Do energy drinks actually give you energy?

Energy drinks are supposed to do just what the name implies, give you an extra burst of energy. They have been popping up all over supermarket and convenient store shelves all over the world and according to a New York Times article, they have overtaken bottled water as the fastest-growing category in the beverage business. Coffee stores have seen the effects of this ‘next new thing’ with afternoon coffee pick-me-ups, being substituted by these brightly coloured glossy cans that promise ‘a boost’ when feeling tried or run down. With the recent controversy surrounding the 13-million dollar lawsuit that Red Bull recently settled for the false advertising of its energy drinks, I thought it would be interesting to determine whether energy drinks really do give you the burst of energy they promise.


Energy Drinks. Photo Credit: Simon Desmarais via Flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0], 2009.

Where does all this “energy” come from? 

According to Suzanne Farrell, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, most of the “energy” in energy drinks comes from two main ingredients; sugar and caffeine. A typical energy drink contains the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee (80 milligrams). Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a chemical in our brain that is responsible for sleep. When adenosine is blocked through consuming high quantities of caffeine, it causes neurons in the brain to activate. Thinking the body is in an emergency, the pituitary gland initiates the body’s “fight or flight” response by releasing adrenaline. This hormone makes the heart beat faster and the eyes to dilate. It also causes the liver to release extra sugar into the bloodstream for energy. All of these physical responses make you feel as though you have more energy.

152939382_1bf8518e33_bCaffeine up close. Photo Credit: Eyeore2710  via Flickr [CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0], 2006.

The sugar in one-standard energy drink is equivalent to drinking a coffee with 10-12 teaspoons of sugar. These excessive amounts of sugar would provide the consumer with short burst of energy that cannot be sustained. Studies have found that the effects of energy drinks will be similar to that of drinking a cup of coffee or a can of soft drink in that when the effect wears off, you’ll feel yourself slowing down and will likely crave another drink to boost your energy once again.


 A spoon of sugar. Photo Credit: Caro Wallis via Flickr [CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0], 2010.

So to answer the question, YES energy drinks will give you energy, but it will be short lasting and cannot be sustained for a long period of time. 

I would love to hear from regular energy drink consumers to hear about whether they find they get energy boosts after drinking these supplements and how long the high lasts for. Are some brands better than others and do you feel that the more of them you drink the more resilient your body becomes?

Further readings:


6 Responses to “Do energy drinks actually give you energy?”

  1. avukovic says:

    Gcao I am not a massive fan of energy drinks either, I watched that same 60 minute episode and it scared me from drinking them, especially mixing them with alcohol : I Thank you for your post!

  2. avukovic says:

    Dloudon thank you so much for taking the time to write such a detailed and interesting comment. I have a lot of friends who turned to energy drinks when they were travelling overseas to help them to cope with the ridiculous amount of flights and sleepless nights.

    It would be hard to resist buying them when there is a great deal on. They always appear to be right near the check-out of convenience stores making them so assessable to shoppers.

    There has been a lot of speculation regarding the health effects of consuming energy drinks. Further research needs to be done to confirm the health risks. I once dropped a can of Mother on the ground at work and it stained the ground. That was enough to stop me from drinking it.

  3. dloudon says:

    I think I became addicted to energy drinks when I was travelling around the US. There’s an enormous range and they’re usually resasonably priced, and quite a few of them are delicious. Also back in 2011 some energy drinks would have as much as 300mg per can of caffeine (the legal limit in Australia is 160mg). I had the energy to do lots of different exciting things in a day and get around mostly by walking. It “cured” travel fatigue (by putting it off a few days).

    I come back to Melbourne and I still consume them regularly, but I’m not doing anything with the day. In fact I don’t really feel much at all from energy drinks. I would have energy drinks late at night, ostensibly to get work done, but then spend the night on wikipedia and reddit. It seems like caffeine only gives me the illusion of productivity, or productivity without focus at best.

    Maybe it’s not the drinks, and it’s just a function of me not wanting to pay convenience store prices for a soft drink (even though energy drinks are just as much of a rip off). All I know is that I feel the need to “quit”. I sometimes do manage to quit, but a situation like what jrozek brought up comes around and I have one or two (gotta love the “2 for $X” deals), and then I’m back. Red Bull apparently used to have cocaine in it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if energy drink manufacturers have figured out a loophole to make them just as addictive now.

    I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of really figuring out the full extent negative health effects. I remember the first time I had 2 Mothers in one night I felt like I was on the verge of having a heart attack. At the time I wrote it off as panic, and maybe it was, but hearing about the effect it has on platelets on Catalyst (here: was eye opening. Now I regularly drink 2 500ml energy drinks in a short time period and feel nothing.

    So much about energy drinks reminds me of smoking in the 60s.

  4. gcao says:

    I don’t like to drink energy drinks, because i once watched a 60 minutes video about the side effects of energy drinks. A boy has having skipped heart beats, but I was not sure if the energy drink was the cause or whether its two separate scenarios. Coffee may be my preferred beverage.

  5. avukovic says:

    Thank you for your post Jrozek. I think its very interesting that you feel like energy drinks give you more energy than a coffee. I don’t usually drink them but when I do I definitely feel my heart racing. Tea is also my preferred choice of caffeine.

  6. jrozek says:

    I occasionally have an energy drink when I’m really tired but don’t want to be, like at a party, work or rushing through to submit that assignment at 2am. But I try not to rely on them.

    My preferred caffeine delivery mechanism is tea. And I mostly drink that for the taste and ceremony (little beats a pot of tea after a long cold day) than the energy boost.

    I feel like energy drinks give me more energy than a coffee, even if it’s sugar free. It might be because I can drink an energy drink much quicker than coffee, or maybe some sort of psychological response.