Nutrition & Health Info Sheets contain up-to-date information about nutrition, health, and food. They are provided in two different formats for consumer and professional users. These resources are produced by Dr. Rachel Scherr and her research staff. Produced by Lyndsey Ruiz, BS, Melanie Gerdes, BS, Ashley Theide, BS, Taylor Berggren, MS, Anna Jones, PhD, Rachel E. Scherr, PhD, Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, PhD, Center for Nutrition in Schools, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, 2018.
What are energy drinks?
The term “energy drinks” refers to non-alcoholic beverages that claim to improve athletic performance, concentration, reaction time, and increase basal metabolism through the addition of ingredients such as caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, B vitamins, and herbal supplements such as ginseng and guarana (1). Energy drinks may be categorized into beverages or liquid dietary supplements, depending on the manufacturer’s choice.
Is there evidence that energy drinks increase energy?
Caffeine consumption has been shown to enhance alertness and mood, act as an ergogenic aid, or counteract symptoms of sleep loss (2). However the body of scientific literature is limited and it is not known whether ergogenic improvements from consuming energy drinks are due only to the caffeine, or are also due to other herbal ingredients, or as a result of the combination of the ingredients found in a beverages (1). Some evidence shows that energy drinks may improve mental alertness, reaction times and concentration (3).
How does the caffeine content of energy drinks compare to other beverages that contain caffeine?
The caffeine content of a single serving of energy drink can range from 50 to 200 mg; however, many cans contain multiple servings, thus significantly raising the caffeine intake if consumed as one portion (4). Furthermore, only manufacturers that belong to the American Beverage Association are required to report caffeine content (5).
In comparison, the caffeine content, per serving, of regular drip or percolated coffee, tea, and cola beverages ranges between 95 - 165 mg, 5-48 mg, and 24-46 mg, respectively (6). The nutrition facts label may be missing key information about the concentration of caffeine in the beverage.
Can consumption of energy drinks have adverse effects?
Consumption of up to 400 mg caffeine daily by healthy adults is not associated with adverse effects (7). Adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption in amounts of 400 mg or more include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), decreased bone levels, and stomach upset (8). Caution is warranted for healthy adults who choose to consume energy beverages. Consumption of a single energy beverage may not lead to excessive caffeine intake, however, consumption of multiple beverages in a single day could, depending on the caffeine content. Other stimulants such as guarana and ginseng are often added to energy beverages and can enhance the effects of caffeine. Guarana, for example, contains caffeine (1g of guarana is equal to ~40 mg caffeine) (9) and may substantially increase the effect of an energy drink. Furthermore, it should be noted that energy drinks often contain added sugar. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugar should be limited in the normal daily diet (7).
There are groups that are at higher risk for negative health implications of caffeine consumption. This group includes women of reproductive age, pregnant and lactating women, and children. Pregnant women are recommended to consume less than 200mg per day of caffeine (10). Women who are nursing should avoid caffeine, as it can be found in breastmilk at approximately 50% of the amount found in maternal serum, and thus should be avoided (11). The position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is for children to avoid stimulants, including caffeine-containing beverages (5).
What is the caffeine and sugar content of energy beverages?
|Drink||Serving (fl. oz.)||Servings per container||Kcal per serving||Sugar per serving (g)*||Caffeine per serving (mg)|
|Red Bull Sugar Free™||8.4||1||5||0||80|
|Monster Zero Ultra™||16||2||0||0||70|
|Monster Energy Lo-Carb™||8||2||10||3||70|
|Red Bull Energy Drink™||8.4||1||110||27||80|
|5 Hour Energy™||1.93||1||4||0||200|
*Sugar content collected from Nutrition Facts Labels in store.
Note: This table does not include amounts of other stimulants found in energy drinks that can enhance the effects of caffeine. Many products are available in multiple sizes and may contain more servings than listed in this table.
There are many unusual ingredients in energy drinks. What do they claim to do?
- Found In: Monster Energy™, Rock Star™, Monster Energy Zero™, Java Monster™, Monster Energy Lo-Carb™, Monster Rehab™
- Unsubstantiated Claims: Improves endurance (13); increases fat metabolism (14); protects against cardiovascular disease (15)
- Found In: 5 Hour Energy™, Monster Energy™, Monster Energy Zero™, Java Monster™, Monster Energy Lo-Carb™, Monster Rehab™
- Unsubstantiated Claims: Promotes excretion of toxins and protects against cancer (5)
- Found In: Nos™, Monster Energy™, Rock Star™, Monster Energy Zero™, Java Monster™, Monster Energy Lo-Carb™, Monster Rehab™
- Unsubstantiated Claims: Increases energy, enhances physical performance, and promotes weight loss (16)
- Found In: Monster Energy™, Rock Star™, Monster Energy Zero™, Java Monster™, Monster Energy Lo-Carb™, Monster Rehab™
- Unsubstantiated Claims: Decreases triglyceride and cholesterol levels, lowering risk of cardiovascular disease (17)
- Panax Ginseng
- Unsubstantiated Claims: Speeds illness recovery; improves mental, physical, and sexual performance; controls blood glucose, and lowers blood pressure (18)
- Found In: Red Bull™, Red Bull Total Zero™, Red Bull Sugar Free™, Nos™, 5 Hour Energy™, Monster Energy™, Rock Star™, Monster Energy Zero™, Java Monster™, Monster Energy Lo-Carb™, Monster Rehab™
- Unsubstantiated Claims: Lowers risk of diabetes (19), epilepsy (19), and high blood pressure (20)
Is there scientific evidence to support these claims?
