Nutrition and health info sheet: energy drinks

NutritioN aNd HealtH iNfo SHeet
Energy Drinks
, Assistant Project Scientist, Department of Nutrition, University
of California, Davis; SHERI ZIDENBERG-CHERR, UCCE Nutrition Science Specialist,
Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis
What are energy drinks?
The term energy drink refers to a beverage that contains caffeine in combination with
other ingredients such as taurine, guarana, and B vitamins, and that claims to provide CALIFORNIA
its consumers with extra energy.1 This term was created by companies in the beverage industry1 and is not recognized by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Is there evidence that these energy drinks increase energy?
There is limited evidence that consumption of energy drinks can significantly improve
physical and mental performance,2 driving ability when tired,3 and decrease mental
fatigue during long periods of concentration.4 Unfortunately, the body of literature
is limited and it is not known whether these improvements are due to the caffeine,
other herbal ingredients, or as a result of the combination of the ingredients found in
the beverage.2
Can consumption of energy drinks have adverse effects?
The caffeine content of a single serving of an energy drink (8 to 12 fl oz) can range
from 72 to 150 mg; however, many bottles contain 2 to 3 servings, raising the caffeine
content to as high as 294 mg per bottle. (See the metric conversion table at the end
of this publication.) In comparison, the caffeine content per serving of brewed coffee,
tea, and cola beverages (8 fl oz) ranges from 134 to 240 mg, 48 to 175 mg, and 22
to 46 mg respectively.5 A recent literature review determined that consumption of up
to 400 mg of caffeine daily by healthy adults is not associated with adverse effects.5
However, groups that are at risk, such as women of reproductive age and children,
should limit their daily consumption of caffeine to a maximum of 300 mg for the for-
mer and 2.5 mg/kg body weight for the latter;5 thus they may need to avoid consum-
ing energy beverages with a higher caffeine content. Adolescents should also limit caf-
feine consumption, as intakes greater than 100 mg per day have been associated with
elevated blood pressure.6 Based on these findings, consumption of energy drinks by
pregnant or nursing women, adolescents, and children is not recommended.
Caution is warranted even for healthy adults who choose to consume energy beverages. Consumption of a single energy beverage may not lead to excessive caf-feine intake; however, consumption of two or more beverages in a single day can. Other stimulants such as guarana and ginseng are often added to energy beverages and can enhance the effects of caffeine. Guarana, in particular, contains caffeine (1 g of guarana is nearly equal to 40 mg of caffeine)7 and may substantially increase the total caffeine in an energy drink. Adverse effects associated with caffeine consump-tion in amounts of 400 mg or more include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, increased urination, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia), decreased bone levels, and stomach upset.5 Furthermore, energy drinks contain added sugar. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, sugar should be limited in the normal daily diet.
What is the caffeine and sugar content of energy drinks?
Servings per
Sugar per
per serving
serving (g)
Note: This table does not include amounts of other stimulants found in energy drinks that can enhance the effects of caffeine.
There are many unusual ingredients in energy drinks. What do they claim to do?
Functional claims
improves endurance14, increases fat metabolism15; protects promotes excretion of toxins and protects against cancer1 increases energy, enhances physical performance, and promotes decreases triglyceride and cholesterol levels, lowering risk of speeds illness recovery; improves mental, physical, and sexual performance; controls blood glucose and lowers blood pressure17 suppresses appetite, resulting in weight loss10 lowers risk of diabetes11, epilepsy,11 and high blood pressure12 improves sexual performance8,9 and promotes weight loss10 Is there scientific evidence to support these claims?
Scientific evidence
There is no clinical evidence that carnitine use is effective for increased endurance14 or weight loss,15 but it may protect against heart disease.16 Scientific evidence does not exist to support claims regarding the efficacy of glucuronolactone.1 A major component of guarana is caffeine.13 Caffeine consumption has been associated with increased energy, enhancement of physical performance, and suppressed appetite. Scientific evidence does not exist to support claims regarding the efficacy of inositol.13 Scientific evidence does not exist to support claims regarding the efficacy of panax ginseng.17 There is scientific evidence that use of this supplement decreases food consumption.10 Clinical evidence is insufficient to show that taurine is effective in treating diabetes or epilepsy,11 Although yohimbine HCl may increase blood flow to sexual organs, there is no evidence that it increases sexual arousal.8 It may be effective at treating erectile dysfunction.9 Currently no evidence exists to support the claim that use of this supplement leads to weight loss.10 Is consumption of these ingredients safe?
Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of carnitine use.15 Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of glucuronolactone use at the concentrations found in This substance is generally regarded as safe by the Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety Insoitol is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration.
Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of panax ginseng use.17 Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of super citramax use.10 Insufficient data exists to establish the safety of taurine use.1 Approved for use by the FDA to treat hypertension and sexual dysfunction, but over-the-counter use is Should energy drinks be consumed before or during exercise?
