Energy Drinks – Definition
Classified as a functional beverage, energy drinks are consumable liquids that promote temporary mental alertness and wakefulness, along with physical stimulation.3 Sold for nearly 30 years in more than 165 countries worldwide, many companies are now offering healthy, natural, and organic energy drinks as an alternative to the original formulas in order to keep up with consumer demand. These drinks that give you energy often contain a mixture of caffeine, carbohydrates, amino acids, sugar, B-complex vitamins, ginseng or guarana seed extract.1,2,3
Healthy Energy Drinks
In 2012 energy drink sales reached $12.6 billion in the U.S. alone, up 14% from 2008. Since the early 2000’s, there’s been an increasing demand for energy drinks that help promote mental alertness. At the time, energy drink manufacturers were not required to list the amount of stimulants such as caffeine, that were a part of their (often proprietary) blend.
However, a growing amount of hospital visits became associated with energy drink consumption. These emergency room visits caused the FDA and energy drink manufactures to adjust nutrient labels, making them more informative and requiring them to include warnings for special populations, such as children and pregnant women. Still, this left many consumers looking for alternative energy sources without the associated side effects of regular energy drinks.
As the market for energy drinks grew, the type of consumers diversified.4 If you’re searching for a little bit more energy for the gym, not the nightclub, a range of health conscious energy drinks have emerged to promote mental alertness and keep you on track. Today, healthy energy drinks can be divided into two subcategories, natural energy drinks and organic energy drinks.
Natural Energy Drinks
Natural energy drinks combine ordinary sources of caffeine with vitamins or antioxidants for individuals who love energy drinks and health conscious products.
Several brands available in the market today, deliver energy derived from natural sources. These energy drinks use natural flavors and Vitamins such as B12, B6 , Vitamin C and Vitamin A.6 Popular natural energy drink brands include:
- Guru Energy Drink
- Guayaki Yerba Mate
Organic Energy Drinks
Individuals that adhere to an all-organic diet, don’t have to comprise when it comes to energy sources. In recent years, energy drinks have begun to expand their nutritional profile to include organic ingredients, antioxidants and even fiber.4 Additionally, these products often carry other certifications such as gluten-free, vegan, or Non-GMO verified.4,7 Common organic energy drink brands include:
- Little Miracles Organic Energy
- Sambazon Energy Drink
- Dark Dog Energy Drink
Users should remember that even all-natural or organic energy drinks can contain high amounts of sugar. Athletes should account for this when tracking their daily calories and nutrients.
Homemade Energy Drink
While it is possible to create a homemade energy drink, creating your own requires time and money to purchase ingredients. It also requires a bit of trial and error.
Creating a homemade energy drink could potentially allow you to customize flavors, sugar levels and select ingredients which adhere to any preferences or dietary requirements. To mimic commercial energy drinks, users would need to source liquid B Vitamins, flavor drops, glucuronolactone, a caffeine source, sweeteners, carbonated water and herbs.8
Many recipes use natural ingredients such as berries, citrus fruits, lemon or ginger which claim to boost energy naturally, but may not deliver the same energy boost as energy drinks.
Do Energy Drinks Contain Bull Sperm?
