Although energy drinks have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years, questions remain about the safety and suitability of these products for daily use. Many people do not realize the danger that some energy drinks can pose, so if you choose to consume them, make sure you read the label to know what they do and their possible side effects.

Do

Do understand the difference between energy drinks, soft drinks and sports drinks

Sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are intended to rehydrate the body. They contain sugars, which the body burns to create energy, and replenish electrolytes to help maintain salt and potassium balances in the body. Soft drinks usually contain water, sugar and other flavorings. While some soft drinks contain caffeine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the amount of caffeine in soda to no more than 71 milligrams per 12-ounce serving. Energy drinks are beverages containing ingredients like caffeine, taurine, sugars and other stimulants designed to increase energy. They are not regulated as a beverage, but rather as a dietary supplement, meaning there are no limits to the amount of caffeine they can contain. Some energy drink ingredients can cause dehydration as well as increased body temperature and heart rate. It’s a good idea to keep track of how much caffeine you consume.

Do pay attention to serving size

Some energy drinks are packaged to contain multiple servings and are not intended to be consumed as a single serving. Consuming the entire contents of a multiple-serving container in a single sitting could introduce an unsafe level of caffeine into the body. Always read the label and consume only the manufacturer’s recommended serving size, just like with other supplements.

Do read the label to see what ingredients are present

In addition to high levels of caffeine, some energy drinks can contain other stimulant ingredients, such as guarana, green tea, yohimbine, vinpocetine, 5-hydroxyl trypophan methylphenylethylamine (5-HTP) and ginseng. When multiple stimulants are mixed into a single beverage, the additive effect of all of these stimulants could pose additional health risks, including serious cardiovascular issues.

Do be knowledgeable about caffeine content

Caffeine is the main ingredient in most energy drinks, and many fall within reasonably safe limits. For example, 8 ounces of Red Bull has about 75 milligrams of caffeine, compared to 108 milligrams of caffeine for 8 ounces of coffee. But some energy drinks contain dangerous amounts of caffeine—some between 150 and 500 milligrams in 8 ounces. Consuming high levels of caffeine can lead to caffeine intoxication, rising blood pressure and heart rate as well as dehydration. Limiting consumption of caffeine to no more than 200 to 300 milligrams per day is recommended for most individuals.

Don't

Do not mix energy drinks with alcohol

Although the FDA banned the sale of energy drinks containing alcohol, many people still mix high-caffeine energy drinks with alcohol, putting themselves at serious risk. Combining an energy drink with alcohol can lead not only to dehydration, but ultimately to drinking more alcohol because the sugar and caffeine in the energy drink can mask the true state of inebriation. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) found that individuals who combine energy drinks with alcohol significantly underestimate their true level of impairment.

Do not combine energy drinks with certain drugs

Some energy drink ingredients are known to interact with certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs, which could cause adverse health effects or reduce the effectiveness of the drug. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications, including blood thinners, antidepressants or high blood pressure medications.

Do not consume energy drinks before or during exercise

Because energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine and other stimulants, they can increase blood pressure or over‐stimulate the heart or nervous system, especially during exercise. Because caffeine is a diuretic, consuming these products can also cause dehydration, leading to fatigue and poor performance, whether you are a student, professional athlete or weekend warrior.

Do not ignore your body’s reaction

Because of high caffeine content, some energy drinks can have a negative effect on certain consumers. If you feel strange after consuming one of these drinks and are noticing symptoms such as irregular or rapid heartbeat, dizziness or nausea, don’t ignore it. These could be symptoms of caffeine intoxication. Everyone reacts differently, and it’s important to get proper medical attention for any red flags or warning signs that worry you.

Summary

If you choose to consume energy drinks, carefully read labels and thoroughly research the content. Understand that these products are not like other beverages, but rather are considered dietary supplements. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended serving size and don’t consume multiple servings in a single sitting. For added peace of mind, check to see if the product is certified by a reputable third-party testing organization. A list of NSF certified sports drinks and other sports supplements is available at www.nsfsport.com.