Caffeine is known to increase endurance and its use is therefore banned by the
International Olympic Committee.19 Research has found consumption of caffeine prior
to heavy exercise to be safe; however, the safety of consuming caffeine in combination
with other herbal supplements found in energy drinks prior to or during exercise has
yet to be established.1 Until the safety of this practice can be established, consumption
of energy drinks prior to exercise by individuals of any age is not recommended.
Should children and adolescents consume energy drinks?
A recent survey of 78 youth (ages 11–18) found that 42.3 percent of participants con-
sumed energy drinks;20 however, the effects of energy drink ingredients on children
and adolescents has raised concern.13 In adolescents, caffeine consumption has been
associated with an increase in blood pressure.6 Based on the limited data regarding
safety, it is not recommended that children or adolescents consume energy drinks.
Is it safe to mix energy drinks with alcohol?
A recent study investigating the effects of energy drink 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.21 In short, an individual may unknowingly overlook
the debilitating effects of intoxication because of the sensation of alertness produced by
an energy drink. Furthermore, both caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics, increasing the
likelihood of dehydration and adverse cardiovascular effects. For these reasons, it is not
recommended to consume energy drinks in combination with alcohol.
1. The European Commission on Food Safety. 1999. Opinion on caffeine, taurine and D-glucurono- g -Lactone as constituents of so-called “energy” drinks. The European Commission Web site, 2. Scholey, A. B., and D. O. Kennedy. 2004. Cognitive and physiological effects of an “energy drink”: An evaluation of the whole drink and of glucose, caffeine and herbal flavouring fractions. Psychopharmacology 176:320–330.
3. Reyner, L. A., and J. A. Horne. 2002. Efficacy of a ‘functional energy drink’ in counteracting driver sleepiness. Physiol Behav 75:331–335.
4. Kennedy, D. O., and A. B. Scholey. 2004. A glucose-caffeine ‘energy drink’ ameliorates subjective and performance deficits during prolonged cognitive demand. Appetite 42:331–333.
5. Nawrot, P., S. Jordan, J. Eastwood, J. Rotstein, A. Hugenholtz, and M. Feeley. 2003. Effects of caffeine on human health. Food Addit Contam 20:1–30.
6. Savoca, M. R., C. D. Evans, M. E. Wilson, G. A. Harshfield, and D. A. Ludwig. 2004. The association of caffeinated beverages with blood pressure in adoles-cents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 158:473–477.
7. Finnegan, D. 2003. The health effects of stimulant drinks. Nutr Bull 28:147–155.
8. Meston, C. M., and M. Worcel. 2002. The effects of yohimbine plus L-arginine glutamate on sexual arousal in postmenopausal women with sexual arousal disorder. Arch Sex Behav 31:323–332.
9. McKay, D. 2004. Nutrients and botanicals for erectile dysfunction: Examining the evidence. Altern Med Rev 9:4–16.
10. Pittler, M. H., and E. Ernst. 2004. Dietary supplements for body-weight reduc- tion: A systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 79:529–536.
11. Birdsall, T. C. 1998. Therapeutic applications of taurine. Altern Med Rev 12. Militante, J. D., and J. B. Lombardini. 2002. Treatment of hypertension with oral taurine: Experimental and clinical studies. Amino Acids 23:381–393.
13. Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA). 2001. Formulated caffein- ated beverages. ANZFA Inquiry Report A394. Food Standards Australia New Zealand Web site, .
14. Brass, E. P. 2000. Supplemental carnitine and exercise. Am J Clin Nutr 15. Saper, R. B., D. M. Eisenberg, and R. S. Phillips. 2004. Common dietary sup- plements for weight loss. Am Fam Physician 70:1731–8.
16. Ferrari, R., E. Merli, G. Cicchitelli, D. Mele, A. Fucili, and C. Ceconi. 2004. Therapeutic effects of L-carnitine and propionyl-L-carnitine on cardiovascular diseases: A review. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1033:79–91.
17. Ernst, E. 2002. The risk-benefit profile of commonly used herbal therapies: Ginkgo, St. John’s wort, ginseng, echinacea, saw palmetto, and kava. Ann Intern Med 136:42–53.
18. USDA (United States Food and Drug Administration). 1994. Adverse events with ephedra and other botanical dietary supplements. FDA Medical Bulletin. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Web site, 19. Clarkson, P. M. 1996. Nutrition for improved sports performance: Current issues on ergogenic aids. Sports Med 21:393–401.
20. O’Dea, J. A. 2003. Consumption of nutritional supplements among adoles- cents: Usage and perceived benefits. Health Educ Res 18:98–107.
21. Ferreira, S. E., M. T. de Mello, S. Pompeia, and M. L. de Souza-Formigoni. 2006. Effects of energy drink ingestion on alcohol intoxication. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 30:598–605.
Metric Conversions
Conversion factor for Conversion factor for
English to Metric
Metric to English
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