The Buzz on Energy Drinks

Full Throttle. Rockstar. Monster Energy. Spike. Wired X505. Red Bull. Amp. Fixx. No Fear. Cocaine (Cocaine?). What do they all have in common? No, they’re not names of monster trucks or wrestlers from SmackDown. Rather, they’re the names of popular energy drinks that have blasted their way into the beverage market.


Usually containing much more caffeine than soda, tea, or coffee, these drinks are marketed towards teens and young adults and are often promoted in conjunction with sporting events, such as extreme skiing, motorsports, and skateboarding. Undoubtedly, though, these drinks also have appeal for those of any age who need their caffeine fix but shy away from coffee or tea. (For more about coffee, see “Summertime Thirst Quenchers: More Than You Bargained For [Part 1],” and for more about tea, see “Summertime Thirst Quenchers: More Than You Bargained For [Part 2].”)

I admit that I’ve never taken even a sip of any of these beverages — maybe it’s the names that scare me off, or maybe it’s the caffeine content of some of these, which is more than I want to handle. How many of you drink these or have tried them? What did you think?

As the names imply, these sugar-laden energy drinks boast a hefty dose of caffeine. Some contain taurine, too, an amino acid needed for neurological development. Taurine is thought to boost athletic performance, increase alertness, and strengthen heart muscle, although studies have not confirmed these effects. So, combine taurine with caffeine (which acts as a stimulant) and sugar (which gives a quick, but temporary, surge in energy) and you’ve got yourself an energy drink.

As if that wasn’t enough, some of these beverages additionally contain herbal stimulants, such as guarana, ginseng, and yerba mate. You might be thinking, well, so what? Isn’t drinking a can of Red Bull or Full Throttle just like drinking a can of Coca-Cola? Not necessarily. Check out the caffeine comparison, below. (Nutrition information has been obtained from the manufacturer’s Web sites, Mayo Clinic, and the Nutrition Action newsletter.):

Select Energy Drinks: Caffeine Content
Full Throttle: 144 milligrams per 16-ounce can
Monster Energy: 160 milligrams per 16-ounce can
Red Bull: 76 milligrams per 8.3-ounce can
Rockstar: 160 milligrams per 16-ounce can
Rockstar Punched: 360 milligrams per 24-ounce can
Wired X505: 505 milligrams per 23.5-ounce can

Coffee, Tea, Soda: Caffeine Content
Brewed Black Tea: 47 milligrams per 8-ounce can
Brewed Coffee: 102–220 milligrams per 8-ounce cup
Coca-Cola Classic: 35 milligrams per 12-ounce can
Diet Coke: 47 milligrams per 12-ounce can
Diet Pepsi: 35 milligrams per 12-ounce can
Mountain Dew: 54 milligrams per 12-ounce can
Snapple Diet Ice Tea: 18 milligrams per 16-ounce bottle
Starbucks Coffee Grande: 330 milligrams per 16-ounce cup

OK, Starbucks Coffee Grande gives some of the energy drinks a run for their money — in terms of caffeine, that is. But obviously, energy drinks tend to contain more than other common caffeinated beverages. And drink more than one or two cans per day, as many people do, and you can quickly go into caffeine overload.

What are the risks of these energy drinks? A study published earlier this year in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy found that healthy, young adults who drank two cans of an energy drink each day for five consecutive days had increases in blood pressure and heart rate, which the researchers attributed to both caffeine and taurine. (The subjects were sedentary throughout the study.) While the increases were not considered significant, the findings could prove dangerous to people who have high blood pressure or heart disease.

Reports of teenagers becoming ill from drinking energy drinks have been in the news. Many of them have ended up in the emergency room with symptoms including heart palpitations, sweating, nausea, and caffeine intoxication. (Granted, many teenagers are not known for doing things on a small scale, so it’s likely that they consumed several cans of these drinks.)

Other possible health effects of energy drinks include the following:

  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Weight gain

Why weight gain? With the exception of a few sugar-free versions, these drinks contain calories and carbohydrate. For example, one 8.3-ounce serving of Red Bull contains 113 calories and 28 grams of carbohydrate; one 8-ounce serving of Monster Energy has 100 calories and 27 grams of carbohydrate; and one 8-ounce serving of Original Rockstar Energy has 140 calories and 31 grams of carbohydrate.

Amy CampbellAmy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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18 thoughts on “The Buzz on Energy Drinks

  1. I personally really like the Sugar Free Red Bull. I find that it does gets me over a mid/late afternoon slump, with no effect on BS. I think it works better than coffee or tea. And one a day is my limit. And maybe something else would break my slump, but, I love Sugar Free Red Bull.

  2. I too drink the sugar free versions of energy drinks without an increase in blood sugar level. I love ENVIGA, a green tea beverage. Beats having a Venti White Chocolate Mocha (about 75g carbs) everyday!

  3. Does anyone else look at this and go wow… for 16 oz of Brewed coffee… beats almost all energy drinks at the same amount.

