What is the healthiest "upper"?
December 13, 2008 9:03 PM   Subscribe

What is the healthiest "upper"?

I am a comedy writer. I never drink coffee or soda (don't like 'em), and I try to avoid sugar as much as possible, but I've recently discovered that energy drinks really help me write. Especially with grinding out first drafts. However, even one Diet Rockstar every couple of days is an obviously unhealthy habit.

What is the best (legal) option for a temporary "kick" that at the same time will have the least impact on my health?
posted by Idiot Mittens to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A quick run around the block.
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on December 13, 2008

I'm a big fan of sugar free Red Bull. It has vitamins, so that's good for you, right?
posted by knowles at 9:12 PM on December 13, 2008

A toke of a joint, a glass of beer, or a banana. The first two can considered 'downers' but in small amounts tend to stimulate people, albeit temporally.
posted by ageispolis at 9:12 PM on December 13, 2008

Coca tea is nice to me.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:17 PM on December 13, 2008

I'm also a big fan of the sugar free redbull. I love it, even if i no longer notice it's effects.

Granted, it's probably not good for you -- we don't really know the long term affects of aspartame, or taurine, or anything else in it. But then again, there's not a lot out there that is completely harmless. Hell, you could choke on a carrot. Everybody needs at least one bad habit :)
posted by cgg at 9:35 PM on December 13, 2008

What in particular are you concerned is unhealthy about the energy drink?

The caffeine is what is giving you the effect you're talking about. If it's not the caffeine that you object to, then you could just take the same amount in pill format (e.g. No-Doz) and eliminate all the rest of the ingredients.
posted by winston at 9:36 PM on December 13, 2008

However, even one Diet Rockstar every couple of days is an obviously unhealthy habit.

No, it isn't, assuming you don't have any reason to avoid stimulants.
posted by docpops at 9:40 PM on December 13, 2008

The local coffee house has a drink called Electric Lemonade that totally rocks. Its a shot of wheat grass, some fresh pressed ginger juice and topped with lemonade. If that doesn't light a fire in ya, then nothing will.
posted by fenriq at 9:41 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It was more the aspartame and the taurine that was the concern, less so the caffeine. Their long-term health effects seem really sketchy. Thanks, I'm getting some good options so far.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 9:54 PM on December 13, 2008

Carrot juice! Seriously, it's a wholesome energizer. I'd never drink aspartame or any of that stuff. Metabolic disorders? No thanks.
posted by anadem at 10:10 PM on December 13, 2008

Vitamin B?
posted by xammerboy at 10:18 PM on December 13, 2008

There's sugar free vitamin water sold at many stores. I forget the brand name (zero?). That could do you. I think some of them even have small amounts of caffeine.
posted by xammerboy at 10:19 PM on December 13, 2008

Caffeine is the most used drug in human history, by a very long margin. Something like half the population of the earth uses it daily (in tea, coffee, chocolate, and/or several major brands of soft drinks). By any reasonable standards it is safe as long as you don't use huge amounts of it, and don't have a complicating health problem (e.g. hypertension).

No-doz is a good way to get caffeine without anything else important. That's what I use. It's a calibrated 200 milligrams, so at least initially you'll probably want to cut them in half using a kitchen knife.
posted by Class Goat at 10:42 PM on December 13, 2008

Caffeine can be obtained on its own. The common brand names include Vivarin and No-Doz.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:47 PM on December 13, 2008

Aspartame is one of the most tested food additives in history and the overall body of evidence is clearly against all claims of serious negative health effects. So I'd encourage you not to quit whatever you've been doing on that basis. Taurine is the same, if not quite as well-studied, probably because there's so very little a priori reason to fear it. It's just an amino acid.

For what it's worth, I've taken to the energy mints and gum that are now hitting the mainstream market, because they're cheap, have a small amount of caffeine apiece so you can pick your dose, and supposedly some of the caffeine absorbs sublingually so you get an immediate effect. Jolt gum is made with sugar, and Vojo and Ice Breakers energy mints are sugar free so they're probably made with sorbitol and/or maltitol. But again, it doesn't matter.