- Carnitine: There is no clinical evidence that carnitine use is effective for increased endurance (13) or weight loss (14), and the relationship with heart disease risk is controversial (21)
- Glucuronlactone: Scientific evidence does not exist to support claims regarding the efficacy of glucuronolactone (22)
- Guarana: A major component of guarana is caffeine (16). Caffeine consumption has been associated with increased energy, enhancement of physical performance, and suppressed appetite.
- Inositol: Scientific evidence does not exist to support claims regarding the efficacy of inositol (17).
- Panax Ginseng: Scientific evidence does not exist to support claims regarding the efficacy of panax ginseng (18).
- Taurine: Clinical evidence is insufficient to show that taurine is effective in treating diabetes or epilepsy (20).
Is consumption of these ingredients safe?
- Carnitine: Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of carnitine use (14).
- Glucuronlactone: Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of glucuronolactone use at the concentrations found in energy drinks (22).
- Guarana: This substance is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) for addition to cola beverages by the Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FDA CFSAN) (23).
- Inositol: Inositol is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) for addition to food by the Food and Drug Administration (23).
- Panax Ginseng: Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of panax ginseng use (18).
- Taurine: Taurine is GRAS for use in enhanced water beverages at 45 ppm (23).
Should energy drinks be consumed before or during exercise?
While caffeine is widely accepted as an effective and safe ergogenic aid, the safety of consuming caffeine in combination with other herbal supplements found in energy beverages prior to or during exercise has yet to be established (24). Until the safety of this practice can be established, consumption of energy beverages prior to exercise by individuals of any age is not recommended.
Is it safe to mix energy beverages with alcohol?
A study investigating the effects of energy beverage consumption in combination with alcohol reported that, despite not feeling intoxicated, participants performed just as poorly on objective measures of motor coordination and reaction time as they did after consumption of alcohol alone (25). In short, an individual may unknowingly overlook the debilitating effects of intoxication because of the sensation of alertness produced by the energy drink. For these reasons, it is not recommended to consume energy drinks in combination with alcohol.
- Burrows T, Pursey K, Neve M, Stanwell P. What are the health implications associated with the consumption of energy drinks? A systematic review. Nutrition Reviews. 2013;71(3):135-148. doi:10.1111/nure.12005.
- McLellan TM, Caldwell JA, Lieberman HR. . A review of caffeine’s effect on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2016;71:294-312. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.09.001.
- Seifert et al. Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):511-528. Pediatrics. 2016;137(5). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-0454.
- Caffeine: How much is too much? Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678?pg=1. Published March 8, 2017. Accessed August 16, 2017.
- American Beverage Association. ABA Guidance for the Responsible Labeling and Marketing of Energy Drinks. https://www.ameribev.org/files/resources/2014-energy-drinks-guidance-approved-by-bod-43020c.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- The Truth About Energy Drinks. Today’s Dietitian. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100713p62.shtml. Accessed August 16, 2017.
- 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- The buzz on energy-drink caffeine. Caffeine levels in energy drinks - Consumer Reports. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/12/the-buzz-on-energy-drink-caffeine/index.htm. Accessed August 16, 2017.
- Gonzales de Mejia E, Ramirez-Mares MV. Impact of caffeine and coffee on our health. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism . 2014;25(10):489-492. doi:10.1016/j.tem.2014.07.003.
- Kaiser LL, Campbell CG. Practice Paper of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Abstract: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2014;114(9):1447. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.07.001.
- Budzynska K, Gardner ZE, Dog TL, Gardiner P. Complementary, Holistic, and Integrative Medicine: Advice for Clinicians on Herbs and Breastfeeding. Pediatrics in Review. 2013;34(8):343-353. doi:10.1542/pir.34-8-343.
- Savoca MR, Evans CD, Wilson ME, Harshfield GA, Ludwig DA. The association of caffeinated beverages with blood pressure in adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2004;158:343-353. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.5.473.
- Caffeine Informer. http://www.caffeineinformer.com/. Accessed February 16, 2018.
- Finnegan D. The health effects of stimulant drinks. Nutrition Bulletin. 2003;28(2):147-155. doi:10.1046/j.1467-3010.2003.00345.x.
- Brass EP. Supplemental carnitine and exercise. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;72(2):618S-623S.
- Saper RB, Eisenberg DM, Phillips RS. Common dietary supplements for weight loss. American Family Physician. 2004;70(9):1731-1738.
- Inquiry Report. foodstandards.gov. https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/applications/documents/A394_(full)_report.pdf. Published August 8, 2001. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedrine Alkaloids. WAIS Document Retrieval. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Birdsall TC. Therapeutic applications of taurine. Alternative Medicine Review. 1998;3(2):128-136.
- Militante JD, Lombardini JB. Treatment of hypertension with oral taurine: experimental and clinical studies. Amino Acids. 2002;23(4):381-393. doi:10.1007/s00726-002-0212-0.
- Jong JWD, Ferrari R. Effect of L-carnitine and propionyl-L-carnitine on cardiovascular diseases: a summary. The Carnitine System Developments in Cardiovascular Medicine. 1995:383-388. doi:10.1007/978-94-011-0275-9_27.
- Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine. Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine | European Food Safety Authority. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/4102. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. accessdata.fda.gov. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.510. Accessed August 17, 2017.
- Campbell B, Wilborn C, Bounty PL, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(1):1. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-1.
- Arria AM, O’Brien MC. The “high” risk of energy drinks. JAMA. 2011;305.6:600-601. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.109.
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