Energy drinks VS Soft drinks (are they the same?)

An assortment of different energy drinks

Coke, Pepsi or any other brand – I’m sure barely a day goes by when you don’t spot one of these soft drinks on the shelf in your local supermarket or corner store. You might even find them in vending machines.

In recent times, energy drinks have become increasingly popular, often taking attention away from the traditional soft drinks that we all know and love.

But, what’s the difference between soft drinks and energy drinks?

Do they have the same ingredients?

Is one any worse for you than the other?

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about the differences between energy drinks and soft drinks and how you can separate them from one another.

Let’s get started…

Are energy drinks and soft drinks the same?

Energy drinks and soft drinks aren’t the same. Energy drinks usually contain a mixture of ingredients that you can’t find in soft drinks like B group vitamins, guarana, ginseng and taurine. Energy drinks also contain more caffeine than soft drinks.

Energy drinks are classified as any beverage that contains large amounts caffeine, usually (but not always) sugar and B group vitamins. These beverages are also often promoted as products that increase energy levels, reduce fatigue and boost mental alertness.

Moreover, energy drinks are sometimes marketed as dietary supplements as these beverages can contain food additives like taurine and amino acids.

Soft drinks on the other hand are non-alcoholic beverages that are usually carbonated. Soft drinks typically contain natural or artificial flavourings, sweeteners, edible acids, and occasionally juice. Soft drinks also usually contain small amounts of caffeine.

Because energy drinks and soft drinks both contain some caffeine and often both contain sugar, there is a fair amount of confusion about what the difference is between the two.

You usually don’t see soft drinks and energy drinks on the same shelf in supermarkets. They’re usually separated and displayed in their own little section. That’s the first giveaway about whether a particular brand is a soft drink or an energy drink – where you find it in a supermarket.

If it’s in the energy drink section, that’s your answer. If not, it’s likely a soft drink.

While soft drinks are considered safe to be consumed by everyone, in some countries, like the UK and Lithuania, the sales of energy drinks to minors are banned. Thus, energy drinks are placed on different shelves so minors don’t mistake them for soft drinks.

Though I’m not so sure about vending machines. Some vending machines might sell both energy drinks and soft drinks, which may be confusing.

Do energy drinks and soft drinks have any benefits?

Both energy drinks and soft drinks are mostly beneficial to you if consumed in moderation.

Let me explain the benefits of energy drinks first.

Energy drinks can benefit you by reducing your tiredness. A study of 12 drivers discovered that energy drinks reduce symptoms of fatigue and decrease the risk of sleep-related driving accidents even when the driver was short on sleep during the journey.

Energy drink also help in boosting cognitive performance.

Multiple studies have found that energy drinks are capable of improving reaction time, concentration, memory, and mood.

There is also proof that energy drinks improve physical performance. A study performed on 15 participants found that after consuming energy drinks, their upper body muscle endurance significantly increased.

Meanwhile, soft drinks can provide you with some benefits if you don’t overdo it. Since soft drinks contain a relatively small amount of caffeine – one can has less caffeine compared to a cup of coffee – you’re less likely to overdose on caffeine or develop caffeine addiction compared to if you drink energy drinks.

If you have a low tolerance to caffeine, soft drinks may be the answer for you if you can’t tolerate the high caffeine content in many energy drinks.

Raze is a popular brand of energy drink that many people still haven’t heard of.

Side effects of too many energy drinks and soft drinks

Drinking too many energy drinks or too many soft drinks can lead to some unwanted side effects. It’s important that you consume both of these types of drinks in moderation.

According to the NHS, the excessive consumption of energy drinks may lead to:

  • Caffeine overdose
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Miscarriages, low birth weight, and stillbirths (for pregnant women)
  • Heart and nervous system damages (in children and adolescents)
  • Poor dental health
  • Obesity

There’s a growing trend of mixing alcohol with energy drinks among young adults, especially university and college students. Researchers have found that this dangerous combination causes people to become ‘wide-awake drunk’, whereby people are awake with the effects of alcohol still present.

As a result, people tend to act more reckless as their judgement and decision making is impaired, leading to a higher risk of drunk driving and alcohol-related injuries.

