Energy drinks

They're the drink of choice for many children but are they suitable?
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:9 Jan 2005
 

01 .Introduction

Energy-drinks

In brief

  • Energy drinks such as RED BULL and V have obvious appeal to kids but can contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Even small amounts of caffeine can make kids anxious and disturb their sleep patterns.
  • Many of these drinks are also loaded with sugar, which most of us can do without.
  • Energy drinks aren't sports drinks. They generally won't keep up your hydration when you're active.

They’re fizzy drinks with a difference. RED BULL “vitalizes body and mind”, V “invigorates you, replenishes energy levels, improves mental alertness and enhances concentration”, BLUE OX “increases strength and stamina” and NAUGHTY BOY will “energise your body” and “enliven your mind”.

What most of them in fact do is give you a caffeine fix with plenty of sugar.

Not called 'bull' for nothing ...

The taurine in many energy drinks gets its name from the fact that it was first extracted from ox bile (taurus is Latin for ‘bull’). It’s now made synthetically, but the rumour has spread (presumably by word association) that taurine comes from bulls’ testicles. This is of course not the case, but it’s a great promo for energy drinks.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2005 but is still a useful guide today.


 
 

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02.Caffeine concerns

 
  • Caffeine’s OK for adults in moderate amounts: four or five average-strength cups of coffee or their equivalent a day won’t harm most people (300mg). But it’s a stimulant and has measurable effects even at very low ‘doses’.
  • Very high levels (that’s 1000 mg a day — equivalent to 11–12 cups of strong coffee) can be harmful. Research has shown links between heavy use of caffeine and osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heartburn, ulcers, severe insomnia and infertility.
  • The effects of caffeine differ from person to person, depending on age, body size and general health.
  • Young children, however, can suffer disturbed sleep patterns, bedwetting and anxiety from the caffeine in just one can of an energy drink.
  • Even five years ago, when sales of energy drinks were less than 20% of what they are now, an Australian survey found that 27% of boys aged 8–12 had consumed high-caffeine energy drinks in the previous two weeks. And some teenagers said they were having up to five cans of energy drink before sporting events.
  • Pregnant women should be wary, as studies have shown that a miscarriage in the first three months is more likely in women who’ve had more than 100 mg of caffeine daily (about two cups of weak coffee).
  • It’s perhaps no coincidence that caffeine has a dark side. It’s a poison created by plants to protect themselves from being eaten. Most animals can’t stand the bitter taste.

Caffeine

Most of these drinks have about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of strong instant coffee (see the Table for details). It’s added as:

  • Brewed coffee,
  • Guarana (another caffeine-containing plant product) or as
  • The straight chemical (which is obtained commercially as a by-product of the manufacture of decaffeinated coffee).

Energy drinks (or ‘formulated caffeinated beverages’, as they’re called in the Food Standards Code) display a warning on the label indicating that they’re not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women, or people sensitive to caffeine. But there are caffeine-containing drinks that don’t carry it because they’re not strictly ‘formulated caffeinated beverages’: for example, K-FEE Turbodrink is just coffee, while COCA-COLA and PEPSI contain caffeine, but not enough to qualify.

Sugar

Most energy drinks contain sugar, either as ordinary table sugar (sucrose) or glucose. Sugar is rapidly digested and absorbed into the body, so the kilojoules of energy it provides are quickly made available for physical exertion. However, most of us not exerting ourselves physically would be better off without these additional kilojoules. You wouldn’t stir about 12 teaspoons of sugar into your tea or coffee, but that’s what’s in a can of RED EYE Classic.

Two of the drinks have no sugar: RED BULL Sugar Free and V Sugarfree Invigoration Guarana Energy — they have artificial sweeteners instead.

Taurine

Most of these drinks have taurine as a key ingredient. We checked out the science and asked the manufacturers about its inclusion, but we’ve yet to see any convincing evidence that it’ll give you a buzz. Taurine’s used by the body in a wide range of protective and metabolic activities, but exactly what it does (and how it does it) is still largely unknown.

Whatever its merits, though, you don’t need to buy it in a can because there’s plenty in the usual Australian diet and your body can easily make enough of its own — unless, perhaps, you’re an elite athlete.

