• Anjali Gupta

Demystifying Energy Drinks

Many energy drinks are sold in large can sizes and have lots of added sugar in them.

What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks are caffeinated beverages that are marketed to improve energy, stamina, athletic performance or concentration. They are readily available often displayed beside soft drinks, juice and sports drinks. They come in a variety of brands, flavours and sizes. Common brand names of energy drinks include:

• Red Bull®

• Amp Energy®

• Rockstar Energy®

• Monster Energy®

• SoBe Adrenaline Rush

What are energy drinks made of?

Energy drinks usually contain a range of unique ingredients including caffeine, sugar or sweeteners, taurine, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Caffeine is one of the main ingredients in energy drinks. Some energy drinks also contain yerba mate, guarana and black tea, which are all natural sources of caffeine. Caffeine gives energy drinks the energizing or stimulating effect.

The sugar in energy drinks provides energy. Many energy drinks are sold in large can sizes and have lots of added sugar in them. Added sugars add extra calories, but have no nutritional value on their own.

Taurine is an amino acid added in many energy drinks. It has been claimed that adding taurine to energy drinks will make you more alert. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this and we do not know the long-term health effects of consuming taurine on a regular basis.

Some Energy drink may have B vitamins and glucuronolactone (a type of carbohydrate) added to them and claim that these ingredients will provide extra energy. However, there is not enough research to support these claims.

Many energy drinks contain herbs like Ginseng and Gingko Biloba. It has been claimed that these herbs improve performance. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. In fact, some herbs can interact with medications and other supplements.

"Talk to your health care provider before using energy drinks if you have a health condition or take medications."

What are “Energy Shots”?

Energy shots are not the same as energy drinks. Energy shots are a concentrated source of liquid caffeine sold in small volume, usually between 60 to 90mL. They can contain up to 200mg of caffeine in each can.

The small size and high concentration of caffeine make it easy to consume more than the daily limit of caffeine. Energy shots do not offer any health benefits.

Why are energy drinks different from other beverages? Are they same as sports drinks?

Energy drinks are different from other beverages in many respects.

  • Energy drinks have higher amount of caffeine in them than soft drinks or other beverages.

  • Many energy drinks have the same amount, or more, of sugar and calories as soft drinks.

  • They also have other ingredients as mentioned above added to them that most beverages do not have.

Also, energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks like Gatorade® and Powerade®. Sports drinks are meant to rehydrate the body after intense exercise. There is no caffeine in them.

"The added caffeine in energy drinks provides a stimulating effect but these drinks do not offer any health benefit."

Are energy drinks safe?

Energy drinks should be consumed with extreme caution. They do not provide any nutrition and should not be taken as meal replacement. They should never be taken on an empty stomach.

Healthy adults can use energy drinks if they are consumed within the daily limits of up to 400 mg of caffeine per day. Women of childbearing age should only consume up to 300 mg of caffeine per day. This includes caffeine from all sources such as energy drinks, coffee, tea and soft drinks.

"Energy drinks are not recommended for children, teens, pregnant, or breastfeeding women because of the high levels of caffeine."

What are the possible side effects of energy drinks?

Energy drinks can cause serious side effects due to their high concentration of caffeine levels. Although moderate use of energy drinks by adults is generally safe, side effects or adverse reactions can happen when too many are consumed at one time or when mixed with alcohol.

Do not mix energy drinks with alcohol. Mixing these drinks with alcohol can hide the effects of alcohol, leading to impaired driving and other risky behaviours. Teenagers are more likely to have side effects from high caffeine intake or by consuming caffeinated drink mixed with alcohol.

The adverse reactions may include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or an upset stomach;

  • Irregular heartbeat;

  • Electrolyte disturbances;

  • Nervousness, irritability and/or anxiety;

  • Insomnia;

  • Tremors,

  • Restlessness and/or pacing

Do not drink more than the recommended serving size of an energy drink listed on the label.

Can energy drinks be used during exercise?

Energy drinks are not recommended during exercise. Water and sport drinks are best for hydration during physical activity.

How much caffeine is safe for daily consumption?

Health Canada recommends the maximum daily caffeine intake for children under 12 should not exceed 2.5 mg/kg of body weight. Based on average body weights of children, this means a maximum of:

  • 45 mg for children aged four to six

  • 62.5 mg for children aged seven to nine

  • 85 mg for children aged 10 to 12

Teens should also follow 2.5 mg/kg body weight recommendation.

Older and heavier adolescents can consume up to 400 mg/day.

"The amount of caffeine found in energy drinks can easily put children over their caffeine limits."

Who regulates energy drinks in Canada?

Health Canada manages the quality and safety of energy drinks. Energy drinks are currently sold as natural health products and fall under Canada’s Natural Health Product (NHP) regulations. However, this does not mean they are safe for everyone.

From the year 2013, energy drinks will be classified as a “food” and will be required to have a Nutrition Facts Table and will be marketed as foods. The new guidelines are expected to release between April and October 2013.

Under the new guidelines, Health Canada will mandate that all energy drinks formulations meet a specified criteria that includes:

  • A maximum amount of caffeine from all sources (i.e. ingredients);

  • Limits for ingredients such as added vitamins and minerals;

  • Labels that meet all food labeling standards such as a Nutrition Facts Table (NFT), ingredient labels, cautions and allergy labeling;

The following caution statements will be required on the label:

  • "High source of caffeine"

  • "Do not consume more than (x) container(s)/serving(s) daily"

  • "Not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals sensitive to caffeine"

  • "Do not mix with alcohol"

A transition period of up to 18 months (no later than December 2013) has been provided for manufacturers to bring affected products into compliance with the applicable food labeling requirements. However, the new or reformulated caffeinated energy products will be required to immediately meet all food labeling requirements.

Bottom Line

Canada’s Food Guide recommends:

  • Quench your thirst with water. It keeps you hydrated without adding calories.

  • Limit beverages that are high in calories and low in nutrients. These include alcoholic beverages, fruit flavoured drinks, soft drinks, sports and energy drinks and sweetened hot or cold beverages.

The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle.

The Ripple Effect Wellness Organization

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Mississauga, Ontario 

L5L 3V9

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