As earlier as 2001, rumors surfaced that one of the many ingredients that helped users feel mentally alert, taurine, was attributed to bull sperm in energy drinks.9
Originally isolated from Ox bile, taurine is an amino acid commonly found fish, animal tissues and breast milk. The name taurine is derived from the Latin word, Taurus, meaning a bull or ox.9
Rumors were spurred further by several media outlets publishing news articles about the secret ingredient. However, many readers failed to notice these were posted on April 1, April Fool’s Day.9
Taurine is frequently listed as an ingredient in energy drinks. Today, any taurine found in an energy drink is synthetically produced to meet health and quality standards.10
Taurine in Energy Drinks & Other Ingredients
Taurine is an amino acid which functions as a building block for protein.11 It’s naturally found in animal and human muscle tissues, and is predominately concentrated in the heart, brain and skeletal muscles.12
Taurine in energy drinks is thought to potentially interact with caffeine to improve temporary neurological focus.14 In scientific studies, the amino acid has been associated with increasing muscle strength, output, power and reducing exercise-induced muscle damage, making it a popular Pre Workout Supplement ingredient.12
Ginseng is also one of the most frequently listed energy drink ingredients and has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Studies have concluded ginseng to be a form of antioxidant, protecting the body against potentially harmful free radicals.13
Consuming a ginseng drink has also been thought to improve mental cognition and focus. Preliminary research indicates that the Asian variety of ginseng may help improve concentration, memory or mental
However, the full range of ginseng health benefits remains unknown. While many studies have examined the effects of ginseng, they often are combined with other herbs making it difficult to conclude if ginseng alone demonstrates health benefits.13
Caffeine is the most common ingredient found in energy drinks today.11 As an ergogenic (performance enhancing) aid, caffeine effects the central nervous system to improve mental alertness and focus.15 Caffeine can be extracted from coffee, tea cocoa or kola nuts and is quickly absorbed stimulant.11
Caffeine can also be synthetically manufactured in laboratories. This caffeine comes from the raw material urea. It is commonly used in energy drinks and soda, and is absorbed at an even faster rate than plant-derived caffeine.27
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, consuming an energy drink 10-60 minutes before physical activity can delay mental fatigue and enhance performance in aerobic or anaerobic exercise. However, caffeine has been found to be particularly effective for high-intensity endurance sports or time-trials.11
What energy drink has the most caffeine?
In a 2012 Consumer Report investigation, the leading 27 brands of energy drinks and energy shots available in the United States were independently tested for their caffeine content.16
As caffeine is not a nutrient, by law the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not required to be displayed on the label. Often, caffeine falls under the company’s proprietary blend.16,15
Results from an independent lab indicated that of the 27 brands tested, the energy drink with the highest level of caffeine was NOS High Performance Energy Drink, with 224 mg of caffeine in a 16 oz. serving.16
These results reflect findings from energy supplements available in 2012 and since then, new products with higher caffeine content may have entered the market.
Are Energy Drinks Bad for You
Since the adoption in mainstream society many health authorities, consumer groups and athletes have wondered are energy drinks bad for your overall health?
Energy drinks are considered safe to consume for healthy populations in moderate amounts by some of the world’s most forefront health authorities including the US Food & Drug Administration (USFDA), Health Canada, the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) and Food Standard Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).17
The dangers of energy drinks are mostly related to the concerns over high levels of caffeine. While maximum caffeine levels are still being studied, current data concludes that 400 mg is safe for most healthy adults.16
In an assessment conducted by Health Canada, the health authority collected data to publicly address the question are energy drinks safe for the average consumer?17
After evaluating popular ingredients and weighing their health hazards, Health Canada concluded that,
While the energy drink dangers have made headlines over the past several years, these events have often involved excessive amounts of energy drinks or have been used in combination with illicit drugs.
Energy Drinks and Alcohol
When mixed together, energy drinks can mask the depressant effect of alcohol. This enables the user to feel less intoxicated, which may promote more alcohol consumption and increase alcohol-attributed risks.3 To warn consumers, brands frequently display a statement on labels that indicate that it is not recommended to be taken with alcohol.19
To make matters confusing, caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) are also widely available. These are premixed beverages that contain alcohol and caffeine, amongst other ingredients. Alcohol content is frequently higher for CABs than beer or ciders which may result in faster intoxication if the consumer is unaware. Drinkers who reported consuming CABs are three times more likely to binge drink, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.21
Side Effects of Energy Drinks
Consuming a moderate amount of energy drinks is thought to be safe for healthy adults.20 Of the most common energy drink ingredients, caffeine has been found to be responsible for the largest side effects of energy drinks. Health authorities have listed the side effects of consuming energy drinks similar to those of consuming an excessive amount of caffeine.18 Side effects may include:19
- Increased heart rate
- Increased urine production (Diuresis)
- Increased energy which may lead to sleep disturbances or insomnia
- Increased blood pressure
- Potential irregular heart beat
- Hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar), which occurs from all drinks with high levels of sugar
Energy drinks are not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or breastfeeding women.19 This statement is commonly found right on the label.
