Caffeine pills, energy gummies and coffee, oh my!

Long gone are the days when coffee and tea were the only ways a person could get caffeine in his or her system. Nowadays one can find caffeine in gum, candy, drinks, shots, even shampoo! Here’s an overview of all the healthy and less-than-healthy ways of consuming caffeine.

Caffeinated Food

Some food like chocolate has naturally occurring caffeine from the cocoa. Then there are products where synthetic caffeine has been added: waffles, cookies, chips, jerky, granola and more. If a company is adding caffeine, they must declare that and the caffeine content on the label. Caffeinated food can be worrisome because not following the serving sizes can be dangerous. Are you the kind of person that can’t have just one waffle, brownie or serving of chips? When these foods are caffeinated, having more than one serving can mean consuming more caffeine than you can handle.

With caffeinated food, there is no standard amount of caffeine. One company’s granola contains 50 mg caffeine per bar, while another company’s granola has 100 mg caffeine. Most adults should have only 400 mg caffeine per day. Along with the caffeine content per serving, you should evaluate the fat, sugar and protein content, and any ingredients you may be allergic or sensitive to.

  • PRO: Say “goodbye” to consuming caffeine on an empty stomach.
  • CON: Be extra cautious with caffeinated food around children and pets because caffeinated food could make them very sick.

Caffeinated Gum, Candy, Mints and Gummies

If you don’t have time for a meal or snack, caffeinated gum, candy, mints or gummies might seem like the way to go. They’re quick to consume (though the caffeine won’t kick in any faster), and more portable than a caffeinated drink. Options include energy strips, gum, jelly beans, mints and marshmallows.

Caffeinated gum, candy and mints create the same safety hazard as caffeinated food – not following the serving size can be dangerous. The risk of consuming too much caffeine increases with products like these because it can be easy to forget how many pieces you’ve had.

  • PRO: A smaller product means it’s easier to carry it around with you or keep it in your car or jacket pocket.
  • CON: Caffeine does not get absorbed from gum the same way it gets absorbed from a caffeinated beverage. Since you eventually spit out the gum, only 70 percent of the caffeine content makes it into your system.

Caffeinated Medication

Before there were energy drinks, there was NoDoz – caffeine pills that were popular among college kids before Red Bull existed. Today, NoDoz isn’t the only caffeine-containing pill or medication available. Excedrin also contains caffeine, because caffeine can help block pain signals in the brain. Several sports supplements also contain caffeine because of caffeine’s role in fat metabolism and muscle performance (See “Caffeine as a Gym Partner”).

  • PRO: Caffeine pills can be convenient and portable like energy gum or candy.
  • CON: Sports supplements and weight-loss supplements are two of the most commonly adulterated kinds of supplements. Make sure your supplier is trustworthy, and watch out for red flags if you’re buying online.


Adults get their caffeine mostly from coffee and tea, while children and adolescents get most of their caffeine from soda and chocolate. The caffeine in coffee varies based on the beans, the brewing method and other factors. There is no “average” cup of coffee, since the caffeine content can range from 90 mg to 180 mg per 8-oz cup.

  • PRO: Plain, black coffee offers caffeine as well as antioxidants.
  • CON: Coffee often requires patience, whether it’s waiting in a line or waiting for the brew. Also, coffee is less palatable out of a certain temperature range, so it has to be consumed right away. This makes it less convenient than other forms of caffeine.

Energy Shots

Though there are many options for energy shots, one brand continues to dominate the market. 5 Hour Energy Extra Strength contains 230 mg caffeine per bottle*. The caffeine content of other energy shots ranges from 6 mg to 500 mg caffeine.

  • PRO: Energy shots are portable and conveniently small.
  • CON: Energy shots deliver concentrated forms of synthetic caffeine, which give the illusion the caffeine will kick in faster. However, whether it comes from an energy shot or an energy drink, caffeine will take about 15-20 minutes to kick in.

Energy Drinks – including Energy Juices and Energy Waters

When choosing an energy drink, it’s important to find one that meets your ingredient preferences. For example, are you avoiding sugar or avoiding alternative sweeteners? Are you looking for high vitamin content or simple ingredients? Do you want an energy drink that contains caffeine from natural sources like green tea extract?

  • PRO: Some energy drinks offer a caffeine boost, low or no sugar, and natural flavors and colors. Energy waters like Avitae can be hydrating as well as stimulating, and offer a healthy alternative to the more common energy drinks.
  • CON: Energy drinks vary wildly in their ingredients and caffeine content. Some energy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine and sugar, artificial ingredients and an excess of B vitamins. It’s important to make sure the caffeine content is right for you, and to evaluate whether the caffeine is delivered immediately or through time-release technology.