Energy drink ingredients & what they do (explained simply)
For the average person, most of the ingredients listed on the back of an energy drink are basically incomprehensible, since we don't really see them elsewhere in our daily lives.
Which ingredients are good?
Which ones might have nasty side effects?
We've done the hard work so that you don't need to - this is a comprehensive guide to the most common energy drink ingredients right at your fingertips. You might like to bookmark this page to make it easier to refer back to later.
Let's get started.
Caffeine is of course a key ingredient in any energy drink, and energy drinks are often packed full of either synthetic or natural caffeine, like guarana seed extract.
Caffeine attaches itself to adenosine receptors, meaning that those receptors are unable to properly identify all of the adenosine in our brains (this is the process that tells our brain when it's time to go to sleep).
As a result, caffeine helps to effectively trick our brains into thinking that we are more awake and alert than we actually are.
Synthetic caffeine is not much different from natural caffeine, except for the fact that it's made in a lab.
Synthetic caffeine is made from a chemical synthesis of urea and chloroacetic acid, as opposed to being extracted from plant material.
Although both natural and synthetic caffeine are chemically identical, the sources are completely different. As of now, there are no studies that say which is better than the other, and synthetic caffeine does not seem to have any negative side effects as compared to natural caffeine.
Both sources of caffeine affect the body in exactly the same way.
Guarana Seed Extract
Guarana seed extract is derived from the guarana plant, which is named after the Guarani tribe in the Amazon.
Guarana contains caffeine, which in turn, stimulates the central nervous system and gives you the energy boost that you need. Because it contains caffeine, guarana works exactly the same way as regular caffeine - it blocks the adenosine receptors ability to detect adenosine, thus making us feel more awake.
Besides caffeine, guarana also contains the chemicals theophylline and theobromine, which both have a similar effect on the body as caffeine does.
Guarana has no known side effects besides those that usually come with an overconsumption of caffeine.
Taurine is an amino acid that is found in the body and commonly used as a dietary supplement.
Studies suggest that the combination of taurine with caffeine can be effective for the brain, but these studies are only preliminary.
Glucose is a simple sugar and one of the most widely known monosaccharides. It is also considered a subcategory of carbohydrates.
Sugar gives you an energy boost because it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and used as fuel for cells, which is why you might experience an uptick in energy when consuming something sugary.
This is also where the term 'sugar rush' comes from.
Sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose, another simple sugar.
Like glucose, your body absorbs this sugar and uses it as fuel for your cells. It does have bad effects though, as your body can use this sugar to feed potential cancer cells or even store it as unneeded fat.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that is supposed to replace natural sugars in food and drink.
Although Sucralose has been deemed safe by government authorities, there are still concerns about the side effects that occur after consuming this sweetener.
Sucralose is a simple sugar made from sugar in a chemical process where 3 hydrogen-oxygen groups are replaced with chlorine atoms.
Sucralose has been found to reduce good gut bacteria (the ones that help improve your digestion- this study found that up to 12 weeks after the experiment, the gut bacteria had still not returned).
It can also help you lose weight to some extent, if you replace sugar in your diet with Sucralose - but not enough evidence about the effects of long-term use of Sucralose have been examined.
As with many modern chemicals, there simply isn't enough data for scientists and researchers to confidently say that these are side effects that are associated with the chemicals in question - only data collected over a longer time will tell what effects the chemicals actually have on the human body.
This is sometimes otherwise known as Ace K, and is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Ace K works by stimulating sweet receptors on the tongue, and is not absorbed into the body at all. Some studies claim that it can disrupt metabolic processes and interfere with blood sugar control.
The FDA has stipulated that the acceptable dosage of Ace K is 15mg/kg/day. So, depends on your individual weight and height, but you would need to consume a lot of sweetener to overdose.
This is more commonly known as Niacin, and drinks like Monster have 200% of the recommended daily limit of Niacin.
Niacin is water soluble, so excess vitamins get passed out of the body if not needed. Some benefits of niacin are that it can lower cholesterol and may prevent heart disease.
Niacin is a crucial vitamin for a healthy body, but in excess, Niacin has been known to cause issues like skin conditions, liver toxicity and nerve damage in some of the worst cases.
Vitamin B6 has been known to help reduce cardiovascular disease, and low concentrations of it have been linked to an increase in cancer, but as of now, this is mostly speculation.
So, it's safe to say, Vitamin B6 is pretty important for your body.
What happens if you have it in excess?
Lack of muscle control, gastrointestinal discomfort and numbness are all symptoms, but it's actually extremely difficult to overdose on vitamins like this because the amount you'd have to consume is so huge.
This vitamin is important in helping make your DNA and red blood cells, so its role and importance is bigger than any of the vitamins so far. Its addition in energy drinks can potentially help supplement your body in these ways.
Natural sources of this vitamin include red meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs.
However, over-consuming vitamin B12 can lead to a rapid decline in kidney function, and puts you at a greater risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Interestingly, some energy drinks contain a staggering amount of vitamin B12.
This chemical and vitamin facilitates communication between brain cells, as the neurotransmitters require inositol to relay messages through the nervous system.
Inositol is known to boost mood, memory and concentration.
However, taking higher doses of this could lead to diarrhea, increased mood swings, or even nausea and vomiting.
