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Energy shot fails to live up to name

Luis Fábregas
| Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 1:53 p.m.

After we finished running Pittsburgh's half-marathon on Sunday, a young woman approached my wife and me to offer a free sample of 5-Hour Energy Shot, the caffeine-infused potion that promises to make you sail through your day.

Since no one ever offers anything free anymore, we grabbed the little plastic bottles without giving it much thought. Then I remembered that a few weeks before I'd been given a similar 2-ounce bottle at Market Square.

It was a sign I should try it. Who doesn't want to stay alert without crashing? And quite frankly, who doesn't want to sail through the day with a product that has zero sugar and only four calories? Before giving it a shot (pun intended), I spoke to Leslie Bonci, who directs the sports nutrition program at UPMC.

"It's all talk and no action," she said about the 5-Hour Energy Shot, suddenly raining on my anticipated five-hour parade. "The only way you give your body energy is with fuel, meaning calories.There's no way that four calories can fuel a body for five hours."

The 5-Hour Energy shot, which the company says contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of leading premium coffee, is nothing but a stimulant, Bonci said. It makes your heart beat faster, makes you breathe faster and essentially makes you feel wired, she said.

Despite Bonci's smart advice to avoid it, I remained intrigued. How clever of the company, Living Essentials, to make $1 billion in retail sales by taking advantage of our sleep-deprived society. The company owner told Forbes magazine he was probably the wealthiest Indian in America. All because he had the brains to mix caffeine, B vitamins and amino acids and market it, largely to college students and truckers.

I gulped my berry-flavored shot in the mid-afternoon, that time of day when I usually grab a Diet Coke or coffee for a quick pick-me-up. I thought I was taking Robitussin. The strong after-taste forced me to eat a handful of chips. Within seconds, paranoia kicked in. I felt like my eyes were wide open, my heart racing.

Too much caffeine can raise blood pressure and prompt nausea and vomiting, but all I was feeling was the shot's placebo effect. My worst fear -- a heart attack -- never materialized. I did feel a burning sensation in my stomach, then jittery for all of 30 minutes.

The creative pro that she is, Bonci shared an idea she began testing with members of the Pirates baseball team. Working alongside chef Anthony Palatucci, she helped concoct what she calls a performance shot. It's a blend of fruits and vegetables that she serves to players in 4-ounce cups. Last week she served them a mix of watermelon, celery, lime, orange and flax seeds and they loved it.

Good as it sounds, who carries a blender and a bagful of fruits and veggies? It's not convenient. As Bonci said, the 5-Hour Energy Shot appeals to lazy people who don't want to do anything.

If that's the issue, why not just have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? As for me, I'll stick to coffee for future energy boosts and leave the cough syrup for when I have a cold.

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