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Bros Are Guzzling Energy Drinks in Search of Masculinity

Energy drink ads are having a dramatic impact on the behaviour of adult men, and causing what is known as "toxic jock identity."

The energy drink industry has a pretty strong culture when it comes to marketing.

The insane variety of big-budget mountain-biking, pickup-truck-racing, and skydiving-from-space videos aiming for virality and dripping with branded logos—ideas that sound like they were brainstormed in a room full of taurine-pounding executives trying to one-up each other's' "rad" ideas—are all aimed squarely at young men.

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The image of the energy-drink-fueled jock doing quintessentially masculine activities is a powerful one, and the industry knows it. Not surprisingly, these slick advertising campaigns have had a huge influence on the behaviour of male teens, but it's also having a dramatic impact on adult men, according to a recent study published in the journal Health Psychology.

"While most men who buy energy drinks aren't martial arts champions or race car drivers, these marketing campaigns can make some men feel as though drinking energy drinks is a way to feel closer to, or associated with, these ultra-masculine sports," said lead researcher Dr. Ronald F. Levant in a press release.

Dr. Levant is a professor of psychology at the University of Akron and sought to examine "a possible link between masculinity, expectations about the benefits of consuming energy drinks, how those expectations affect energy drink use, and the impact on sleep," in this research.

READ: Energy Drink-Guzzling Teens Are More Likely to Experience Brain Injuries

And Dr. Levant found was what he was looking for. Based on the results of 467 adult male participants in the Male Role Norms Inventory short form (MRNI-SF), the University of Akron team found significant associations "between beliefs in traditional masculinity, beliefs in the efficacy of energy drinks, energy drink consumption, and sleep disturbances.

"The link between masculinity ideology and energy drink use suggests that energy drink use may be a means of performing masculinity as a way to raise masculine capital," Levant says, adding that this study shows the efficacy of the ads by "demonstrating that one is consuming products that are associated with the engagement in extreme sports or an otherwise active and competitive lifestyle."

In other words, young men, especially young white men, the study found, are buying into the idea that these drinks are a "magic potion" for attaining a high-testosterone image. But over-consumption of these drinks is connected with dangerously accelerated heart rates, increased anxiety, and insomnia. Not as cool, bro.

READ: Mexican Pulque Is the Original Boozy Energy Drink

Energy drinks contain huge amounts of caffeine, but the FDA does not require these quantities to be written on labels. "Because of this, some people may drink more caffeine through energy drinks than they might have intended to throughout a day, and drinking large amounts can cause problems--especially with sleep," according to Dr. Levant.

This study corroborates an earlier one entitled "Wired: Energy Drinks, Jock Identity, Masculine Norms, and Risk Taking", which looked at 795 undergraduates and their risk-taking behaviors and found that consumption of energy drinks should be recognized as a potential predictor of "toxic jock identity," which is defined in academic literature as a "sport-related identity predicated on risk-taking and hypermasculinity."