Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

What is in an Energy Drink?

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Since soda consumption is getting a bad review due to the sugar content, many people are turning to energy drinks with names like Red Bull,  Monster, Rockstar, Full Throttle to name a few. Energy drinks are promoted to enhance athletic performance.  But do they and what is in them?

They also promise to keep you alert to work, study or party all night.  However, it not recommended to combine alcohol and energy drinks according to the CDC. fact sheet.

The main ingredients in these drinks is sugar and caffeine.  A traditional sports drink like Gatorade contains about 28 grams of sugar while some energy drinks contain twice this amount (about 55-60 grams) in a 16 oz. drink. Providing more sugar does not necessarily give you more energy as the rate of absorption does not increase, so energy drinks don’t get any more glucose to the muscles than sports drinks do.  Unabsorbed sugar in the stomach and intestines can cause GI distress.

The caffeine content in energy drinks ranges from 50 to 505 mg per can or bottle. Caffeine has been shown to enhance endurance when consumed before or during exercise. However, too much can cause caffeine intoxication causing anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, tremors, high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat as well as gastric distress.  A number of cases of caffeine-associated cardiac arrest, seizures and death have occurred after consumption of energy drinks. Since it is a diuretic it can contribute to dehydration. The FDA limits the amount of caffeine in soft drinks to 0.02% (about 71 mg in 12 oz), but some energy drinks are considered dietary supplements, so the caffeine content in not regulated. It all depends on the labeling of the drink.

Energy drinks also can contain B vitamins, taurine, guarana, and gingseng.  B vitamins are involved in ATP energy production from the sugar, but B vitamins are in plenty of foods, so you should not count on energy drinks as a source. Taurine is an amino acid that is touted to prevent muscle damage, but not all the studies support this claim. Guarana is an herb that provides even more caffeine increasing the risk of intoxication and a couple of stimulants called theobromine and theophylline. Ginseng has not consistently been shown to enhance athletic performance.

The only advantage of energy drinks for athletic performance is to provide a caffeine boost.  However, the amount of caffeine in these drinks increases the risk of dehydration and heart problems as well as high blood pressure.  The other ingredients are found in relatively small amounts and more than likely do not  provide enough to support their claimed benefits.

To be honest, a 12 oz. Coca-Cola Classic provides more sugar (39 grams) but less caffeine (35 mg) than a 16 oz. Red Bull with 28 grams of sugar and 80 mg of caffeine.  This alone may be a safer choice than the typical energy drinks with their often high caffeine contents.






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