The name is what usually grabs you first: Red Bull. Monster Ultra. Bang. Rockstar. Wild Tiger. No, these aren’t names of rock bands. Rather, they’re names of energy drinks, popular beverages that have blasted their way into the beverage market.
What are energy drinks?
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) defines energy drinks as beverages that “typically contain large amounts of caffeine, added sugars, other additives, and legal stimulants such as guarana, taurine, and L-carnitine.” The legal stimulants in energy drinks “can increase alertness, attention, energy, as well as increase blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.”
Some energy drinks also contain B vitamins. B vitamins help the body use energy from food (although B vitamins do not give you an energy boost). They may also contain other herbs, such as ginseng. Energy drinks are in the category of dietary supplements, which means that don’t undergo a FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval process.
How do energy drinks differ from sports drinks?
Both energy drinks and sports drinks have added ingredients that are intended to do something, such as make you feel more alert and energized, as in the case of energy drinks. Sports drinks contain ingredients that are intended to increase or enhance athletic performance; for example, sports drinks typically contain carbohydrate and electrolytes, including potassium and sodium. They might also contain vitamins.
Who usually drinks energy drinks?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that “men between the ages of 18 and 34 years consume the most energy drinks, and almost one-third of teens between 12 and 17 years drink them regularly.”
Energy drinks are one of the fastest growing products in the beverage market. Monster Beverage Corporation, Red Bull, Coca-Cola, Rockstar Inc., and PepsiCo are a few of the many companies with a high market share in the energy drinks segment, and these companies promote their beverages through advertising, and sports players and celebrity endorsement. 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. It’s not surprising, then, that adolescents and young adults are drawn to energy drinks. The CDC notes that many school districts sell these beverages in vending machines, school stores, and snack bars.
Adults, too, are often drawn towards energy drinks as they serve as an alternate way to get caffeine and that “pick me up” without needing to drink coffee, tea, or soda.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletters!
Downsides of energy drinks
Grabbing a can of Red Bull or Burn can seem like a good idea when you’re trying to stay awake after a sleepless night or are feeling the need for a mid-afternoon energy burst. But while energy drinks may increase alertness, they have a dark side, too:
- The large amount of caffeine can cause heart rhythm disturbances, an increased heart rate and blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety, and dehydration. People with diabetes are already at risk of high blood pressure and sleep problems.
- Guarana, a plant native to the Amazon, also contains caffeine — in fact, up to three times the amount of caffeine found in coffee beans. Guarana, then, can cause the same side effects as caffeine.
- A 16-ounce container of an energy drink can contain between 54 to 62 grams of added sugar, which is more than the maximum recommended amount of added sugars for an entire day. This amount of sugar, which is carbohydrate, can be problematic for people with prediabetes and diabetes in terms of both blood sugar and weight control.
Emergency room visits have increased in adults age 40 and older as a result of seizures, dehydration, and high blood pressure due to the caffeine in energy drinks.
Caffeine content of energy drinks
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, making you feel more awake and alert. It’s also a diuretic and can increase blood pressure and the release of acid in the stomach. Some people should limit or avoid caffeine, including those with:
- Sleep disorders
- Chronic headaches
- Acid reflux or ulcers
- High blood pressure
- Fast or irregular hear rhythms
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to limit caffeine, as well.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends no more than 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day — roughly 4-5 cups of coffee. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and may need to consume less than that.
Here’s an approximation of how much caffeine is in common beverages, such as coffee, tea and cola:
- Brewed coffee, 8 oz.: 80-100 mg
- Black or green tea, 8 oz: 30-50 mg
- Caffeinated soda, 12 oz: 30-40 mg
Here’s how much caffeine is in certain energy drinks:
- Red Bull, 8.4 oz: 80 mg
- Red Bull Zero, 8.4 oz: 80 mg
- Burn, 12 oz: 112 mg
- RUNA, 12 oz: 150 mg
- Monster Energy, 16 oz: 160 mg
- Hiball Energy Sparkling Water, 16 oz: 160 mg
- Bang, 16 oz: 300 mg
- Spike Hardcore, 16 oz: 350 mg
Energy drink nutrition
Energy drinks can contain upwards of almost 300 calories per serving. Note that 16-ounce cans may list a serving size as 8 ounces (2 servings per container).
Rockstar, 16 ounces
- Calories: 278
- Fat: 1 gram (g)
- Carb: 61 g
- Protein: 1.6 g
- Sodium: 77 mg
- Caffeine: 158 mg
Redbull, 12 ounces
- Calories: 168
- Fat: 0.3 g
- Carb: 40 g
- Protein: 0.9 g
- Sodium 140 mg
- Caffeine: 111 mg
You might be wondering if there are any sugar-free or lo- carb energy drinks. The answer is yes — here are some examples:
- Red Bull Sugarfree
- HiBall Energy Sparking Water
- Monster Energy Ultra Blue
- Monster Energy Zero Ultra
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
RUNA Berry Boost, 12 ounces
- Calories: 10
- Fat: 0 g
- Carb: 3 g
- Protein: 0 g
- Sodium: 10 mg
- Caffeine: 150 mg
Hiball Energy Sparkling Water, 16 ounces
- Calories: 0
- Fat: 0 g
- Carb: <1 g
- Protein: 0 g
- Sodium: 0 mg
- Caffeine: 160 mg
Bottom line on energy drinks
Energy drinks aren’t for everyone, especially for people who are sensitive to caffeine. And, of course, “regular,” or full-sugar energy drinks are definitely something to shy away from if you have diabetes. Here are a few pointers:
- If you aren’t a coffee or tea drinker and need a morning pick-me-up, choose a zero-carb energy drink, and aim to limit the amount to one serving.
- Always read the Nutrition Facts label; “sugar-free” doesn’t always mean “carbohydrate-free.” And don’t forget to look at the serving size, since some cans contain two servings.
- Choose a smaller can; for example, 8 ounces versus 16 ounces.
- Avoid energy drinks with more than 200 mg of caffeine per serving.
- Check your blood sugar after drinking an energy drink; some people with diabetes find that the caffeine can affect blood sugar levels.
- Talk with your health care provider about drinking energy drinks if you have heart rhythm issues or high blood pressure.
- If you develop palpitations or a fast heart rate, vomiting, or a seizure after drinking energy drinks, seek medical attention right away.
Want to learn more about beverages and diabetes? See “Staying Hydrated,” “Best Beverages for Staying Hydrated,” “Water Facts: Getting to Know H20,” and “What’s to Drink?”