Popular among teens, adolescents, and young athletes, energy drinks state their intention in the name. They are beverages that are intended to increase or stimulate an increase in energy levels at least. They claim to promote alertness and concentration, and they have continuously grown in popularity.
There are almost more flavors of energy drinks than traditional sodas. They promise increased energy which makes them an attractive choice when you feel sluggish in the middle of the day, need a boost for your workout, or have a deadline you’re trying to meet.
There have been warnings from healthcare workers that our beloved energy drinks may have harmful effects on our health. In addition to these warnings, it’s noteworthy that the FDA doesn’t regulate energy drinks. This has led people to question the safety of these popular beverages.
What Are Energy Drinks?
Energy drinks, like any drink, is a beverage. What makes an energy drink different from other beverages, even other caffeinated beverages, is the blend of ingredients that promise to increase a person’s energy and improve mental performance.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) claims that the safe limit of caffeine for adults is up to 400 mg of caffeine per day.
Energy drinks and the promise of plenty of energy and mental vitality appeals to teenagers, young adults, athletes, and more. Commercials show people who are physically active. Energy drinks sponsor even competitive sporting events.
Some of the most popular energy drink manufacturers and brands are:
- Red Bull
- 5-Hour Energy
- Full Throttle
However, there are plenty of other energy drinks on the market as well. Among most energy drinks, you'll find ingredients like guarana, sugar, taurine, l-carnitine, ginseng, and many others. One common ingredient they all have in common is caffeine.
Caffeine is a popular substance worldwide. Its popularity and acceptance are surprising since it is a psychoactive substance that affects the same parts of the brain as cocaine. Caffeine works to:
- Stimulate the central nervous system
- Increase the release of stomach acid
- Increase the removal of salt and water from the body through urination
- Increase blood pressure
- Increase mental alertness
- Temporarily give an energy boost
- Enhance physical performance
The desired effect of caffeine that makes it so desirable is its stimulation of brain function and feelings of increased alertness. It occurs naturally in over 60 plants on Earth, and we’ve learned to make synthetic caffeine as well.
Caffeine is generally consumed through beverages, but the amount of caffeine per drink is what sets caffeinated beverages apart from one another. For example, in an average cup (8 ounces) of coffee, you can generally find about 95 - 200 milligrams of caffeine.
Most of the popular energy drinks contain a range of caffeine similar to a standard cup of coffee. So, why are energy drinks seen differently?
In combination with the caffeine energy drinks provide, a few other ingredients increase their potency and provide the stimulation that simulates increased energy. Most energy drinks contain:
- Sugar: Although there are energy drinks that contain no sugar, a vast majority of them contain sugar. Most of the calories found in these energy drinks come from their sugar content.
- B Vitamins: The eight vitamins that make up the B-vitamin complex are used by our bodies to convert nutrients from food, like fats, proteins, or carbohydrates, into energy.
Because they’re an essential part of fuel (food) conversion to energy, they’re often confused as an energy source themselves.
- Derivatives of Amino Acids: You’ll find ingredients like taurine, leucine, valine, lysine, and others in energy drinks.
- Herbal extracts: These are generally added to boost the caffeine content or provide the promised positive effects on brain functions.
These ingredients and the variety of flavors that energy drinks come in make them a popular choice for drinkers looking for a quick boost of energy and improved brain functions for the tasks at hand.
Energy drinks actually do provide a measure of improved brain function, even when you’re tired. They can help with things like concentration, memory, and improved reaction time. They can even diminish your feelings of mental fatigue.
Researchers tend to believe that the improved brain function is solely contributable to the amount of caffeine in energy drinks, but others think that sugar also plays an important role in improved brain functions.
Other drinkers turn to energy drinks just to combat fatigue. When you’re tired, and you don’t have time for sleep, anything that can help you get through the tasks at hand and combat the feelings of being tired is tempting.
Energy drinks can help you stay alert. If you’re driving, finishing a paper, or staying up later than usual, you may turn to energy drinks to help you make it through. But is there a dark side to energy drinks?
The Dark Side Of Energy Drinks
If you’ve consumed an energy drink, you may have noticed that they do actually help you function even when you’re tired. However, you may have also paid the price for your increases through diminished sleep quality.
Energy drinks have also been linked to cases of heart problems and related visits to the emergency room. In fact, over 20,000 emergency room visits in the United States are thought to be attributable to energy drink consumption.
This is believed to be because of the excessive caffeine intake that occurs with users who frequently drink energy drinks. Remember, caffeine can raise your blood pressure and your heart rate.
The caffeine amounts in a typical energy drink are about the same as a cup of coffee. Still, people who have reported problems associated with their energy drinks weren’t consuming just one energy drink. Often people who report problems are drinking in excess of three energy drinks or mixing their stimulating energy drinks with the depressant alcohol.
If you have a history of heart issues, you may want to consider limiting or avoiding energy drinks. However, reasonable consumption of energy drinks should not cause complications. Keep in mind that some energy drinks have a high sugar content that can generate their own health concerns. So, be mindful of the amount of sugar in the drinks you choose.
Ingesting too much caffeine could also lead to high blood pressure, headaches, and increased anxious feelings. It could also increase your risk for obesity since most energy drinks contain artificial sweeteners and high amounts of sugar.
Remember to listen to your body, consume in moderation, and consider the timing of your energy drink use. They may help you when you’re tired, but if you’re tired enough to need an energy drink every day, you may want to consider prioritizing some energy drink alternatives.
Energy Drink Alternatives
When it comes to increasing your energy levels, one of the best solutions is to get more rest. Unfortunately, consuming large quantities of caffeine, like those found in some energy drinks, can actually impede your ability to get a restful night’s sleep.
In order to put down the energy drink and find a more natural, safer approach to energy, you need to prioritize sleep. If you struggle to fall asleep, you may want to consider a supplement like Complete Calm Sleep Gummies that may help support your sleep health, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed.
Suppose the appeal of energy drinks lies in their ability to enhance your cognitive functions. In that case, you may want to consider a supplement like Complete Calm De-Stress Gummies that can help promote mental focus while encouraging feelings of calm. As opposed to the jittery feeling you might get from too much caffeine.
In addition to the natural alternatives that can be found in a supplement, consider giving your body the natural fuel it needs for energy with a healthy diet that contains adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables and good sources of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
To ensure that all your processes are running smoothly, you’ll want to hydrate. If energy drinks have been a frequent part of your daily life, remember that they are a diuretic. Caffeine has been stimulating the removal of water and salt from your body. Dehydration can cause you to feel like you have less energy, so you’d be amazed at how good proper hydration can make you feel.
If energy drinks have been a large part of your life, you may experience caffeine withdrawal as you work to limit or eliminate them from your daily life. Be prepared for headaches as you recover.
Energy drinks are a popular beverage choice, but it doesn’t always mean it’s a wise choice. It’s important that you understand the ingredients in the energy drinks you choose to consume, and you should be aware of the negative side effects of consuming energy drinks as well.
If you consume energy drinks, make informed decisions about the ones you drink, and as with anything, moderation is essential. If you lack energy, consider some other alternatives to improving your energy, like getting more rest each night and giving your body the proper fuel (food) to convert into energy.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.
Dominick Gauthier, Performance Expert
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)