Further, individuals with diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure or those taking medications that may be effected by caffeine or other stimulants, should be cautious when consuming caffeine. High glycemic loads found in energy drinks can spike blood pressure and insulin levels. Elderly individuals may also be more susceptible to the effects of caffeine.19
Strongest Energy Drink
The most effective energy drink will vary from user to user. Energy drinks contain different types and levels of stimulants which are often combined in unknown, proprietary amounts.16 However, the main energy boosting effects can be attributed to caffeine and carbohydrate ingredients.
But do energy drinks work to improve athletic performance?
In a 2012 study, researchers decided to test the effects of a leading sugar-free energy drink against a placebo in 19 semi-professional soccer players. Participants were tested in various sprint tests that represented lengths that would be frequently run in a soccer match. Additionally, participants had to complete a jump test to mimic potential headers in a game.22
Results indicated that consuming the energy drink at a dose of 3 mg of caffeine per kg body mass increased jump height and mean running speeds in the six sprint tests. Further, at medium running speeds (zone 4) an energy drink significantly enhanced the distance covered.22
Carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose, glucuronolactone are frequently found in energy drinks. Several scientific studies indicate that supplementing carbohydrates in bouts of activity longer than 45 minutes are beneficial in increasing and sustaining glucose (energy) levels.11
Coffee vs Energy Drinks
Caffeine is a stimulant that is regularly consumed in the form of tea, coffee and soda. Coffee particularly comes in many variations of caffeine doses, such as decaffeinated, brewed coffee or highly-caffeinated specialty drinks.
Although the variations of these drinks is quite wide, caffeine levels in coffee have been reported to range from 40 to 175 mg. However, as our tolerance for caffeine grows, serving sizes increase to meet our demands.24 A venti size (591 mL) of dark roast brewed coffee from Starbucks contains up to 360 mg of caffeine.23
When it comes to the caffeine amounts in coffee and energy drinks, the difference in sizes makes it difficult to compare. The caffeine content in what users typically consider as good energy drinks, can range from 80 mg in an 8 oz. container to over 350 mg in a larger 16 oz. can, depending on that person’s preference.26
While both coffee and energy drinks contain caffeine, how they are consumed may play a role in their perceived effects. Drinking a cup of coffee is widely accepted, and a lifelong habit for millions of Americans.24
Energy drinks have long been marketed towards youth, party goers or extreme athletes. Many perceive that energy drinks could be consumed faster because of the cold temperature or environment.24
In 2016, researchers from Washington State University published the first study on the rate of caffeine absorption between coffee and energy drinks. The study evaluated how the body processes caffeine in different forms. Data suggested that the rate of absorption and the effects on our metabolism between the two drinks were very similar. Contrary to popular belief, the research indicated that temperature and rate of consumption didn’t drastically change absorption.25
While some differences were seen in rates of absorption between men and women, this can be attributed to a difference in body mass. But when broken down pound per pound, researchers found the ounces of caffeine consumed per pound were the same.25
Where to Buy
Energy drinks are widely available in supermarkets and convenience stores. But, do cheap energy drinks deliver the same energy boost as expensive ones? Read our Buying Guide before you buy.
Energy Drink Reviews
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- A.E. Pennay, A. E., & D.I. Lubman, D. I. (2012). Energy drinks: health risks and toxicity. Medical Journal of Australia, 196(7), 442.