Soft drinks can cause a number of side effects. According to Healthline, drinking too many sugary soft drinks may lead to:

  • Weight gain
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart diseases
  • Sugar addiction
  • Cavities
  • Gout
  • Dementia
  • Cancer

Diet soft drinks aren’t much better than regular soft drinks either. The only difference is that diet soft drinks contain little to no sugar, instead, they contain artificial sweeteners.

Soft drinks contain artificial or natural flavours, preservatives, acids and caffeine. In fact, a can of Diet Coke has around 46mg of caffeine.

It’s not wrong to have energy drinks or soft drinks if you like drinking them, but you have to make sure you control your consumption and only enjoy either type of drink in moderation.

Do energy drinks and soft drinks have the same ingredients?

Energy drinks and soft drinks share similar ingredients, like caffeine and sugar, but most energy drinks contain ingredients that soft drinks usually lack.

The most common ingredients in energy drinks are caffeine, guarana, taurine, amino acids, sugar, electrolytes, B vitamins, and herbal ingredients like ginseng.

What differentiates soft drinks from energy drinks is that soft drinks contain carbonated water, edible acids and sugars that may or may not be fructose sugar syrup.

Soft drinks don’t supply your body with quite the same boost of energy that energy drinks do as well. Soft drinks also don’t have as many key nutrients as energy drinks have.

Are soft drinks healthier than energy drinks?

Soft drinks aren’t any healthier than energy drinks in my opinion. Both drinks can contain a lot of sugar, both have sugar-free options, both contain caffeine, but soft drinks may be a safer choice than energy drinks if you’re trying to limit your caffeine intake for any reason.

Soft drinks mostly consist of carbonated water, flavourings, colourings, preservatives and sugars or sweeteners. These ingredients appeal to our taste buds which is why we find soft drinks delicious and enjoyable to drink.

In my opinion, energy drinks can be beneficial to you if you consume them in moderation. Energy drinks have been proven to improve cognitive performance and the extra caffeine also helps athletic performances too.

Do energy drinks make good alternatives to soft drinks?

Energy drinks are quite different to soft drinks. Depending on your use case, energy drinks might be a good alternative to soft drinks, or perhaps they might be a bad idea.

Soft drinks don’t have such high levels of caffeine that might affect your health. Because soft drinks usually contain a bunch of sugar and only a little caffeine or other ingredients, they’re socially acceptable to consume at all ages.

Energy drinks, on the other hand, contain significantly more caffeine. Some energy drink brands contain as much as 300mg of caffeine per can.

It’s actually recommended that you limit your caffeine consumption to no more than 400mg in a day. Some suggest that children and adolescents should only consume 3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight per day.

In my opinion, children shouldn’t be drinking energy drinks or any caffeinated product at all – but that’s something that I’ve previously talked about in another article.

I personally aim to keep my caffeine intake to 50mg to 100mg per serve. That’s the sweet spot for me. I find that if I have more than about 100mg of caffeine at once I’m often left feeling hot, flushed and unable to focus of think clearly for a few hours.

The amount of caffeine you consume needs to be controlled to avoid possible side effects like:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Increased thirst
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat

Energy drinks sometimes also contain guarana and lots of sugar. Guarana is an ingredient that contains caffeine. It’s often not accounted for in the caffeine content in energy drinks, which is why you need to be careful with your caffeine consumption.

As for sugar, as energy drinks often contain large amounts of it, you should pay attention to how much sugar you’re consuming in a day to avoid negative health effects. The NHS recommends less than 30g of sugar per day for adults while children should stick to no more than 19g of sugar daily.

Too much sugar in a day can lead to sugar crashes, which is why I prefer sugar-free drinks in general.

If you want to read a complete discussion of whether it’s safe to drink energy drinks every day, check out my other article where I cover everything you need to know on the topic in one place.

Should children consume energy drinks or soft drinks?

A child drinking

Children shouldn’t consume energy drinks or soft drinks in my opinion. Children should avoid beverages that are high in caffeine and sugar to avoid possible health problems.

Studies have found that energy drink consumption among secondary school students were associated with substance use, like smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs. Soft drink consumption was also associated with substance use, mainly cigarette smoking.

In adolescents, energy drinks may cause heart arrhythmia symptoms and seizures. On the other hand, too many soft drinks can lead to obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, liver damage, and cavities.

