Can an Energy Drink Really Make You a Better Gamer?

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GungHo

Warning: Part of this story may resemble an advertorial, because when I first bumped into it passing by AllThingsD, that’s what it read like to me. The idea’s that there’s a new energy drink called GungHo (hey, at least it’s not called “Banzai!”) that’ll make you a better gamer. Better, that is, than the sort of gamer you might otherwise be tossing back a Red Bull or Lucozade.

The claim: Traditional energy drinks make you jittery and cause post-buzz crashes, while upstart GungHo claims it’s “the solution,” and pulls in a former Harvard professor and a University of Utah study to make its case.

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According to GungHo, a study at the University of Utah found that greater than 50% of gamers “are not satisfied with current energy shots and drinks” (thus endeth the “study” part). Enter Dr. Perry Renshaw, a former Harvard professor, currently the director of a research center called The Brain Institute, who reportedly looked over GungHo’s ingredient list and gave the energy drink company this tasty quote:

GungHo is the only energy shot or drink that contains natural ingredients at proven effective doses to improve focus and concentration. Unlike other energy products that deal with short-term energy and no lasting impact on brain energy, GungHo will actually increase levels of critical neurotransmitters in the brain over time.

A little surface digging suggests Renshaw’s the real deal, an M.D. who specializes in “diagnostic neuroimaging and imaging psychiatric diseases.” And he just received a $450,000 grant to research new treatments for particularly severe forms of depression.

But note the disparity between his claims and anything like scientifically actionable evidence that drinking one of these will give you a quantifiable edge when you’re fast-twitching your way through a multiplayer map in Modern Warfare 3. All we have are implications about “effective doses” and increasing “critical neurotransmitters.” What’s missing from the press release is an actual scientific study in which gamers consumed different energy drinks and were tested playing various games over a given period of time.

And GungHo’s marketing angle is as annoying as you’d expect, full of buzzy phrases like “brain energy” and “ninja-like focus” and “laser concentration,” which should bounce right off your hyperbole deflectors. After endless paragraphs of that stuff, references to a “white paper” and some amped-up user testimonials, you’ll find your garden variety “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food And Drug Administration” disclaimer in fine, italicized, bottom-of-the-page print.

What’s in the drink? According to Beverage Industry: “Water, sucralose, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, natural flavoring, Cognizin citocoline, glucoronolactone, caffeine, ashwaganda, guarana extract, kola extract and eleuthero extract.”

Note that a recent ABC News story indicated claims about one of the key ingredients in the drink, citicoline — apparently making the rounds in newer energy drinks — “conflict with overwhelming evidence suggesting the supplement is no better than a placebo.”

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