So which one should you use: caffeine pills or energy drinks?
From our perspective, the most important things to consider when using caffeine is dosage control, regularity of effects, and a lack of side effects from other ingredients.
Thus, we advise that Caffeine pills are generally better. Compared to energy drinks, caffeine pills are purer, aren’t full of sugar or flavour enhancers, and are more consistent with doses of caffeine. They are much more predictable and uniform in their effects, and the timing of their effects are much easier to predict. Going even further, using a good natural nootropic is the best way to increase mental energy, sharpen focus and enhance overall cognitive performance.
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.