The best answer to this question for others who don't mind it is probably coffee, which actually seems to be quite good for your health (in moderation, of course).
posted by abcde at 11:33 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a coffee drinker but, looking for alternatives, I found that mate is a bland stimulant, energizer, rich in minerals and antioxidants and, if prepared right (it's a science of its own), very pleasant to the palate -- I usually add half a teaspoon of honey to it. It contains a little caffeine among other stimulants, but it's not nearly as brutal as coffee or a energy drink.
posted by _dario at 11:41 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

To keep myself awake during early morning classes and late-night cram sessions, I take half a No-Doz pill. Lasts several hours. I'm 5' 4", 100 lbs, female, if that helps you figure out how much No-Doz you'd need.

A bottle of 60 pills costs between 5-9 bucks, and will last you much longer than 5-9 bucks worth of coffee. Some people react badly when they see me with the pills - "oh, that's bad for you, it must be bad if it's in a concentrated dose rather than spread out over a cup of coffee". I highly doubt delivery method makes a difference in this case. Also: A "tall" Starbucks drink (aka their common small cup, not the tiny Short) has about 260 mg of caffeine. Much more than a 200 mg caffeine pill.

I've read that apples are a good alternative to coffee, but you'll have to be the judge of that. I don't think it works. The apples, not the caffeine pills. The caffeine pills, they work magic, oh yes they do.
posted by Xere at 11:42 PM on December 13, 2008

Mateine, the active ingredient in mate, is chemically identical to caffeine.
posted by contraption at 12:17 AM on December 14, 2008

Take a 20-minute nap or go for a run. Both can do the trick.

I wouldn't fear the taurine in a Red Bull. Aspartame does give me pause, just a little. abcde is right that most published reviews have concluded that aspartame consumed in judicious amounts presents no significant threat to human health, but the methodologies of some of the relevant studies have been questioned, and a few studies have indicated some risk. That said, I still drink Diet Coke now and then. I don't know what the rest of your diet is like, but it's unlikely that a Diet Rockstar every few days represents the worst of it.

If you want caffeine, I'm surprised no one has suggested just a cup of black tea. A cup made using one black tea bag has about 40-50 mg of caffeine, so using two tea bags in one to three cups of hot water will get you roughly the amount found in a can of Red Bull. Loose black teas are usually brewed with one generous teaspoon of leaves per cup of water and "one for the pot," so adjust accordingly. Add milk and sugar or lemon and honey to taste, especially if using tea bags, which tend to need at least a splash of milk. Green tea bags usually have half the amount of caffeine per bag. (All of this assumes that you're mainly using tea as a pleasant, inexpensive caffeine delivery system and not as a gastronomic experience.) Consuming moderate amounts of tea daily, as everyone knows by now, may lower your risk for various types of cancers, protect your cardiovascular health, and make your poop look like unicorns. But only maybe.

Yerba mate has caffeine (or mateine). You can buy it and brew it in a similar manner to tea. It may or may not be linked to an increased risk of esophageal, oral, and bladder cancers; the evidence is inconclusive, based on samples of traditional mate drinkers who consume large quantities of the beverage at very high temperatures and in high concentrations. Others have argued that it potentially has, instead, anticancer properties. I like the taste, which is sort of grassy and indeed bland, but I don't drink it that often.

Sodas containing guaraná or guaraná extract have caffeine too. The most popular is probably Guaraná Antarctica, which isn't too hard to find if you live near an urban area or some specialty/ethnic stores, or you can buy it online. Bawls and Goya also sell guaraná sodas.

I'm suggesting beverages instead of No-Doz mainly because having to drink 8-16 ounces of liquid at a time to get your buzz will help you to regulate the amount you take in at any one time. The pills are a little too easy to pop, for some people.