- Saritas, A., Dikici, S., & Gubes, H. (2015). Adverse effects of energy drinks. The American Journal of Emergency medicine, 33(3). 461-462. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2014.11.054
- Canadian Beverage Association. (2015). Get the facts. Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://energydrinkinformation.ca/get-the-facts/
- The Associated Press. (2013, July 2). U.S. energy drinks tout organic ingredients. CBC News. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/u-s-energy-drinks-tout-organic-ingredients-1.1413200
- Campbell’s Soup. (n.d.). V8 plus energy. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://www.campbellsoup.ca/en-ca/products/v8-plus-energy
- MarketWired. (2016, September 22). Steaz unveils new branding for energy line [Press release]. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/steaz-unveils-new-branding-for-energy-line-2160690.htm
- MarketWired. (2014, June 27). Mamma Chia launches new vitality + energy beverages [Press Release]. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/mamma-chia-launches-new-vitality-energy-beverages-1925374.htm
- Caffeineinformer. (2014, September 11). Homemade energy drink recipe. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://www.caffeineinformer.com/homemade-energy-drink-recipe
- About.com. (2015, October 4). Is there bull sperm in your energy drink? Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/fooddrink/fl/Do-Energy-Drinks-Contain-Bull-Semen.htm
- Red Bull. (n.d.). Q&A: Is taurine made form bull’s testicles? Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://energydrink-ca.redbull.com/en/no-semen-in-red-bull
- Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., La Bounty, P., Taylor, L., Nelson, M. T., Greenwood, M., & Kreider, R. B. (2013). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 1. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-1
- Exrx.net. (n.d.). Taurine. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from About.com. (2015, October 4). Is there bull sperm in your energy drink? Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://www.exrx.net/Nutrition/Supplements/Taurine.html
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2015, June 22). Asian ginseng. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/asian-ginseng
- Mayo Clinic. (2015, February 11). Taurine is listed as an ingredient in many energy drinks. What is taurine? Is it safe? Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/taurine/faq-20058177
- Rosenbloom, C. (2014). Energy drinks, caffeine and athletes. Nutrition Today, 49(2), 49-54. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000022
- Consumer Reports. (2012, December). The buzz on energy-drink caffeine. Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/12/the-buzz-on-energy-drink-caffeine/index.htm
- Canadian Beverage Association. (2015). Get the facts. Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://energydrinkinformation.ca/get-the-facts/
- Rotstein, J., Barber, J., Strowbridge, C., Hayward, S., Huang, R., Benrejeb Godefroy, S. (2013). Energy Drinks: An assessment of the potential health risks in the Canadian context. International Food Risk Analysis Journal, 3, 5. doi: 10.5772/56723
- Torpy, J. M., & Livingston, E. D. (2013, January 16). Energy drinks. Journal of the American Medical Association, 309(3), 297. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.170614.
- Government of Ontario: EatRight Ontario. (n.d.). Facts on energy drinks. Retrieved September 28, 2016 from https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Caffeine/Facts-on-Energy-Drinks.aspx
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, November 12). Fact Sheets- Caffeine and alcohol. Retrieved September 28, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/caffeine-and-alcohol.htm
- Del Coso, J., Muñoz-Fernández, V. E., Muñoz, G., Fernández-Elías, V. E., Ortega, J. F., Hamouti, N., & Muñoz-Guerra, J. (2012). Effects of a Caffeine-Containing Energy Drink on Simulated Soccer Performance. PLoS ONE, 7(2), e31380. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031380
- Starbucks Coffee Company. (n.d.). Beverage nutrition information. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from http://globalassets.starbucks.com/assets/94fbcc2ab1e24359850fa1870fc988bc.pdf
- Edlund, M. J. (2010, July 22). Coffee vs. energy drinks – The caffeine wars. Psychology Today. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-rest/201007/coffee-vs-energy-drinks-the-caffeine-wars
- Washington State University. (2016, July 6). Coffee vs. energy drinks: No difference in caffeine absorption [Press release]. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from https://news.wsu.edu/2016/07/06/coffee-vs-energy-drinks-no-difference-caffeine-absorption/
- Miller, A. (2015, January 16). Are energy rinks really that bad?S. News & World Report. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/01/16/are-energy-drinks-really-that-bad
- Ettinger, J. (2011, December 2). Need a life or a jolt? Natural vs. Synthetic Caffeine. Retrieved October 7, 2016 fromhttp://www.organicauthority.com/health/need-a-lift-or-a-jolt-the-important-differences-between-natural-and-synthetic-caffeine-natural-caffeine-vs-synthetic-why-the-difference-is-important.html
- O’ Donnell, J. (2012, October 23). Deaths linked to energy drinks could prompt action. USA Today. Retrieved October 7, 2016 from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2012/10/23/monster-energy-drinks-five-deaths/1652819/