Energy drinks are beverages often grabbed in an act of desperation – maybe it’s a long shift dragging on, a big test coming up, the aftereffects of an all-nighter, a game or a competition. But we might resort to energy drinks because they have much more caffeine than coffee: An average 8-ounce coffee has just under 100 milligrams of caffeine and a 1.93-ounce bottle of 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength has 230 milligrams of caffeine. That’ll keep just about anyone awake.
But before you grab a Celsius, RedBull or your preferred energy drink, here’s what you need to know to keep your health in tip-top shape.
What is the healthiest energy drink?
If you’re in a pinch or looking to get a quick energy boost, there’s certainly a lot to choose from at the store.
So what is the healthiest energy drink? It’s a complicated question, says registered dietitian Amy Goodson, and though it sounds counterintuitive, it may be in your best interest to choose a brand with less caffeine and less sugar.
“Healthy is a relative term. Are there some that potentially could be better than others? Yes,” Goodson says. “There probably are some that might have a more moderate amount of caffeine and there may be vitamins and minerals, then there’s going to be some loaded with sugar and triple the amount of caffeine you should be consuming.”
You’ll want to choose an energy drink that’ll put you within or under the daily recommended limit for caffeine intake for adults, which is 400 milligrams per day for adults, though some experts advise not to pass 300 milligrams. For context, a Bang energy drink contains 300 milligrams of caffeine in one 16-ounce serving. Celsius, a popular brand, packs 200 milligrams of caffeine into its Celsius Original drink. Others only contain 100 milligrams or less.
Short-term overconsumption of caffeine can cause any of the following effects:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
Long-term overuse can exacerbate these effects, cause high blood pressure, ongoing gastrointestinal issues, and, in rare cases, death.
The healthiest way to consume energy drinks, if at all, is also on a full stomach. Energy drinks are popular pre-workout beverages in the gym. Be aware that you feel the effects of caffeine differently and quicker on an empty stomach.
“(If) I had an energy drink at 6 a.m., I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday and now I’m getting on a treadmill and I’m pushing my heart rate up; You could start to see why that could potentially be problematic,” Goodson says.
Read further:Do energy drinks do more harm than good?
Are energy drinks bad for you?
For adults, drinking energy drinks in moderation – say, to replace a morning cup of coffee – is okay. But more often than not, Goodson says she sees people abusing energy drinks by relying on them throughout the day.
“Many people are using them to replace another bad habit,” Goodson says. “I start with, why do you need so many energy drinks? Why is it that you’re not sleeping enough? Is it that you’re not eating appropriately and because your blood sugar is all messed up … it makes those energy levels like a roller coaster?”
Evaluate how an energy drink fits into your larger daily caffeine intake – you may not realize how much caffeine is in tea, soda, energy bars, supplements or even chocolate you consume throughout the day.
As a sports nutrition consultant, Goodson says she sees mostly high school athletes and teens abusing energy drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no caffeine for children under 12 and less than 100 milligrams per day for those between 12-18 years old. It’s easy to exceed and even double or triple that recommended amount with one energy drink.
“A lot of times it’s because they’re not sleeping enough, they’re surely not eating well and so they’re relying on energy drinks as basically a replacement,” Goodson says.
Caffeine is a drug: The body can build up a tolerance, so after months of heavy caffeine intake it’ll take even more caffeine to feel those energetic boosts of productivity and alertness.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid found naturally in our bodies as well as in meat and seafood. It’s also a popular ingredient in energy drinks. In the body, taurine helps absorb fats and may have a positive effect on the hallmarks of aging at a cellular level, a 2023 study found.
Taurine levels are high in energy drinks but caffeine and other ingredients may contradict the effects, so experts told USA TODAY people shouldn’t assume to get any health benefits from their energy drinks. Taurine hasn’t been extensively studied for human safety, although there has been no evidence of negative effects.
Healthy alternatives to energy drinks
The energy boost you seek in an energy drink can be found more naturally. Here’s what Goodson recommends:
Discover more health tips for your daily diet:
How much is too much?:Caffeine dangers and limits to know
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