Healthwise
To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

Energy and Sports Drinks

Table of Contents


Topic Overview

What are energy and sports drinks?

If you listen to the advertising, you might think energy and sports drinks do it all. More energy. Improved performance. Better concentration.

But do they? And what's the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks?

Energy drinks

People use energy drinks because these drinks claim to improve energy, help with weight loss, increase endurance, and improve concentration. The main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. They also may contain extract from the guarana plant (which is similar to caffeine), the amino acid taurine, carbohydrate in the form of sugar, and vitamins.

Examples of energy drinks include Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar.

Sports drinks

People use sports drinks to replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes lost through sweating after activity. Electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium, that keep the body's balance of fluids at the proper level. You may lose electrolytes when you sweat.

Sports drinks can also restore carbohydrate that the body uses during activity.

Sports drinks often contain carbohydrate in the form of sugar, as well as electrolytes and minerals and sometimes protein, vitamins, or caffeine. They come in different flavors.

Examples of sports drinks include Accelerade, Gatorade, and Powerade.

Are energy drinks safe for children and teens?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens not use energy drinks.1 The best way for children and teens to improve energy is through a balanced diet. Getting enough sleep also can help keep energy levels up.

Why should children and teens avoid energy drinks? One reason is that the main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. It can cause problems in children and teens, including:

Energy drinks may make existing problems worse in children and teens. For example, energy drinks:

Concerns about energy drinks

Are energy drinks safe for adults?

Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine is considered safe for adults. That means 100 mg to 200 mg of caffeine a day. There is about 95 mg of caffeine in 8 fl oz (237 mL) of brewed coffee.

Caffeine increases energy in adults and fights tiredness. But too much caffeine can cause nervousness, feeling grumpy, an upset stomach, diarrhea, and headaches.

Performance

Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance and performance in high-intensity sports. But research also notes that the improvement is mostly seen in trained athletes and may not be seen in people who exercise casually. Research also notes that taking low to moderate doses of caffeine produces the same improvement as taking higher doses.2

Alcohol

Drinking energy drinks and alcohol together may be unsafe. The caffeine in these drinks can make the effects of alcohol harder to notice. People may feel they are not as intoxicated as they really are. Mixing caffeine with alcohol may cause you to drink more, because the caffeine may keep you awake longer.

Pregnancy

In small amounts, caffeine is considered safe for the developing baby (fetus). But if you're pregnant, it's a good idea to keep your caffeine intake below 200 mg a day because:3

The total caffeine in an energy drink may be more than the recommended amount.

Are sports drinks useful?

Water is usually the best choice before, during, and after physical activity.

You might benefit from a sports drink if you have sweated a lot during activities that are intense or last a long time. For example, a runner or cyclist in a long-distance event could use a sports drink to hydrate and replace electrolytes.

Sports drinks may contain sugars but have little nutritional value. They add calories. So if you're not exercising long or hard, sports drinks could lead to weight gain. The sugars in these drinks can also lead to dental problems.

Children and teens

Children and teens use carbohydrate for energy. A balanced diet gives most children and teens the carbohydrate and electrolytes they need. Extra carbohydrate and electrolytes from sports drinks aren't needed, even after short physical activity or exercise.

Before, after, and during activity, water is the best choice for children and teens. A sports drink may be useful if children and teens have exercised intensively or for a long period of time. If your child is an athlete or takes part in intensive or long-lasting activities or exercises, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about how to best use sports drinks.

What do you need to remember about using these drinks?


References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.
  2. Goldstein ER, Ziegenfuss T, et al. (2010). International Society of Sports nutrition position stand: Caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(5): 1–15. Also available online: http://www.jissn.com/content/7/1/5.
  3. Weng X, et al. (2008). Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and risk of miscarriage: A prospective cohort study. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Published online January 28, 2008 (doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2007.10.803).
  4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 462. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(2): 467–468.

Other Works Consulted


Credits for Energy and Sports Drinks

Current as of: May 12, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Heather Chambliss PhD - Exercise Science


Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.