Energy and Sports Drinks

Topic Overview

What are energy and sports drinks?

If you listen to the advertising, you might think energy and sports drinks do it all. More energy. Improved performance. Better concentration.

But do they? And what's the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks?

Energy drinks

People use energy drinks because these drinks claim to improve energy, help with weight loss, increase endurance, and improve concentration. The main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. They also may contain extract from the guarana plant (which is similar to caffeine), the amino acid taurine, carbohydrate in the form of sugar, and vitamins.

Examples of energy drinks include Red Bull, Rockstar, and Java Monster.

Sports drinks

People use sports drinks to replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes lost 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. You may lose electrolytes when you sweat.

Sports drinks can also restore carbohydrate that the body uses during activity.

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

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

Are energy drinks safe for children and teens?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens not use energy drinks.1 The best way for children and teens to improve energy is through a balanced diet. Getting enough sleep also can help keep energy levels up.

Why should children and teens avoid energy drinks? One reason is that the main ingredient in energy drinks 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 with heart problems.
  • Can increase blood sugar in those with diabetes.
Concerns about energy drinks
  • 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 contain as much as 500 mg of caffeine. You would have to drink 14 cans of cola to get the same amount of caffeine.1
  • 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 including headaches, feeling tired, having trouble concentrating, and feeling grumpy.
  • 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 sleep deprivation.

Are energy drinks safe for adults?

Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine is considered safe for adults. That means 100 mg to 200 mg of caffeine a day. There is about 95 mg of caffeine in 8 fl oz (237 mL) of brewed coffee.

Caffeine increases energy in adults and fights tiredness. But too much caffeine can cause nervousness, feeling grumpy, an upset stomach, diarrhea, and headaches.

Performance

Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance and performance in high-intensity sports. But research also notes that the improvement is mostly seen in trained athletes and may not be seen in people who exercise casually. Research also notes that taking low to moderate doses of caffeine produces the same improvement as taking higher doses.2

Alcohol

Adults and teens may mix energy drinks with alcohol. 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, because the caffeine may keep you awake longer.

Pregnancy

In small amounts, caffeine is considered safe for the developing baby (fetus). But if you're pregnant, it's a good idea to keep your caffeine intake below 200 mg a day because:3

  • More caffeine may be connected to a higher rate of miscarriage. There isn't enough evidence to know for sure.4
  • Caffeine can interfere with sleep for both you and the fetus.

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

Are sports drinks useful?

Water is usually the best choice before, during, and after physical activity.

You might benefit from a sports drink if you have sweated 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.

Children and teens

Children and teens use carbohydrate for energy. A balanced diet gives most children and teens the carbohydrate and electrolytes they need. Extra carbohydrate and electrolytes from sports drinks aren't needed, even after short physical activity or exercise.

Before, after, and during activity, water is the best choice for children and teens. A sports drink may be useful if children and teens have exercised intensively or for a long period of time. If your child is an athlete or takes part in intensive or long-lasting activities or exercises, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about how to best use sports drinks.

What do you need to remember about using these drinks?

  • Water is usually the best choice before, during, and after physical activity.
  • Don't use sports drinks to replace water or low-fat milk during meals or snacks.
  • Don't use energy drinks in place of sports drinks.
  • Don't allow children or teens to use energy drinks.

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.
  2. Goldstein ER, Ziegenfuss T, et al. (2010). International Society of Sports nutrition position stand: Caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(5): 1–15. Also available online: http://www.jissn.com/content/7/1/5.
  3. Weng X, et al. (2008). Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and risk of miscarriage: A prospective cohort study. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Published online January 28, 2008 (doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2007.10.803).
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 462. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(2): 467–468.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages—CDC Fact Sheet. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/cab.htm.
  • Goldstein ER, Ziegenfuss T, et al. (2010). International Society of Sports nutrition position stand: Caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(5): 1–15. Also available online: http://www.jissn.com/content/7/1/5.
  • Marczinski CA, Fillmore MT, et al. (2011). Effects of energy drinks mixed with alcohol on behavioral control: Risks for college students consuming trendy cocktails. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 35(7): 1282–1292.
  • Muncie HL Jr (2007). The safety of caffeine consumption. American Family Physician, 76(9): 1282, 1285–1286.
  • Seifert SM, Schaechter JL, et al. (2011). Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatrics, 127(3): 511–528.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2007). Medicines in my home: Caffeine and your body. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/UnderstandingOver-the-CounterMedicines/UCM205286.pdf.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised September 17, 2012

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