What's the buzz about energy drinks for athletic performance?
If you’re looking for a burst of energy, then you might be wondering if energy drinks are the answer. While they may not give you wings (sorry, Red Bull), they can help give you energy all thanks to their stimulating ingredients. Caffeine is the major ingredient in energy drinks, and research shows that it can act as an ergogenic aid and benefit performance in both endurance and explosive events. So how can an energy drink be considered unsafe if it contains the same ingredient in a cup of coffee? It’s all about the dose!
What’s in an energy drink?
You probably could have guessed that the main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. But before you drop your cup of coffee, you should know that caffeine is not the culprit here. The amount of caffeine is what can be dangerous and when you mix it with other stimulants commonly found in energy drinks, it can cause cardiovascular problems.
Let’s compare the amount of caffeine in energy drinks to other caffeinated beverages.
- Soda (1 can): 35mg
- Coffee (1 cup): 95mg
- Green tea: 35mg
- Red Bull: 80mg
- Monster: 160mg
- Celsius: 200mg
- Bang: 300mg
Other ingredients may include: taurine, guarana, green tea extract, ginseng and B vitamins.
Guarana is a plant native to the Amazon and it contains twice the amount of caffeine as a coffee bean. It is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) according to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). While it’s safe to consume in moderation, it’s important to note the potential risks including insomnia, anxiety, digestive issues, irregular heart beat, restlessness and nausea.
Taurine is a naturally occurring amino acid. It’s present in protein foods including dark meat, fish and dairy. In the body, we use it for energy production as well as fluid balance. As part of a balanced diet with sufficient protein intake, taurine is considered safe. However, a large amount of taurine when mixed with caffeine and alcohol can have dangerous side effects.
How much caffeine is safe?
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration considers 400mg of caffeine a safe amount for the average healthy adult to consume daily.
Currently, a safe recommendation for youths ages 12-17 is unknown, so pediatricians recommend that this age group consume no more than 100mg per day.
Side effects of too much caffeine
The side effects of too much caffeine include nausea/vomiting, hypertension, and increased heart rate. In extremely large doses, it can be lethal.
In combination with alcohol and certain drugs, like ephedra, caffeine can cause increased blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.
High risk populations include the youth population, pregnant women, caffeine-deficiency, and those with cardiovascular disease.
Side effects of consuming energy drinks
Energy drinks contain a combination of ingredients which can lead to negative effects if not carefully monitored including:
- Heart complications
How do energy drinks compare to sports drinks?
The main difference between energy drinks and sports drinks is that they are missing carbs, the main source of energy in the body!
So while energy drinks give you a jittery feeling and quick boost of energy, it won’t fuel your workout.
Should athletes use energy drinks to boost performance
In general, the answer is no. Energy drinks are nothing more than a quick fix and when combined with other stimulants, they can cause some serious side effects.
It is recommended that youth athletes do not consume energy drinks due to their high caffeine content. Most energy drinks contain more than 100mg/caffeine, which is the current recommended daily allowance for this population. Just to put this in perspective … just ONE celsius contains double the amount of caffeine the average healthy teen should consume! That’s not including other caffeinated food and beverages that they may be consuming like soda, tea, or chocolate.
Athletes looking to boost performance should focus on an appropriate balance of macronutrients including carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Key takeaways from a dietitian:
Energy drinks may be consumed in moderation and should limit to 1 per day. It’s important to monitor daily caffeine intake and be aware of beverages that are high in caffeine, which can lead to excessive daily intake. Individuals who are high-risk should avoid energy drinks which can lead to negative side-effects. If athletes are looking to boost performance, they should consume a healthy balance of nutrients from whole-food sources. For pre-workout and intra-nutrition, carbs can provide the body with energy which can aid in better performance.
Gutiérrez-Hellín, J., & Varillas-Delgado, D. (2021). Energy drinks and sports performance, cardiovascular Risk, and genetic associations; future prospects. Nutrients, 13(3), 715. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13030715
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). The Buzz on Energy Drinks. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/energy.htm