There’s only limited evidence that taurine is safe at the very high levels found in some of these drinks. Under the Food Standards Code it’s allowed in energy drinks at levels that’ll give you a maximum intake of up to 2000 mg per day, as long as you don’t exceed the recommended number of cans in a day. It’s also allowed in sports foods, but curiously only to levels that’ll give you no more than 60 mg per day. With so little known about it, we think it’s crazy to allow such high levels of taurine in drinks that are often consumed by kids.

NAUGHTY GIRL contains carnitine rather than taurine. According to NAUGHTY GIRL it “assists fat burning”. But like most such claims it’s probably too good to be true — we looked for evidence and remain unconvinced.

B vitamins

B vitamins are used by the body in various ways that involve the release of energy from food. There’s no obvious justification for including them in these drinks because a well-balanced diet already provides an adequate intake, and more of a good thing isn’t necessarily better.

Sports performance

There’s good evidence that caffeine enhances sports performance for elite athletes, though not for the average athlete. And energy drinks shouldn’t be confused with sports drinks, which are designed to maximise hydration.

Sports drinks such as POWERADE and STAMINADE typically have about 12 g of sugar per serve, but most energy drinks have more than this (see the Table). A high sugar concentration can slow absorption of water into the body, making these drinks unsuitable for rehydration during prolonged and vigorous physical exercise.

04.Ingredients table

 
Ingredients per bottle/can 1
Brand (from highest to
lowest caffeine content)
Caffeine (mg) Energy (kJ) Sugars (g) Taurine (mg) Added B vitamins Bottle / can size (mL) Price per bottle/can ($)*
K-FEE Turbodrink (A) 130 343 13 0 250 2.3
WILD NRG 120 713 42 1333 3 375 1.7
RED EYE Energy Drink with Attitude Classic 106 868 49 100 3 330 2.1
RED EYE Energy Drink with Attitude Platinum 106 634 36 60 3 330 2.1
Strong instant coffee (1 heaped tsp), no milk or sugar 90 ‹20 0 0 250 na
B-52 80 479 28 1000 3 250 2.95
Cappuccino, no added sugar 80 260 5 (B) 0 250 na
NAUGHTY BOY 80 476 28 0 250 2.5
NAUGHTY GIRL 80 200 13 0 250 2.5
RED BULL 80 480 27 1000 3 250 2.65
RED BULL Sugar Free 80 34 0 1000 3 250 2.65
Short black coffee, no sugar 80 ‹20 0 0 100 na
BLUE OX Black Cherry 78 375 26 400 3 250 1.95
BLUE OX Orange Rush 78 450 26 400 3 250 1.95
BLUE OX Original 78 458 27 400 3 250 1.95
V Invigoration Guarana Energy 78 475 28 500 3 250 2.25
V Sugarfree Invigoration Guarana Energy 78 4 0 500 3 250 2.25
Strong tea (teabag), no milk or sugar 70 ‹20 0 0 250 na
RECHARGE by Sprite 66 528 30 0 3 300 2.1
DARE Coffee Shot with Guarana 64 466 17 0 200 1.6
SOLIS Adrenalin 63 683 39 0 3 350 2.7
COCA-COLA (A) 49 675 40 0 375 1.25
Weak instant coffee (1 level tsp), no milk or sugar 45 ‹20 0 0 250 na
PEPSI (A) 39 737 41 0 375 1.25
Weak tea (teabag), no milk or sugar 20 ‹20 0 0 250 na
LUCOZADE Sparkling Glucose Drink Original Energy (A) 0 924 26 0 300 1.6

Table notes

* Based on what we paid in June/July 2005.
na Not applicable.
(A) While these aren’t marketed as energy drinks, we’ve included them for comparison. A 375 mL can of Diet Coke has a similar amount of caffeine to Coca-Cola, and 375 mL cans of Pepsi Max and Diet Pepsi have similar amounts of caffeine to Pepsi.
(B) Mainly lactose from the milk.

1 Ingredients per bottle or can
These are the amounts given in the nutrition information panel on the label. LUCOZADE Sparkling Glucose Drink is a more traditional energy drink that’s based only on sugar (it contains no caffeine). The label says it’s “specially formulated with glucose syrup to provide glucose, the body’s preferred source of fast, effective energy”. We included it for comparison because it’s been around for a long time.

NOTE: table best printed in landscape format