Dietitians advise students to replace caffeine with healthy lifestyles

Mayo Clinic Statistics for milligrams of caffeine in 12 oz. drinks. (graphic by Chuck Dearden)

Over 78 percent of college freshmen sampled consume above the recommended allowance of caffeine per day and 51 percent reported experiencing caffeine withdrawal, according to a University of Kentucky study.

To combat the reliance on caffeine, Utah registered dietitians Lauren Absher and Emily Tieu recommend alternative sources of energy that young adults can turn to instead of their daily Diet Coke.

Absher said he believes that the societal standard for staying alert and having better school performance has caused young adults to turn to caffeine.

Tieu said she thinks students use caffeine for an instant boost when their energy crashes because they aren’t always able to fuel themselves correctly. 

Some effects of a reliance on caffeine include increased heart rate, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and — in excessive cases — dehydration, according to Absher. Tieu said she has also noticed the cycle the body undergoes when relying too heavily on caffeine.

“Your body adapts to caffeine and builds up a tolerance,” Tieu said. “Eventually you will get used to it and it will take more caffeine to achieve the desire effect. It just leads into a cycle where you’re increasing caffeine intake to stay awake.”   

To boost energy naturally — without the aid of caffeine — Absher recommends finding a “balance of life” which includes regulating sleep, physical activity and nutrition.

“You can become sluggish from overeating, and other times you can become sluggish from undereating. If you don’t get enough sleep, you could be more stressed and that could change your food intake,” Absher said. 

Both Absher and Tieu advise students to prioritize eating regularly throughout the day, starting with breakfast.

“Sometimes people say they feel sick if they eat breakfast, so my recommendation for them is to try to have some kind of drinkable calories; something like a protein drink so that they’re making breakfast a priority,” Absher said. 

Students should also avoid waiting to eat all their calories at dinner, because this indulgence can lead to feeling more lethargic, according to Absher. Instead, students should plan to eat regularly during their day. If remembering to eat throughout the day is difficult, Absher suggests that students set alarms on their phone so they do not miss meals or snacks.

Young adults should look for food that will energize them, such as items that contain carbohydrates, protein and fat, both Tieu and Absher suggest.

“If you were to have a snack that had some sort of a complex carb, protein and a little bit of healthy fat, it’s slower digesting and slower releasing of the sugars throughout the day to maintain that steady level of energy without the crash,” Tieu said. 

MacKenzie Bowman, a sophomore studying dietetics, said she has found that physical activity increases her level of energy.

“As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed that my diet and exercise is crucial. If you’re exercising regularly — for me that’s three to four times a week — you just naturally have more energy,” Bowman said.

Absher and Tieu confirm regular exercise and a good night’s rest can help boost alertness and energy.

“I think exercising consistently on a daily basis helps to boost energy levels, and also getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night,” Tieu said. 


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