The Scary Truth About Energy Drinks

“Aside from the jet packs and the monkey overlords, one of the things that science fiction promised us in the new millennium was food in convenient pill form. But reality cheated our imaginations on every level. Instead of jet packs, we got Segway scooters. Instead of monkeys, we got the Bush administration. And instead of food pills, we got energy drinks.”
– Jeff Penalty, Swindle Magazine

A boost to beat “that 2:30 feeling.”

A remedy for a poor diet.

Athletic prowess like never before.

Such are the promises of energy drinks. This trend seems to be a natural evolution of our love for (and, in some cases, dependence on) caffeine, starting with coffee and progressing to cola and super-charged sodas such as Mountain Dew. You can even purchase caffeinated soap to get your buzz before your coffee is done brewing!

Let’s face it — we love being wired. But do energy drinks go too far?

What the hell is this?

I first saw an energy drink during a half-marathon a couple years ago, when someone ahead of me chucked an empty Red Bull can over his shoulder, hitting me in the head. In rage, I picked it up to throw it back at him, but the small size of the can piqued my curiosity: What the hell is this?

I thought I had discovered a runner’s secret. I’ve never been much of pop drinker, so I had missed the displays of Red Bull and Monster in the convenience store coolers. It sounded like a miracle tonic: “Red Bull gives you wings.” Wings? Awesome.

My tenure as an energy-drink consumer lasted one day. If by “wings,” Red Bull meant anxiety, shaky hands, nausea, and an eerie resemblance to Philip the Hyper-Hypo after a candy bar, then yes, I had wings.

I stared at the can again, wondering: What the hell is this? Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out the answer, even studying the drinks as part of my dissertation for my doctoral program. As I sifted through the research, I found that under the heavy data and big words, there was one common theme:

Energy drinks promise a lot, sure — but there’s a lot more they aren’t telling us.

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From Couch Potato to Ironman — In 20 Months

Susan Lacke at the finish of Ironman Wisconsin, just 20 months after deciding to run her first 5K.

In 2009, I made a New Year’s Resolution to run my first 5K.

I assumed I’d run the 5K, cross the accomplishment off my bucket list, and go back to being a couch potato. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, that 5K led to something else: 20 months after making that resolution, I completed my first Ironman triathlon, a race which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

Anyone can do an Ironman

After the Ironman, I wrote a post which was titled with the one statement about Ironman I firmly believe: “Anyone Can Do an Ironman.”

If you sit on the sidelines of an Ironman finisher’s chute long enough, you’ll believe this statement, too. There’s such a wide cross-section of Ironman triathletes, from chiseled studs to 80 year-old nuns. After sitting at enough finish chutes, I decided I didn’t want to be a spectator anymore. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side.

The next time I saw an Ironman finisher’s chute, I was running down it.

When I made that resolution to run my first 5K, I had no idea I’d complete an Ironman 20 months later. I was a couch potato who was trying to quit smoking (again). Ironman triathlons were something crazy people did, and though I was happy to spectate with a beer in my hand, I never saw myself as one of those people.

Besides, training for a 5K was hard enough. Training to run 3.1 miles was difficult and time-consuming.

Covering 140.6? No freakin’ way.

The 9 things that helped me do it

It was a series of bold choices, hasty mistakes, happy accidents, and – finally – focused planning which took me from couch potato to Ironman in just 20 months.

Everyone has their own way of doing things when it comes to Ironman, and when you train for one, you’ll discover yours. For now, here are what I found to be the nine most important keys in going from zero to Ironman faster than most people think is possible.

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The One Word to Ignore

Post written by Susan Lacke.

In the midst of being on the support crew for my friend Carlos’ chemotherapy treatments, I’ve been inundated with a million You should’s:

“You should tell him about this doctor.”
“You should come to bible study/temple/meditation with me.”
“You should read this book.”
“You should teach him about juicing.”
“You should be feeling more (insert emotion here).”
“You should be feeling less (insert emotion here).”
“You should check out this website on alternative cancer treatments.”
“You should go see my therapist.”

Though I appreciate the consideration and concern, whenever I hear a “you should,” I want to tell people what they should do. Hint: it isn’t pleasant…nor anatomically possible.

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How I Lost 70 Pounds and Ran My Fastest 5K — With a Fractured Pelvis

Post written by Susan Lacke.

Maybe I can’t be an astronaut, but at least I can run like one.

When Alter-G asked me to give their anti-gravity treadmill a whirl, here’s how they described it:

Alter-G Anti-Gravity Treadmills use patented NASA technology that allows for precise partial weight-bearing running, unweighing up to 80% of the your body weight. Simply put — it’s like running on the moon.

An invitation to run on the moon — how could I turn that down?

