Energy Drinks – Good or Bad?

Energy Drinks – Good or Bad?
  • Dr. Taylor Wallace
  • February 7, 2017

More and more people are using energy drinks as a quick “pick-me-up” during the day.

Sales of energy drinks and shots grew more than 60% between 2008 and 2012 to a market worth more than $12.5 billion.

Depending on the energy drink selected, the ingredients as well as amounts of caffeine and nutrients may vary considerably.

The caffeine content of most energy drinks ranges from about 50-160 mg per 8 oz. serving as compared to 65-120 mg present in an equivalent serving of black coffee.

Depending on who you ask, energy drinks can be both helpful or harmful.  Let’s explore the scientifically backed benefits and detriments of consuming energy drinks.

How Much Caffeine is Right for You?

Although calories provide energy, the stimulant effects of energy drinks are mainly derived from their caffeine content.

Moderate intake of 300-400 mg/day of caffeine is generally accepted by scientists as safe for healthy adults, however those with hypertension and the elderly may be more vulnerable.  Pregnant women should hit the brakes around 200 mg/day of caffeine.  As a rule of thumb, kids should limit caffeine intake to 1 mg per pound of body weight (e.g., a 60-lb. child should have a maximum of 60 mg/day of caffeine).

Many energy drinks also contain varying amounts of other stimulants such as taurine, carnitine, inositol, ginkgo, and milk thistle.  Animal studies have shown that caffeine and taurine, both common energy drink ingredients, intensify each other’s effects.  It’s important to note that these stimulants have not been widely studied for safety during pregnancy or in children.

Energy Drinks Have the Potential to Enhance Mental and Physical Performance

Enjoying an energy drink before hitting the gym does have its benefits, but it’s important to make wise choices.

Caffeine has been shown to increase one’s mental alertness, reaction time and muscle function during exercise.  A recent large review of the scientific literature also found that energy drinks containing taurine may improve muscle strength, endurance, and sport-specific actions such as jumping.

Consuming energy drinks 10-60 minutes before exercise has an explicit effect on anaerobic performance. Because every individual metabolizes and/or responds differently to caffeine and/or other stimulants, you shouldn’t automatically assume you will perform better.  There is also limited but emerging evidence that suggests consumption of low- or non-calorie energy drinks during exercise may promote a small amount of additional fat loss.

What You Need to Be Aware of When Consuming Energy Drinks

Ingestion of higher-calorie energy drinks may promote weight gain if energy intake is not carefully considered as part of the total diet.  One must consider the number of calories and amount of added sugars an energy drink provides to your daily diet when selecting a product.

Diabetics and individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular, metabolic, liver, or neurological disorders should avoid the use of energy drinks unless approved by their physician.   Caffeine has been shown to increase heart rate and blood pressure among individuals who are “caffeine-sensitive.” While clinical studies have failed to show a direct association between caffeine intake and heart arrhythmias, Emergency Room visits involving energy drinks has doubled in recent years.

Energy drinks may also have unintended neurological consequences.  A recent study found that athletes who consumed energy drinks were more likely to experience nervousness, anxiety and trouble sleeping hours after the competition.


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