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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 150 mg of caffeine in 1 cup (250 mL) of brewed coffee. A single energy drink can have as much as 180 mg of caffeine per serving. 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.
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.
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 300 mg (about 2 cups of coffee) 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?
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. A single energy drink can have as much as 180 mg of caffeine per serving.
- 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.
- Energy drinks usually contain sugars, which add to the calories. This could lead to weight gain. The sugars can also lead to dental problems.
- 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.
- 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 flavours.
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.
- Health Canada (2013). Health Canada reminds Canadians to manage their caffeine consumption. Available online: https://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2013/34021a-eng.php
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.
- Canadian Paediatric Society (2017). Energy and sports drinks in children and adolescents. Available online: https://cps.ca/en/documents/position/energy-and-sports-drinks. Accessed November 10, 2021.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Heather Chambliss PhD - Exercise Science
Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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