Hence, keep energy drinks and soft drinks out of reach of children. I’d suggest giving them healthier beverages instead like juice, non-caffeinated teas or just plain ol’ water.

Should I drink energy drinks or soft drinks when I have a migraine?

If you have a migraine, the caffeine in energy drinks can help to relieve the pain. It’s not recommended to drink soft drinks as the caffeine content is not enough to alleviate the migraines. The sugar content in soft drinks is often high and might aggravate your headaches.

Not many people know this, but caffeine is actually a pain-reliever. Painkillers like aspirin and paracetamol often contain caffeine to increase their efficiency.

When you’re suffering from a migraine or headache, your blood vessels swell. Caffeine helps to narrow and control the flow of your blood to your head, diminishing the pain.

So, if you ever have a headache or migraine, you can go for a can of energy drink to alleviate your pain.

Can I take soft drinks or energy drinks when I’m pregnant?

A pregnant woman

I don’t recommend consuming soft drinks or energy drinks when you’re pregnant or expecting. Energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine which can raise your blood pressure. Soft drinks often have tons of sugar and preservatives that aren’t healthy for your little one.

You should stick to less than 200mg of caffeine in a day during pregnancy or if you want to have a child. If you really want to consume energy drinks, make sure to choose brands with a sensible amount of caffeine.

The latest research on the matter suggests that no amount of caffeine is safe during pregnancy. I would err on the side of caution and assume that’s the best way to go.

For soft drinks, you should be safe with one soft drink in a day. But remember that soft drinks also contain some caffeine and that any amount of caffeine might be dangerous during pregnancy.

Proceed with caution.

If you consume too much caffeine and sugar, it may lead to miscarriages or health problems for your baby.

Alternatives to soft drinks

As much as energy drinks and soft drinks are both great to drink, there are other drinks out there that also taste delicious and give you energy.


Water is always a good choice. Not only does drinking water keep you properly hydrated, but it also increases energy levels and improves brain function and exercise performance.

Green Tea

Green tea has been associated with many health benefits. A cup of green tea contains about 35mg of caffeine, though the amount can vary. Drinking green tea can boost your immune system and improve cognitive function.

Lemon water

Adding lemon to water is a healthy way of enhancing its flavour. Lemon water is rich source of Vitamin C that provides benefits such as promoting weight loss, improving skin quality and boosting your digestive system.

Energy Drinks to try instead of soft drinks

Red Bull Energy Drink

A can of Red Bull energy drink
A regular can of Red Bull.
B Vitamins Yes

Red Bull is the most famous energy drink brand in the world and can be found in almost every supermarket and store, all over the world.

With 80mg of caffeine, I think Red Bull is a great alternative to drinking a soft drink.

However, Red Bull contains a bit too much sugar for my liking. I suggest choosing the sugar-free version of Red Bull if you have the choice.

Emerge Energy Drink

Two cans of Emerge energy drink
B vitamins Yes

In my opinion, this amount of caffeine in Emerge energy drink is ideal. It’s not too much nor too little. The calories are also quite moderate.

But what bothers me is that Emerge energy drinks contain both sugar and artificial sweeteners. If you like sweeter caffeinated drinks, Emerge could be the drink for you.

REIZE Energy Drink (10 out of 10)

REIZE energy drink
B vitaminsLOTS

When it comes to energy drinks, I find it hard to recommend anything more highly than REIZE.

The reason?

REIZE only contains 50mg of caffeine (a very sensible amount) and ZERO sugar. You don’t have to be concerned about gaining weight as REIZE has only a few calories and no sugar.

REIZE tastes amazing and contains a smart blend of taurine, ginseng and B vitamins that are beneficial for you. It’s also super easy to carry around as it comes in convenient little powder sachets. Incredibly versatile, you can mix it with any beverages of your liking, be it juice, tea or water.

You can get REIZE delivered to your doorstep for only around $1 per drink, with nothing more to pay. That’s AMAZING value for money.

Give REIZE a try today and I’m sure you’ll soon agree that it’s better than any soft drink you’ve tried before and the best-value energy drink on the market.

Marty Spargo

I started my own energy drink brand in 2014 and am passionate about educating people about energy drinks so that they can properly understand the ingredients, benefits and risks without being influenced by the marketing messages put out by some brands. You can read my full bio here.

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