    Select Energy Drinks: Caffeine Content
    Full Throttle: 144 milligrams per 16-ounce can
    Monster Energy: 160 milligrams per 16-ounce can
    Red Bull: 76 milligrams per 8.3-ounce can
    Rockstar: 160 milligrams per 16-ounce can

    Coffee, Tea, Soda: Caffeine Content
    Brewed Coffee: 102–220 milligrams per 8-ounce cup
    Starbucks Coffee Grande: 330 milligrams per 16-ounce cup

    So that’s 204-440 milligrams of caffeine in 16-ounce cup. How many cups do people normally consume? But only starbucks Coffee Grande gives energy drinks a run for their money?? I like my coffee and my energy drinks. No one should over do any of those thngs… especially you that person nodding your head while chugging your second 24 oz bottle of soda… lol.

  4. I agree, I drink a lot of sugar free red bull, usually one in the morning, and try not to have any after 4pm. I picked it because the can was small and it was sugar free. At first it tasted awful, but it was really concentrated so it didn’t take long to drink. I hate coffee, so this is my caffeine.

  5. yeah, energy drinks are soooo evil! they have caffeine AND B-vitamins in them, I mean, the health consequences of consuming caffeine and B-vitamins are so terrible, I wonder why anyone would ever go near any of these toxic substances!!!! caffeine is a poison that no one should ever put in their body!!! if you are tired, tough! you have to deal with it without any help because anyone who touches the poison that we call caffeine will quickly face their own mortality and die!!!!!

  6. Hi Dan,

    I thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m not sure the implication is that energy drinks are evil. But drink a number of these beverages on a daily basis, perhaps in addition to one’s morning coffee or tea, and it’s possible that the caffeine and/or level of B vitamins can be harmful to some. Too much caffeine can cause heart palpitatons, nausea, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, and depression. An excess of the B vitamins can lead to a variety of ailments, including numbness, paralysis, cardiac problems, low blood pressure, headache, and weakness.

  7. Sad to say, but for type 2 diabetics the effects of caffeine can include increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Not a great picture for the world’s favorite beverage.

    The energy drinks out there have sugar, caffeine, or stimulants which act on the adrenals. It’s also pretty clear that we can’t take diet sodas, which is rough too, since Diet Coke is everyone’s favorite, because of the caffeine and the fact that artificial sweeteners look like they create even more cravings for sweets. People in a recent study actually gained weight on diet sodas.

    I like ReStore Energy, or some herbal teas,; I think just the water helps you feel better, since de-hyrdration is such a problem. Stay away from Diet Colas though; even the sugar free ones cause some problems.

  8. I like sugar free AMP. I am also type II diebetic and SF AMP only has 5 calories and 0 sugar. Helps me get through the afternoon.

  9. I drink three no sugar energy drinks a day and my average is 5.2.

    And from recent pre-op, my heart rate is very good for my age.

    I think therefore, it would depend on your heart rate before you drink the energy drinks.

  10. I have Type II and, yesterday afternoon, I admit to drinking one of these popular energy drinks. I did not give it much thought, except that I knew I was not getting the sugar-free version. As expected, when I got home, my blood glucose was high (296). I took an appropriate amount of insulin and ate dinner, which was largely spinich and turkey. Then, I went for a long walk.

    Later on, just before going to sleep, I felt shakey. So, I checked my blood glucose,again. It was 55! I ate a couple pieces of hard candy and went to bed. I woke a couple hourse later and my sugar was still only 66. It took a while to get my sugar back towards normal. Then, it rebounded and overcompensated up to 209.

    Has anyone else had similar experiences with these energy drinks?

  11. I have been drinking an energy drink a day for the last several years. I was diagnosed with type I diabetes earlier this year and I think my high consumption of sugar may have played a role. Although type I is genetic (my grandfather was diabetic) I think my lifestyle allowed me to lose control earlier in life (I am 23 years old). I went through all of college without any signs or symptoms but when I graduated and became more sedentary, I started losing a lot of weight. I basically stopped exercising but still drank an energy drink every day and after I lost 45 pounds or so, I went in to the doctor and got my diagnosis. I share this just as a warning that lifestyle can influence even genetic things. Energy drinks were not the cause of my diabetes but I have no doubt that they perpetuated it.

  12. I’m a type 1 diabetic. Not like its gonna get worse for me, so I may as well enjoy what I eat/drink. That being said….I would normally take 6 units of insulin to deal with the carbs in a 16oz. monster energy drink(non-sugar free), but I dare not take more than 3.5! It almost seems to help the insulin do its job. Maybe it’s just the rise in metabolism, but either way, it seems like a step in the right direction. I do limit myself to one a day.

  13. I today after drinking a sugar free rockstar drink found my self blacked out in a hypo in my car. I had no idea I was going low and I usually know straight away the second I start to get a tad lower than 3.0, could the caffien and other additives of caused me not to feel my hypo coming on ?

  14. Hi guys i wanna know if this is true my friend reacons she has type2 diabetes but she drinks at least 5 to six cans of energy drinks a day and she still clams her blood sugar is ok is she teeling the truth is this possible she does do the diet managment and doesnt take any insulin .. i know it may sound dumb but im sure its not the case

  15. Hi aussieguy15,
    I’d say that your friend could be telling the truth, although it seems like she didn’t clarify what she means by her blood sugar being “ok.” Given that she’s not taking insulin (or, I assume, any type of diabetes medicine), her body may be making enough insulin to “handle” those energy drinks. In general, however, energy drinks do contain ingredients that can certainly raise blood sugar levels, so hopefully she eventually cuts down on the number that she drinks and is also checking her blood sugar levels regularly.

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