Science Says: Your Energy Drink Isn’t Special

A lot of energy drinks claim to contain magic ingredients that boost performance.Do they really work? A recent study suggests the only real magic bullet is caffeine.

Energy drinks are popular sports supplements. More than 70% of athletes report using energy drinks to aid their training. So what is the big deal? How do these energy drinks work? A recent study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Researchinvestigated these questions. Specifically, researchers exploredwhether anything other than caffeine is at work in the effectiveness of these supplements.

Caffeine is one of the most popular and scientifically proven sports supplements in history. If you don’t have a high caffeine tolerance, the right dose can give you extra energy during your workout. But what about all the other ingredients – the proprietary blends of ginseng root, dragon tooth, and unicorn blood? How do these potent potables contribute to your performance in the gym?

Today’s study examined Red Bull. Red Bull contains ingredients like taurine and B vitamins that could work in conjunction with caffeine to aid your workout. So how effective are these extra ingredients? Not very, according to this particular study.

Researchers took a group of recreational exercisers and gave them two different drinks on two different days. On one day they drank a serving of Red Bull. On the other day they drank a clever modification of ginger ale that matched the Red Bull in macronutrient profile and caffeine content. However, only the Red Bull contained the magic extra ingredients.

Participants pedaled their little hearts out on a stationary bike while researchers measured their performance. How did they perform on Red Bull compared to the ginger ale concoction? Exactly the same. Apparently the taurine and B vitamins did not confer super-human endurance to the Red Bull group.

This study is very limited in scope. Your energy drink could possiblly have secret sauce that turns you into a Squatasaurus Rex. The point to take home is that caffeine is the active ingredient in most energy drinks. You can get the exact same effect by downing a cup of coffee or a caffeine pill. But be careful – supplements are less socially acceptable in pill form than if you drink them in a cup, even though you’re ingesting the exact same thing.

So if you like your energy drink, rock on. But if you just want the training effect, then investigate the cheapest and easiest way to get the equivalent amount of caffeine. Because the caffeine is all that’s really at work. 


1. Robert Pettitt, et al. Do the Noncaffeine Ingredients of Energy Drinks Affect Metabolic Responses to Heavy Exercise? Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: July 2013 – Volume 27, Issue 7 – p 1994–1999. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182736e31.

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