My sample of acquaintances reports that they prefer the smoother buzz from tea overall, especially if drinking a few cups a day. Coffee is far more ubiquitous, of course, but if you don't like it, if it upsets your stomach, or if you find the buzz too rough-edged, it's no good.

Beware caffeine tolerance, which happens easily. Kicking the addiction can be unpleasant.
posted by jeeves at 12:17 AM on December 14, 2008

I love coffee, and I'm not one to avoid a good sugar buzz - but when I want a good pick-me-up other than the obvious I go for a nice green tea (or Genmaicha which has toasted brown rice in it...awesome!), or cocoa nibs -which can get a little psychedelic in large quantities. Also great are the Emergen-C packets. The mixture of vitamin C and B complex vitamins is really invigorating.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:25 AM on December 14, 2008

I highly recommend tea, but I brew it from leaves and love the ritual of it. You can probably find it in flavors that you like, though. If you want to be brewing from leaves, go to your local tea store and smell them until you find one that really appeals to you. If not, guess based on the box. Make sure you make your tea with boiling water or else it won't taste good.

I also love chocolate covered espresso beans, which are probably a bad idea to eat in any quantity, but if you buy the research on dark chocolate reducing the risk of heart disease, a few of those every day might help you more than they hurt.

I think the trick to any of this is moderation. Caffeine tolerances build up really fast, so make sure you're getting the smallest amount that you need to get whatever "jolt" you're looking for; if you go over that often you'll start needing that much (and in the meantime you're gonna have shaky hands).
posted by NoraReed at 1:35 AM on December 14, 2008

I've only tried this once with no success, but a friend of mine went from drinking multiple cups of coffee and tea a day to zero; he weaned himself off it over several weeks. He said that once you have no caffeine in your system and are no longer addicted, you just naturally have more energy.

A long term plan for you is to get off all chemicals and see how you feel after a month or so.
posted by zardoz at 4:42 AM on December 14, 2008

No one has said ginseng!
posted by sunshinesky at 5:59 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vitamin B tablets kind of give me a kick - especially the sort that are meant to be slow release. Make me feel mildly buzzy and much more alert.
posted by t0astie at 6:26 AM on December 14, 2008

Nthing the tea recommendations. I have a small teapot with a strainer, so I use loose-leaf black tea most days. I really enjoy drinking the tea while I work, write, study, etc., and it's enough caffeine to keep me going.
posted by fantine at 6:39 AM on December 14, 2008

Lotta people posting late at night in this thread, eh. :)

You might like tea (there are many, many kinds) or maté. I don't really care for coffee either, though I like a little espresso now and then. It's different enough taste-wise that it might be worth a try. It doesn't really have that much caffeine unless you're drinking several shots at a time.

Caffeine pills are cheap, you know exactly how much caffeine is in them, and you could split them if you wanted to. (There's some random variation with coffee, and the big coffee-shop drinks can have quite a bit of caffeine.) Also, they don't taste good (unlike caffeinated candy), so there's less tendency to mindlessly snack on them and find yourself freaking out an hour later.

Chocolate is a bit of a stimulant, too. Hot cocoa is nice, and there are caffeinated cocoa powders available.

Small amounts of caffeine spread over the morning/afternoon works better for me than a lot at once, though my goal is maintaining focus while programming all day. I usually keep a pot of green (sencha) or black (lapsang souchong, Irish breakfast, various assams) tea in a thermos, and/or nibble on caffeinated mints. If I get stumped, I take a break and go on a bike ride or go to the gym.

As others have said, a few Diet Rockstars a week isn't necessarily an unhealthy habit, though you can probably find something cheaper and/or more appealing.
posted by silentbicycle at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2008

Reconsider coffee. It's an acquired taste, but worth every bit of the effort. I didn't touch the stuff until I left residency and moved to Oregon. Try different concoctions (a little chocolate, maybe some cream and sugar, whatever). Of all the alkaloids, it seems to be the safest and most "clean" as far as effect for most people.
posted by docpops at 7:27 AM on December 14, 2008

green tea - loads of caffeine - loads of anti-oxidants!
posted by mairuzu at 7:53 AM on December 14, 2008

Mateine, the active ingredient in mate, is chemically identical to caffeine.
That's because it IS caffeine.
posted by tmcw at 8:34 AM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like 5-hour energy. It's got a little bit of caffeine (65mg?) and some B-vitamins.

