Energy and Sports Drinks

Overview

What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks are drinks that claim to improve energy. Their main ingredient is caffeine. They usually contain sugar, which adds calories. They also may contain guarana plant extract (which is similar to caffeine), taurine (an amino acid), and vitamins.

Are energy drinks safe for adults?

The main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine (less than 400 mg a day) is considered safe for adults. There is about 95 mg of caffeine in 8 fl oz (237 mL) of brewed coffee. A single energy drink can have as much as 500 mg of caffeine. Caffeine increases energy in adults and fights tiredness. But too much caffeine can make you feel nervous or grouchy. And it can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, and headaches.

Alcohol

Drinking energy drinks and alcohol together may be unsafe. The caffeine in these drinks can make the effects of alcohol harder to notice. People may feel they are not as intoxicated as they really are. Mixing caffeine with alcohol may cause you to drink more. That's because the caffeine may keep you awake longer.

Pregnancy

In small amounts, caffeine is considered safe for the developing baby. But if you're pregnant, it's a good idea to keep your caffeine intake below 200 mg a day.footnote 1

The total caffeine in an energy drink may be more than the recommended amount.

Are energy drinks safe for children and teens?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens not drink energy drinks.footnote 2

One reason to avoid them is that the main ingredient is caffeine. It can cause problems in children and teens, including:

  • Higher blood pressure.
  • Sleep problems.

Energy drinks may make existing problems worse in children and teens. For example, energy drinks can:

  • Make high blood pressure and abnormal heartbeats more likely in those who have heart problems.
  • Increase blood sugar in those who have diabetes.

The best way for children and teens to improve energy is to eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep.

What are some concerns about energy drinks?

Concerns about energy drinks include the amounts of caffeine and sugar they contain and other issues.

Too much caffeine.
Energy drinks contain caffeine and other ingredients. The label may not say how much caffeine is in the other ingredients, so it can be hard to know how much caffeine is in the drink. A single energy drink can have as much as 500 mg of caffeine. You would have to drink 14 cans of cola to get the same amount of caffeine.footnote 3
Other ingredients.
Energy drinks may contain other ingredients, such as kola nut or guarana. There has been little research on how these ingredients may affect the body.
Limited regulation.
Energy drinks may be classified as dietary supplements, which are not as strictly regulated as foods. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the amount of caffeine in sodas, but not in energy drinks.
Sugar.
Energy drinks usually contain sugars, which add to the calories. This could lead to weight gain. The sugars can also lead to dental problems.
Withdrawal.
When your body gets used to a lot of caffeine and then you stop using it, you can get symptoms such as headaches, feeling tired, having trouble concentrating, and feeling grouchy.
Sleep.
The caffeine in energy drinks may make it harder to sleep. Some people may feel they need less sleep, due to the stimulation they get from the caffeine. This can lead to not getting enough sleep (sleep deprivation).

What are sports drinks?

Sports drinks help replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes that your body loses through sweating after activity. Electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium, that keep the body's balance of fluids at the proper level. Sports drinks can also restore carbohydrate that the body uses during activity.

Sports drinks often contain carbohydrate in the form of sugar. They may also contain electrolytes and minerals and sometimes protein, vitamins, or caffeine. They come in different flavors.

Examples of sports drinks include Accelerade, Gatorade, and Powerade.

How are sports drinks useful?

Water is usually the best choice before, during, and after physical activity. But a sports drink may be useful if you sweat a lot during activities that are intense or last a long time. For example, a runner or cyclist in a long-distance event could use a sports drink to hydrate and replace electrolytes.

Sports drinks may contain sugars but have little nutritional value. They add calories. So if you're not exercising long or hard, sports drinks could lead to weight gain. The sugars in these drinks can also lead to dental problems.

How are sports drinks useful for children and teens?

Water is usually the best choice before, during, and after physical activity. But a sports drink may be useful if children and teens have exercised intensely or for a long period of time. It can help hydrate them and replace electrolytes.

Children and teens use carbohydrate for energy. A balanced diet gives them the carbohydrates and electrolytes they need. They don't need extra carbohydrates and electrolytes from sports drinks, even after brief physical activity or exercise.

If your child takes part in intense or long-lasting activities or exercises, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can tell you how to best use sports drinks.

References

Citations

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010, reaffirmed 2020). Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 462. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(2): 467–468. DOI: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181eeb2a1. Accessed September 14, 2021.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Heather Chambliss PhD - Exercise Science

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