Top of the page
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?
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.
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 flavours.
Examples of sports drinks include Accelerade, Gatorade, and Powerade.
Health Canada recommends that children and teenagers not use energy drinks.footnote 1 The best way for children and teenagers to improve energy is through a balanced diet. Getting enough sleep also can help keep energy levels up.
Why should children and teenagers avoid energy drinks? One reason is that the main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. It can cause problems in children and teenagers, including:
Energy drinks may make existing problems worse in children and teenagers. For example, energy drinks:
Concerns about energy drinks
Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine is considered safe for adults. That means no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant, and no more than 400 mg for other healthy adults.footnote 2 There is about 95 mg of caffeine in 240 mL (8 fl oz) 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.
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.footnote 1
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.
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 300 mg a day because:footnote 2
The total caffeine in an energy drink may be more than the recommended amount.
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 teenagers
Children and teenagers use carbohydrate for energy. A balanced diet gives most children and teenagers 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 teenagers. A sports drink may be useful if children and teenagers 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.
CitationsHealth Canada (2012). Category-specific guidance for temporary marketing authorization: Caffeinated energy drinks. Available online: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/legislation/guide-ld/guidance-caf-drink-boiss-tma-amt-eng.php.Government of Canada (2013). Health Canada reminds Canadians to manage their caffeine consumption. Available online: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/hc-sc/2013/34021a-eng.php.Goldstein I (2007). Urological management of women with sexual health concerns. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 863–889. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 462. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116(2): 467–468. Pound CM, Blair B (2017). Energy and sports drinks in children and adolescents. Paediatrics and Child Health, 22(7): 406–410. https://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/energy-and-sports-drinks. Accessed October 17, 2017. Other Works ConsultedAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (2011). Clinical Report—Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate? Pediatrics, 127(6): 1182–1189.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages—CDC Fact Sheet. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/cab.htm.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. Marczinski CA, Fillmore MT, et al. (2011). Effects of energy drinks mixed with alcohol on behavioral control: Risks for college students consuming trendy cocktails. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 35(7): 1282–1292. Muncie HL Jr (2007). The safety of caffeine consumption. American Family Physician, 76(9): 1282, 1285–1286. Seifert SM, Schaechter JL, et al. (2011). Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatrics, 127(3): 511–528.
Current as ofAugust 19, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineThomas M. Bailey MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineHeather Chambliss PhD - Exercise Science
Current as of: August 19, 2018
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Heather Chambliss PhD - Exercise Science
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.