EmergenC also gives me a nice boost.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:35 AM on December 14, 2008

Emergen-C makes me feel like a dynamo.
posted by crinklebat at 12:01 PM on December 14, 2008

That's because it IS caffeine.

Well yeah, that's what I meant by "chemically identical." The fact that it was originally thought to be a distinct compound with its own name and structure has led some people to claim it has distinct/better effects, and I just wanted to put that misconception to rest.
posted by contraption at 1:52 PM on December 14, 2008

knowles: "I'm a big fan of sugar free Red Bull. It has vitamins, so that's good for you, right?"

Not necessarily.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:33 PM on December 14, 2008

solipsophistocracy: "I like 5-hour energy. It's got a little bit of caffeine (65mg?) and some B-vitamins."

I have looked into those 5-hour energy drinks because my friend drinks them. (I can't, I have a heart arrhythmia, and too much caffeine makes my heart go nuts.) They won't say exactly how much caffeine is in it - "as much as a cup of coffee." While an average cup of coffee might have around 65mg of caffeine, it really depends on what kind of cup of coffee you're measuring against... a grande Starbucks has 330mg of caffeine.

Just another note: One day my energy-drink-loving friend bought an AMP and I bought a 20oz Mountan Dew. We found it interesting that the AMP had 80mg of caffeine, while if I'd drank the whole 20oz Dew at once, it had 90mg, IIRC. (It's been several weeks... I might be getting the numbers wrong.)

Whatever you drink, be it energy drinks or vitamin water, be aware that none are really "healthy," given the sugar and sodium many are loaded with. And read the above article on vitamins in my last post.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:47 PM on December 14, 2008

That's because [mateine] IS caffeine.

Well, yes, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are other compounds in maté that interact with the caffeine, much like Theanine does with tea (especially green tea) — Neither coffee, tea, nor maté contain just caffeine in isolation. Wikipedia (1) seems to confirm this as a possibility.

Anecdotally, coffee has a much greater chance of making me jittery and nervous than tea does, even when I have a mug of coffee vs. a liter of tea or more. After drinking tea on a near-daily basis for over a year, comparable jitteriness hasn't been an issue (and I've ruled out tolerance). I hear similar claims about maté, compared to coffee, and there might be a real chemical basis. (FWIW: I've had maté a few times, but am largely indifferent to the taste.)
posted by silentbicycle at 4:09 PM on December 14, 2008

If you can find them, though I doubt they can be imported, go to your nearest Asian supermarket for Japanese energy drinks. They are packed full of caffeine, taurine, vitamins, and, strangely, nicotine. They're often just tiny bottle, a swallow or two of cough syrupy, sugary liquid. You can get cheap ones for a (U.S.) dollar or so, and the more powerful ones can run up to 20 dollars or more. But what a kick in the pants! I paid about 10 dollars (equivalent) for a genki drink when I needed to stay up all night...and stay up I did. Makes Red Bull look like defcaf.

If not Japanese, you'll probably have better luck with Chinese medicines and herbs. Ginseng tea is easy to find and a main ingredient in Japanese genki drinks.
posted by zardoz at 6:48 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Funny thing is, caffiene seems to have no effect on me. And I don't drink that much caffiene in the first place, which rules out gradual tolerance. Because of this, I typically use non-caffiene methods, like listening to upbeat rave-y music or chewing on something. Bananas or any other "grab-n-go" fruits (the ones that you can just grab and bite into without peeling skin off or spitting out a bunch of seeds) seem to do the trick. Whole grain stuff can work too. Green tea is pretty much a definite.
posted by curagea at 8:36 PM on December 14, 2008

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