Energy drinks promise to "give you wings" and make other erroneous claims. They may give you a temporary boost of energy but they have little effect on metabolism. While there are plenty of sugar-free energy drinks, most are loaded with sugar which won't do your waistline any favors.
Energy drinks are not a reliable strategy for losing weight — and overconsumption may be dangerous. A healthy diet and exercise are much more effective.
Know Your Energy Drinks
The cans lining the shelves of your local market are appealing, with their bright colors and impactful logos. Energy drinks are especially attractive to teens, one-third of whom consume them on a regular basis, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But what's in those crazy cans with names like "Monster" and "Red Bull"? It varies widely. One ingredient almost all have in common is caffeine. One 16-ounce can of Red Bull has 143 milligrams of caffeine, according to the USDA. That's a little less than the amount in two cups of brewed coffee.
Some may have much more. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the USDA tested 53 products for caffeine content and found that, for a daily serving (8 ounces), half had about as much caffeine as one to two cups of coffee. Eleven products had as much caffeine as two to four cups of coffee per serving, an additional 11 products had as much caffeine as four to six cups of coffee, and four products had as much caffeine per serving as seven to eight cups of coffee. Consumer Reports has published similar findings in a study of energy drinks.
That caffeine comes from a variety of sources, including more common coffee and tea, as well as botanical ingredients like guarana, yerba mate and kola nut. The effects of these substances are largely unstudied. B vitamins and the amino acid taurine are also common additions to energy drinks.
Many energy drinks are high in sugar. One can of Red Bull contains 50 grams of sugar. That's 20 grams more sugar than you'd get from drinking the same amount of soda.
Energy Drinks and Weight Loss
Caffeine in an energy drink may marginally boost metabolism by less than 100 calories per day, according to Columbia University. But that's only enough for you to burn about 1 pound of fat in a month.
If you doubled or tripled your intake, you could potentially burn more. According to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in October 2018, the effect of caffeine on weight is dose-dependent. But multiple energy drinks in a day can have serious consequences for your health and well-being.
You would reap the metabolic rewards only if you drank black coffee, tea or another unsweetened caffeinated drink, because the amount of added sugars in many energy drinks cancels out any modest increase in metabolism.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Fat Loss
The average energy drink has 200 calories per can, almost entirely from sugar. Sugar-sweetened beverages are strongly associated with being overweight and obesity, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are one of the worst things for your waistline.
What about sugar-free energy drinks sweetened with sugar substitutes? The jury is still out on whether sugar substitutes help reduce calorie intake and lead to weight loss.
A systematic review and meta-analysis in The BMJ in January 2019 showed no significant differences in weight between study participants who drank sugar-sweetened beverages and those who drank beverages with non-caloric sweeteners. However, studies so far have been small and more research is needed.
And what about the other ingredients in energy drinks? Taurine may help with weight reduction, but so far most studies have been done on animals. B vitamins are important to metabolism, but they do not cause weight loss. In fact, according to an article in World Journal of Diabetes in February 2014, excess intake of B vitamins have been linked with obesity and diabetes.
Not Worth the Risk
Any benefits of energy drinks are vastly outweighed by the potential side effects. NIH reports that large amounts of caffeine can damage the heart and blood vessels, causing heart rhythm disturbances and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Anxiety, sleep problems, digestive issues and dehydration are also linked with excessive caffeine intake. It's difficult to know how much caffeine is in your energy drink of choice because manufacturers are not required to list that information on the label, according to Consumer Reports.
Taking high doses of most B vitamins is not dangerous, however too much vitamin B6 and niacin can be. According to NIH, excessive intakes of B6 can cause sensory neuropathy characterized by the loss of control of bodily movements. Thirty to 50 milligrams of niacin — the amount in one Red Bull — can cause skin flushing, burning, tingling and itching, and may be accompanied by more serious symptoms including headache, rash, dizziness and/or decreased blood pressure.
- Columbia University: "Energy Drinks and Weight Loss?"
- NIH: "Energy Drinks"
- USDA: "Basic Report: 14154, Beverages, Energy Drink, Red Bull"
- USDA: "Basic Report: 14180, Beverages, Coffee, Brewed, Breakfast Blend"
- Agricultural Research Service: "Caffeine-Containing Botanicals in Dietary Supplements"
- USDA: "Basic Report: 14400, Beverages, Carbonated, Cola, Fast-Food Cola"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "The Effects of Caffeine Intake on Weight Loss: A Systematic Review and Dos-Response Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- CDC: "Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption"
- The BMJ: "Association Between Intake of Non-Sugar Sweeteners and Health Outcomes: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Randomised and Non-Randomised Controlled Trials and Observational Studies"
- World Journal of Diabetes: "Excess Vitamin Intake: An Unrecognized Risk Factor for Obesity"
- NIH: "Vitamin B6"
- NIH: "Niacin"
- Consumer Reports: "The Buzz on Energy-Drink Caffeine"
- Amino Acids: "Anti-Obesity Effect of Taurine Through Inhibition of Adipogenesis in White Fat Tissue but Not in Brown Fat Tissue in a High-Fat Diet-Induced Obese Mouse Model."