Energy Drinks & Sports Drinks: Are they healthy?

Energy drinks and sports drinks are a big business. Global energy drink sales  reached $57.4 billion in 2020. The global sports drink market size was valued at $22.37 billion in 2018Check out the rows of ergonomically-designed bottles filled with neon-colored sports drinks and the eye-catching designs and colors of energy drink cans and you realize there is no doubt that we are dealing with major marketing strategies.

ENERGY DRINKS

There are two main ingredients in all brands of energy drinks: caffeine and sugar. Depending on the brand, there may also be taurine or extracts of guarana seed or green tea. Some brands add negligible amounts of B vitamins. Listed below are caffeine and sugar amounts found in some popular brands of energy drinks.

BRANDCAFFEINE AMOUNTS
Rockstar180 mg per 12 fl oz
Monster Energy120 mg per 12 fl oz
Red Bull113.5 mg per 12 fl oz
Yerba Mate150 mg per 12 fl oz
5-Hour Energy Shots200 mg per 2 fl oz
BRAND Serving size Sugar per serve (grams) Sugar per serve (teaspoons)
Rockstar16.9 fl oz6716.8
Yerba Mate16.9 fl oz276.8
Monster16.9 fl oz5110.2
Red Bull12 fl oz346.8
5-Hour Energy2 fl ozZeroZero

As a point of reference, an 8-oz cup of coffee has 95 mg of caffeine. The Mayo Clinic suggests that daily caffeine intake should not exceed 400 mg. 

Caffeine is a stimulant and is additive. Caffeine tolerance is created with regular use, necessitating increasingly higher doses to achieve its effects. Caffeine overdose and caffeine toxicity are possible. When caffeine intake is suddenly stopped, withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, headache, agitation, depressed mood, and fatigue can occur. 

SPORTS DRINKS

The claim of sports drinks is that they provide needed hydration and electrolytes to replenish the body following expenditure of energy due to competitive sports and vigorous exercise. 

An electrolyte is a substance that conducts electricity when dissolved in water. Electrolytes are critical for normal functioning of our cells, muscles, nerves, and organs. Essential electrolytes required by the body are sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride, and phosphate.

The main ingredients of sports drinks are water and sugar. In addition to sugar, sports drinks provide electrolytes in the form of salt and potassium. Some brands also include calcium, magnesium and phosphate. 

SUGAR

When a large dose of sugar is ingested, the result is a sugar rush. The stomach prepares for an influx of food, brain and body are stimulated to release insulin and adrenaline into the bloodstream. Heartrate and blood pressure increase. However, no food has been digested and no nutrients have been supplied. The sugar is quickly absorbed without long-lasting results, which results in the crash: feelings of sluggishness, fatigue, and the need for caffeine and sugar. 

Listed below are sugar amounts for some well-known sports drink brands.

BrandServing sizeSugar per serve (g)Sugar per serve (tsp)
Gatorade20.2 fl oz369.0
Powerade20.2 fl oz358.8
Bodyarmor16 fl oz369.0

In response to growing consumer concern over the relationship between sugar consumption to onset of diabetes and obesity, producers of energy and sports drinks have developed sugar-free and low-sugar versions of these drinks. To create a sweet taste, artificial sweeteners are used in place of sugar.

Artificial sweeteners are hundreds, even thousands, of times sweeter than sugar. They excite the sugar receptors on the tongue and fool the brain into releasing insulin.  Artificial sweeteners hijack our sense of taste for the natural sweetness found in healthy foods causing them to taste flat. 

Scientific studies have shown that use of artificial sweeteners actually increases weight gain, blood sugar imbalance, and feelings of hunger and craving, which lead to over eating. 

Listed below are names of artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA.

Scientific NameCommon/Brand Name
AspartameEqual, NutraSweet
SaccharinSweet’N’Low, Sugar Twin
SucraloseSplenda
Acesulfame K (also Ace K)Sunett, Sweet One
Stevia (plant-based))Truvia, PureVia, Sweet Leaf
Sugar alcohols (plant-based)Mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol

BOTTOM LINE

The truth is energy drinks and sports drinks are NOT healthy options, especially for children and teens. The ideal method for creating energy and stamina is to eat a diet rich in whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, and proteins. All the essential electrolytes we need are found naturally in these foods.

The best way to stay hydrated is to drink plenty of water.  It’s simple to increase the palatability of plain water by infusing it with lemon, fruit, mint leaves, cucumber slices, or aromatic herbs like fresh basil. The possibilities are endless, all it takes is imagination.

REFERENCES:

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/Y

https://uichildrens.org/health-library/sugar-sports-drinks

https://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes/is-5-hour-energy-safe-for-people-with-diabetes

https://www.rethinksugarydrink.org.au/how-much-sugar

https://www.buzzfeed.com

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