This supplement can help in the structuring of connective tissues. It also has detoxifying effects, and is commonly used in energy drinks as well.
It can help with concentration and the memory of individuals.
But the combination of this chemical with the other ingredients in energy drinks may actually be quite negative, and there hasn't been much research conducted on this as of now.
Panax ginseng extract
Most people have heard of the ginseng root, a traditional Chinese herb, and a staple in some energy drinks. Panax ginseng root grows mostly in the eastern hemisphere of the world, mainly in Korea and China.
Ginseng root comes with a myriad of benefits, such as being a good source of antioxidants, just like green tea. Ginseng can also help to heal damaged cells and in recovery, plus it can be used in the prevention of cancer. It also plays a role in boosting the immune system.
This is well known as an Asian herb supplement, and is something that is said to help with memory, and can slightly improve the condition of Alzheimer patients.
It is also an antioxidant, which means that it helps to prevent the deterioration of cells, keeping your body happy and healthy for a longer time.
However, for those on certain kinds of medication, Ginkgo Biloba may actually produce negative effects, so please do consult your doctor if you have a history of blood clots, or anti-platelet inhibitor medications.
This is an ammonium compound involved in metabolism in most mammals, plants and bacteria.
It can be used to treat heart conditions such as heart pains, congestive heart failure, and other heart related issues. Some also use them for muscle disorders, and to treat a range of other conditions.
In other words, this seems like a super drug, which is quite interesting... and somewhat doubtful.
Carnitine comes in two forms, L-carnitine and D-carnitine, but both are not interchangeable.
Some side effects of L-carnitine include kidney failure, muscle weakness and hypothyroidism.
The chemical is mostly derived from tea, but it looks like it has made its way over into the list of energy drink ingredients as well.
This is an amino acid that has been shown to be an effective relaxant for individuals.
L-theanine may slow down brain and heart decline, similar to an antioxidant. It could also do several other things, such as improve the symptoms of schizophrenia and improve mood.
Surprisingly, there does not seem to be any serious side effects associated with L-theanine, but you might be allergic to it, so just keep an eye out the first time you try it.
Preservatives are widely used in food and drink nowadays in an attempt to prolong shelf life. However, the preservatives themselves can also come with a wide array of potential problems, so the less of them consumed, the better.
This is a widely used chemical preservative, as well as a food preservative. It mostly protects against fungus growing on food, which can make you seriously ill.
By lowering the pH of the substance, sodium benzoate makes sure that fungi have no way to grow.
Some side effects associated with sodium benzoate are headaches, higher risk of cancer, decreased appetite and mood swings.
This is also a preservative that wards off nasty fungi that may grow on your food, such as yeast and mold.
In high doses, it can potentially be harmful to your skin, causing lesions or irritation.
The final thing to round off our trio of preservatives, this can definitely make food last longer, but it also does come with certain bad side effects.
Getting a migraine from this preservative is possible, as well as allergic reactions in some people.
This is derived from citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes and oranges. It is often manufactured to be added to drinks and food, as well as medicines and cleaning products.
It has a distinctly sour taste, and can possibly enhance nutrient absorption and protect against kidney stones.
However, some possible side effects are that you might be allergic to it or experience joint swelling if taken in excess.
How much of these ingredients are actually included in your energy drink?
One thing to pay close attention to is how much of certain ingredients are actually included in your energy drink.
This can go both ways, sometimes there are unhealthy ingredients that are included in larger quantities than you might like. Other times, there are great-sounding ingredients that are included in very tiny amounts simply for marketing purposes.
If in doubt, do a google search for the "minimum effective dose" for whatever ingredient you are looking at and then compare that figure to the amount included inside your energy drink.
You'll often be shocked by how little of the headline ingredients that they actually contain.
I'm not going to call out any specific brands, but definitely do your own research about how much of all ingredients, both good and bad, are included in your energy drink of choice.
To help, I've previously studied many of the best energy drinks around the world and analyzed how much of everything is actually included in a can.
I'll list some of them below.
Some energy drinks to try
There are lots of great energy drinks on the market. If you're looking for some ready-to-drink energy drinks, take a look at:
• Red Bull
• Rip It
Powdered energy drinks are also a great option, and they tend to be more convenient and also more affordable than a lot of the top energy drinks on the market, but still come with the same great flavor and effectiveness:
• REIZE (10 out of 10)
You could also take a look at Vivarin caffeine pills if you are looking for something that's quick and easy to take. At 200mg of caffeine, it's quite a lot of caffeine, which will keep you awake, but without the great, energizing taste or other good ingredients that are included in energy drinks.
Of course, there are also loads of other caffeinated products out there that you could check out for your energy needs.
Make It Mio immediately comes to mind, which is used to flavor your water and give you an energy boost, for those who are a bit more health-conscious.
With 50mg, REIZE contains a lot less caffeine than your usual energy drink, but it does contain plenty of other great energy-boosting ingredients that are healthy for you, such as 1000mg of taurine, 50mg of ginseng and plenty of B group vitamins.
REIZE is a lot more convenient and versatile, since you can add all types of liquids to it - soda, hot water, cold water, flavored juice... it's up to you!
REIZE ships right to your door for around $1 per drink, more affordable (and convenient) than most other energy drinks.
Give REIZE a try today and you might just find that you love it too.