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Be Proud to Come Up Short Again (and Again)

Post written by Susan Lacke.

I’m headed to the Deuces Wild Triathlon tomorrow. I really, really, don’t want to do this <bleep>ing race: it’s at elevation, with 60-degree water, monster hills, and now, 20-mph winds. <Bleep>. <Bleep>. <Bleep>ity<bleepbleepbleep>. I DNF’ed last year, and said I was going to come back and make it my bitch. <Bleep>.

If I die, please write a very nice memorial on the site. Lie if you have to.

Matt saved this little gem of an e-mail I sent him a few weeks ago. As you can see, I was really looking forward to that race.

Walk out or be carried out

When I wrote about the experience of my first DNF (“did not finish”) at the Deuces Wild Triathlon 2010, I conjectured that almost every triathlete has taken a DNF at one of their races, whether they chose to walk off the course or had to be carried out on a stretcher.

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The Anti-Diet Success Story

Post written by Susan Lacke.

You won’t read this post and discover how a vegetarian “diet” will help you drop weight.

You won’t learn how many miles you need to run every day to lose weight, gain muscle, or otherwise alter your body. There will be no shocking before and after photo, nor will you unlock the secrets of dropping ten pounds in one week.

I can tell you I used to be a lot heavier than I currently am, but I couldn’t tell you how much of a difference there is between now and then — I haven’t stepped on a scale in months.

I spent most of my college years trying to find a balance between my desire to be a size zero, my “need” to drink beer and eat pizza, and my lacking motivation to drag my hungover ass to the gym on a regular basis. Since I wasn’t willing to give up the booze, junk food, and sedentary lifestyle, I resorted to other measures:

  • A week on a diet that consisted solely of diet coke and apples.
  • Laxatives.
  • Phases of 500 calories of food per day and 1000 calories of beer at night.
  • Diet pills.
  • A relationship with cigarettes that began when one of my (very thin) friends told me smoking burns calories.

Listen, I said I was in college, not that I was smart.

These poor choices affected me not only physically, but mentally. When I found one thing wrong with my body, the floodgates opened to criticize other parts. I was tired. I was hungry. I was frustrated. I was fat.

I was a lot of things — but happy wasn’t really one of them. By defining myself by the shape of my body, I had been cursed with a serious case of the “not enoughs:” I wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough.

Enough of ‘not enough’

I’m not really sure what caused my shift in thinking, but one day I decided I was tired of “not enough.” It was time to make a change. Even though I wasn’t sure I was capable of running three miles without stopping, I signed up for my first 5K race and started training.

I ran. It was hard.

I ran some more. It got easier.

I did a 5K, then a half-marathon, a marathon, and an Ironman triathlon…and with each race, my body changed.

But this isn’t a diet success story.

I didn’t sign up for my first race because I wanted to lose weight — I signed up because I wanted to cross a finish line. By being “enough” to accomplish one goal, I was “enough” to accomplish others. There’s a certain sense of empowerment that grows with each mile run and each finish line crossed.

The weight loss was a happy byproduct of this process. Though I’m thinner now, running and triathlon didn’t give me a waif-like, model-thin body, or even a ripped, muscular one.  I have a little cupcake belly, not a six-pack.  You won’t see me on the cover of Competitor Magazine, unless my editor decides it would be a hysterical April Fools’ joke.

But — and this is a big but (not butt) — I’m happy.

Running helped me see my body in a different light. I no longer get frustrated with my body for how it looks, but instead am in awe of what it can do. My little cupcake belly is the fuel tank that gets me through training and racing. My legs, which TV tells me can never be quite small enough, are what I trust to keep powering me up hills when they have every reason to quit.

My body may not be as chiseled as most of the athletes I race with, but it has the power to cover the exact same course as they can. And though I’m not cover-model material, I don’t really care. For the first time in my life, I’m happy with who I am and confident in what I can do. I finally feel like I’m enough.

This isn’t a diet success story. Stop looking for one.

When a person stops focusing on how the body looks and starts truly appreciating what it can do, it becomes obvious how those thoughts of “not enough” have limited the release of so much potential, in so many ways. It’s as simple as using the body you have to accomplish what you think it can’t. Exercise can change how the body looks, sure, but the effects on the mind, self-concept, and confidence can be so much more powerful.

There is no magic pill. There is no secret diet. There is no miracle that will get you to a perfect body.

There’s just you and what you’re capable of doing.

And that’s more than enough.


In addition to serving as No Meat Athlete’s Resident Triathlete, Susan Lacke writes a monthly column in Competitor Magazine and a new blog post every Thursday on She likes carrots…especially those found in carrot cupcakes. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke



How to Survive Your First Open-Water Swim: 8 Tips for The New Triathlete

Note: This is a post from No Meat Athlete Resident Triathlete and Triathlon Roadmap author Susan Lacke.

