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],”[1] and for more about tea, see “Summertime Thirst Quenchers: More Than You Bargained For [Part 2].”[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[3] 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[4].

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:

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 Campbell[5]Amy 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

  1. “Summertime Thirst Quenchers: More Than You Bargained For [Part 1],”:
  2. “Summertime Thirst Quenchers: More Than You Bargained For [Part 2].”:
  3. blood pressure:
  4. heart disease:
  5. [Image]: //

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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