While coffee has been the energy-boosting beverage of choice since the 16th century, a new pick-me-up has been gaining popularity since the late 1990s: the energy drink. The colorful, loud cans fill gas station coolers everywhere, just waiting to be grabbed by everyone from tired truck drivers to high schoolers mid-cram session who are looking for a quick kick of energy and focus.
Though they might be effective pick-me-ups in the moment, most of these drinks contain a large amount of caffeine, sugar, additives, guarana, taurine and L-carnitine that can potentially have lasting health effects, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Potential risks include increase in blood pressure and heart rate, dehydration, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, anxiety and insomnia. The risk is especially high for children and adolescents.
A single 8-ounce energy drink can have as much as 250 milligrams of caffeine, according to the FDA. In comparison, one 8-ounce cup of coffee will usually contain up to 100 milligrams. Additionally, many energy drink brands will offer 16- and 24-ounce cans containing multiple servings.
The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day. For women, it recommends a limit of 25 grams of added sugar per day. That means a single day’s allotment could be maxed out on just one energy drink — or even half of an energy drink, depending on which brand you choose.
As for the other ingredients, there are a few things you should know. Guarana is derived from seeds of an Amazon plant that contain approximately four times the amount of caffeine found in coffee beans, and according to research published in the journal PLOS One, also contains other compounds thought to enhance caffeine’s stimulant effect. Ingredients such as taurine and L-carnitine sound scary but are really just amino acids thought to help the body metabolize energy. According to a study published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, they are safe to consume even in large amounts. Alternatively, additives made of salt compounds (which usually either include the suffix “chloride” or begin with the word “sodium”) can increase the sodium levels in each can; a high-sodium diet could increase the risk of high blood pressure and other health complications.
Here is a closer look at what’s inside some of the most popular energy drinks on the market.
Red Bull North America, Inc./Itemmaster
Red Bull is quite possibly the most recognizable energy drink on the market, having been around since 1987. It’s the one that “gives you wings.” One 8.4-ounce can of classic Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine, 105 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of sugar, according to the product’s website. Other ingredients include taurine and B vitamins, and the drink has expanded to numerous varieties of flavors and sugar-free options.
Monster is the “ideal combo of the right ingredients in the right proportion to deliver the big bad buzz that only Monster can,” according to its website. Unleash the beast with 160 milligrams of caffeine in each 16-ounce can of the original — or branch out with the brand’s more than 50 options. Java Monster, for example, is a coffee-energy drink combo with 188 milligrams of caffeine, 38 grams of sugar and 300 milligrams of sodium per can. Ingredients of this drink include taurine, potassium sorbate, sodium benzate, L-carnitine L-tartrate, sodium chloride and pyridoxine hydrochloride.
RockStar Energy Drink is available in cans sized 8.4 ounces, 12 ounces, 16 ounces and 24 ounces. A 16-ounce can of original Rockstar carries 160 milligrams of caffeine and 32 grams of carbs, 31 grams of which come from sugar. Other ingredients include L-carnitine, pyridoxine hydrochloride and cyanocobalamin. The Xdurance line of Rockstar features 300 milligrams of caffeine per can according to the brand’s website and comes in flavors including Cotton Candy and Super Sour Green Apple.
Full Throttle Energy Company/Itemmaster
Full Throttle, produced by Monster Beverage Corporation, proudly boasts to be “hard working, easy drinking.” One 16-ounce can of Full Throttle Original Citrus has 160 milligrams of caffeine, 220 calories and 58 grams of carbohydrates from sugar per can, according to its website. Ingredients include high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate and glycerol ester of rosin.
NOS original, also produced by Monster Beverage Corporation, has 210 calories, 410 milligrams of sodium and 53 grams of sugar per can. A 16-ounce can holds 160 milligrams of caffeine, according to the nutrition label on the NOS website. The “high performance energy drink” also offers sugar-free, grape and cherry options among others.
Mountain Dew Amp is your classic Mountain Dew, but amped up. One 16-ounce serving of Mountain Dew Amp contains 220 calories, 58 grams of sugar, 10 milligrams of sodium and 142 milligrams of caffeine. The brand also uses high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, according to the Pepsico website. Tired drinkers who opt for a can of Cherry Blast or Tropical Punch will get 160 milligrams of caffeine, while a can of the Original flavor has 142 milligrams of caffeine.
5-Hour Energy packs more caffeine in its 1.93-ounce frame than many of its larger canned competitors. The regular-strength shooter — offered in berry, grape, citrus lime, pomegranate, orange and pink lemonade — holds 200 milligrams of caffeine, according to its website. Taurine, glucuronic acid, malic acid, N-acetyl L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, caffeine and citicoline make up the 1,870 milligrams of its “energy blend.” Extra-Strength 5-Hour Energy packs 230 milligrams of caffeine into the tiny 1.93-ounce bottle.
Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc./ Itemmaster
Bang Energy Drink brands itself as “potent brain and body-rocking fuel” with creatine, caffeine and branched chain amino acids. There are more than 15 flavor options including Rainbow Unicorn, Star Blast and Birthday Cake Bash. According to the website, one 16-ounce serving of Bang holds 300 milligrams of caffeine. The drink is able to boast “zero calories” with the help of the sweetener sucralose, which is popular in diet soda.
Spike Shooter Original is described as “extreme hardcore energy, untamed and raw.” One can containing 8.4 ounces has 88 milligrams of sodium and 1,056 milligrams of “Spike Formula,” comprised of N-acetyl-L-tyrosine, caffeine and yohimbine HCI. The total caffeine content is 300 milligrams per can. The label recommends beginning with only half a can to determine your body’s tolerance and to never drink more than one can in a day, even if your body is experiencing symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
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