Energy Drinks, Athletic Performance and Safety

The Pros and Cons of Energy Drinks

Energy drinks or shots are the most widely used unregulated dietary supplement along with multivitamins and especially popular with adolescents and young adults. We are using them to stay awake, workout, and even mixing them with alcohol during ‘happy hour’. They are easily accessible by all age groups without restriction or concern for safety issues. Energy drinks (ED) and energy shots (ES) contain a large amount of caffeine coupled with other nutrients reported to boost mental and physical performance. You can see why they are a popular pre-workout drink. Unfortunately, “the potential additive benefits of other nutrients contained in ED and ES remains to be determined” according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This unknown opens the door to the question of what is in this ED or ES and should I even be drinking the stuff. Current Opinion in Pediatrics indicated “energy drinks, energy shots and other energy products have exploded in popularity in the past several years; however, their use is not without risk.” This may sound like a bummer for those burning the midnight oil sustaining on energy drinks to get through a work shift, college paper or hard workout. However, it’s vital to understand if energy drinks are really a smart choice in the gym or in general. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) published a recent position stand on energy drinks making recommendations on how they affect exercise performance, metabolism and shared safety concerns.

Energy Drink Ingredients

Energy Drinks
Energy Drinks May Cause Adverse Health Effects. Aminart/Getty Images

The primary ergogenic (energy producing) ingredient found in energy drinks is caffeine which science has clearly shown to improve athletic performance in low to moderate doses. Did you catch that? Most energy drinks contain between 100 to 300mg of caffeine well above a low dose of 40 to 100mg. Canada allows no more than 150mg of caffeine per energy drink compared to the United States. Further and what remains an issue with energy drinks are ergogenic ingredients or ‘proprietary blends’ like Guarana, Yerba Mate, taurine and carbohydrate for example without enough scientific evidence to show improved athletic performance and adverse health effects. This being the case, I would rather have a strong cup of coffee or green tea than gamble on the unknowns.

More Info and Recommendations

Energy Drinks
Limit Your Energy Drink Intake. Burke/Triolo Productions/Getty Images

If you are trying to lean up, pay attention to this additional research finding of weight gain being linked to high calorie energy drinks. It appears people are downing the product and not counting the calories as part of their daily nutritional intake. Many energy drinks are also full of simple sugar up to 50g per serving creating a high glycemic load which could be dangerous for diabetics and pre-diabetics. Athletes should also be aware that high glycemic load carbohydrates in energy drinks may not be the best choice for their insulin levels and metabolism. In addition, the higher caffeine content mixed with ergogenic blends could adversely affect their motor skills and performance. Another study published in the National Institutes of Health indicated “caffeine is the main active ingredient in energy drinks, and excessive consumption may acutely cause caffeine intoxication, resulting in tachycardia, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmias, seizures, and death." This would be a worse-case scenario but noteworthy as the issue appears to be over-consumption of energy drinks becoming a problem. Further research is now being done on energy drink toxicity and it has been concluded until more information is gathered to consume no more than one energy drink per day to avoid adverse health effects.


International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks, Bill Campbell et al., 1/13

National Institutes of Health, Toxicity of energy drinks, Abstract, Wolk BJ et al., 4/12

Post Graduate Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Energy drinks and their adverse health effects: A systematic review of the current evidence, Ali F et al., 1/15

Case Reports in Emergency Medicine, STEMI Associated with Overuse of Energy Drinks, Solomin D et al., 2/15

Advances in Nutrition, Can energy drinks increase the desire for more alcohol?, Marczinski CA et al., 1/15

National Institutes of Health, A comprehensive review of the effects of mixing caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol, McKetin R et al., 4/24/15

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