Runners often tell me they’d love to check out the triathlon scene, but they can’t (or won’t) swim.

They say swimming is hard, the mass start looks scary, and open water just gives ‘em the heebie-jeebies.  And I’ve got to admit, they have a point.

Susan Lacke in the swim start of Ironman Wisconsin (she’s the one in the wetsuit).

Most of us log our swim training in the pool. When it comes to our first open-water swim start, we get a reality check when the starting gun goes off.

I wish someone had warned me of this — in the first 5 seconds of my open water swim, my mind rushed with a frenetic string of thoughts:

  • Why are these people so CLOSE to me?
  • Where’s the black stripe on the bottom?
  • Why can’t I see my hand in front of my face?
  • What is that thing floating up from the bottom? Is that a lake zombie?
  • I can’t breathe. Am I going to die?

In spite of all the pool hours I had put in, three minutes into my first open-water swim I was flipped over, doing the backstroke, and gasping for air.  I’m sure the spectathletes on the shoreline were thoroughly amused.

As for the zombie, turns out there was no creature of the undead in the lake — just a stick.

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You Have to Fight

“Stage four cancer.”

Three words. That’s all it took to send everything into a tailspin.

Author Susan Lacke with her friend and thirteen-time Ironman, Carlos

The man sitting in front of me, one of my closest friends, didn’t look sick. There was no way he had cancer.

I had been so certain Carlos was invincible; this kind of thing didn’t happen to people like him. No way.

The story itself seemed surreal.  Carlos woke up one day, seeming perfectly healthy and ready to race a half-Ironman in California. The next, there was a tumor in his colon, spots on his liver, and a whirlwind of doctors and nurses and IVs and surgeries and fear.

“I do all this stupid Ironman shit, and look where it got me.”

Carlos is a thirteen-time Ironman, a model of health to everyone who knows him. For as long as we’ve been friends, people have called him a lot of things for his healthy lifestyle — mostly some variation of ‘crazy’ — but have also admired his dedication and tenacity.

I’ve never seen Carlos question anything. He’s always been confident — sometimes to the point of being just a little bit cocky. It’s something I loved about him the first time I met him. But in that moment, discussing his cancer diagnosis, I thought I saw a glimpse of self-doubt.

I should have known better than that. When I reached out to take my friend’s hand, he looked into my eyes:

“I’m going to fight this with everything I have.”

It’d be easy (and forgivable) for him to lament — he spent all this time and energy being healthy, and for what? Why did he bother with so many vegetables when he could have eaten something deep-fried every day? What was the point of exercise if it didn’t keep him healthy? If this disease has such a low survival rate, what’s the point in fighting?

But for as long as I’ve known Carlos, I’ve known he’s incapable of such a mindset. When there’s a 99 percent chance of failure, most people hope and pray to be in the 1 percent of success.

Carlos neither hopes nor prays.  He forces his way into that slim margin and owns it.  Told you he was a little bit cocky.

He’s a fighter, and expects others to be, too. No matter the opponent, he’ll tell you to get in there and give it everything you have. If you’re going to lose, you damn well better go down swinging.

So I fight, too.

He’s fighting people who say they’re pulling for him, but secretly wonder if he’s really capable of beating such advanced cancer. I can silence my insecurities and self-doubt.

He’s fighting the exhaustion of telling his emotional story again (and again) when yet another person asks, “What happened?” I can deal my overflowing e-mail inbox.

He’s fighting a tangle of doctors and treatment options and medication regimens with optimism. I can be kind to the Starbucks barista who screwed up my drink order.

He’s fighting the pain of surgery and chemotherapy. I can pound out another hill repeat when my legs say “no more.”

He’s fighting the fear that if his treatment fails, his children will be without a father. I can stop using my busy schedule as an excuse to not have dinner with a friend.

He’s fighting fatigue to keep his promise to attend as many of my races as he can. I can give him everything I have to make him proud.

Be a fighter

We take so much for granted.  Every so-called struggle most of us encounter pales in comparison to what Carlos is facing.  We make so many assumptions that our lifestyle choices somehow imply invincibility, and yet just like Carlos going from Ironman to the operating room, everything can change at any time.

For as long as Carlos has been a part of my life, he’s been a profound influence. This circumstance is yet another example of that influence. If he can fight, so can I. Hoping and praying simply isn’t enough; even the biggest of fires can’t start without a spark.

Be that spark. No matter what it is you’re doing, you can’t just work at it halfheartedly.

You have to commit to making it happen.

You have to own every part of it.

You have to be just a little bit cocky.

Most importantly, you have to fight.


Susan Lacke, NMA’s Resident Triathlete, also writes for Competitor Magazine and  Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke