Select the best energy drink for your needs
By: Janice Cheng
This previous blog post talks about what makes an energy drink an energy drink, and typical ingredients in an energy drink. But how do you pick the best energy drink for you?
Many energy drink brands boast that their “special blend” of ingredients is what makes their energy drink better and more effective, but is that true? Let’s examine some of the most used ingredients and their efficacy in these energetic elixirs.
B-vitamins do not have “energy” properties. They do not contribute to improvements in physical and cognitive abilities.1 The claim that these provide energy isn’t exactly a lie, but the threshold for B-vitamin metabolism exists and thus energy generation can’t be increased. Any additional energy perceived by the drinker is likely due to a placebo effect.
So why are vitamins B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and/or B12 (cyano-cobalamin) at the top of almost every energy drink’s ingredient list? While B-vitamins play a key role in converting carbohydrates into usable energy, there is a maximum amount that your body can absorb. Consuming these compounds in excess will not provide an edge in carbohydrate metabolism or energy generation – you’ll just urinate them out.2 Talk about money going down the drain!
Another consideration is that when B-vitamins are consumed in excess for extended periods of time, it can result in toxicity. While food sources alone are not enough to cause toxicity, certain energy drinks contain enough to cause short- and/or long-term toxicity if consumed consistently.3
According to the current body of evidence, taurine appears to be harmless. This is an amino acid that is already found in abundance in the human body and is a nervous system depressant. – which seems to be the opposite of what we would want in an energy drink.4 However, when paired with large amounts of caffeine, it can help neutralize several undesired effects by regulating heartbeat, muscle contractions, and energy levels.4 In other words, it helps you to calm down and function better upon consumption of excessive caffeine – which is useful if you would like to feel energized while avoiding uncomfortable side effects.
Consumers typically associate the side effects with caffeine efficacy, and the lack of side effects would lead to a false perception of the caffeine not working and needing more caffeine. Therefore, consumers need to be cautious when consuming energy drinks with “regulating” ingredients and look at the label rather than just evaluating their reaction post-imbibement.
3. The source of sweetness in the energy drink.
Different types of sugars have different absorption rates and mechanisms. Simply put, the faster the sugar is absorbed, the more “instant” energy it provides. While some types of sugars are better than others, two sugars of the right combination are better than one! What this means is that table sugar (glucose + fructose, also known as sucrose), among other sugar combinations, is a great way to spike energy to enhance immediate sports performance, and endurance during training.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to decrease sugar consumption, sweeteners like sucralose mimic sweetness sugars can provide, but none of the calories or spike in blood glucose. As such, these types of non-caloric sweeteners do not contribute energizing effects to the beverage.
Also known as Brazilian cocoa, the seeds of this Amazonian climbing plant have 2-3x more caffeine by weight than coffee beans!5 5
Scientists suspect that the synergy between these various components can affect the increase in energy yield. While caffeine is caffeine no matter its’ origin, guarana in energy drinks may boost energy in different capacities, depending on how each person’s body reacts to the combination of components in guarana.5
So, if you are consuming an energy drink that employs a source of caffeine you aren’t familiar with, proceed with caution, as its’ effects may vary from person to person.
See Table 1, below, for a comparison of these components amongst popular energy drinks.
Some things to consider:
- Just because the amount of caffeine is half of another energy drink, that doesn’t mean it’s only half as energizing. You need to account for other ingredients such as guarana and sucrose that contribute to energizing properties.
- Consider how much caffeine your body needs. If you determine that an energy drink is the best fit for you based on particular ingredient combinations, but the caffeine content is too high, consider choosing that drink anyway but only consuming as much as you need and save the rest for another day.
- Depending on your lifestyle, a drink such as Bang or C4 may be beneficial if you’re an athlete in need of supplements for muscle recovery, but may not be needed otherwise.
- Are there ingredients that can help regulate excessive caffeine such as taurine and/or carnitine if you’re not able to manage the side effects?
- If you are an avid energy drink consumer, you may want to consider options that will not result in an excessive consumption of sugars and B-vitamins, which could impact your health deleteriously.
- Taste preference – carbonation, flavor profile. There are plenty of combinations to choose from!
Table 1: Breakdown of “energizing” components in common energy drink brands
|Caffeine||Taurine||Guarana||B-vitamins||Sweeteners||Other notable ingredients that may impact perceived energy|
|Bang||300 mg||B6 (30% DV)
B12 (60% DV)
|Celcius||200 mg||X||B3 (125% DV)
B6 (118% DV)
B12 (250% DV)
|Monster||86 mg||X||X||B3 (200% DV)
B6 (200% DV)
B12 (200% DV)
|Rockstar||72 mg||X||X||B3 (100% DV)
B6 (100% DV)
B12 (100% DV)
1 McLellan, T. M., & Lieberman, H. R. (2012). Do energy drinks contain active components other than caffeine?. Nutrition reviews, 70(12), 730-744.
2 Doscherholmen, A., McMahon, J., & Economon, P. (1981). Vitamin B12 absorption from fish. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 167(4), 480-484.
3 Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, and choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999.
4 Schaffer, Stephen W., et al. “Effect of taurine and potential interactions with caffeine on cardiovascular function.” Amino acids 46.5 (2014): 1147-1157.
5 Clauson, K. A., Shields, K. M., McQueen, C. E., & Persad, N. (2008). Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 48(3), e55-e67.
About the Author: Janice Cheng
Janice completed her B.S. in Food Science in 2020 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After working a Quality Assurance role in a bakery manufacturing facility, she decided to pursue a M.S. degree in Food Science at the University of Minnesota – related to baking as well! Her research involves developing alternative formulations to enable local artisanal producers to make baked goods containing fruit/vegetable inclusions in accordance with local cottage food laws.