Energy drinks can be useful when you're training hard and need an extra boost for a tough session. They can also be used as a quick pick-me-up during a slow afternoon at the office, but it's important you don't get to the stage where you become reliant on them. When used in the right context, consuming energy drinks in moderation as part of a balanced diet can have advantages.
The Carb Content
As an athlete, or someone focused on increasing fitness levels and endurance, you can gain benefits from the carb content of energy drinks. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations' Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, most energy drinks are carb-based, containing between 18 and 25 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces. The Australian Institute of Sports Nutrition site notes that these carbs help replenish energy stores, potentially leading to increased energy, performance and recovery.
Most energy drinks contain caffeine, which acts as a powerful ergogenic aid in boosting performance. Endurance athletes will benefit most from caffeine intake around exercise time, notes Jennifer McDaniel, a specialist in sports dietetics and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A typical energy drink contains around 80 milligrams of caffeine per 250-milliliter can -- which is slightly more than 8.5 ounces. The recommended safe intake of caffeine is 300 to 400 milligrams per day.
Enter the Electrolytes
When you sweat, your body doesn't just lose water -- it gets rid of electrolytes as well. Not replacing these electrolytes can lead to a drop in performance and dehydration. The Dietitians of Canada website advises looking for an energy drink that contains between 460 and 690 milligrams of sodium per liter. Those performing long-duration sports events may need slightly higher concentrations though.
The carbohydrates in energy drinks come predominantly from sugar. While sugar may often be seen as a nutritional bad guy, it can be beneficial under certain circumstances. During carb-loading periods before athletic competition, you need a high intake of carbs, though you don't want too much fiber, as this can cause gastrointestinal stress. To get round this, the Australian Institute of Sport recommends consuming simple sugars, potentially in liquid form. This is one scenario when the easily digested sugars in energy drinks could be useful.
- Kansas State University: Position Statements and Recommendations for the Use of Energy Drinks by Young Athletes
- Australian Institute of Sport: Fuelling Your Success
- Today's Dietitian: Ergogenic Aids — Competitive Edge or Hidden Danger?
- Dietitians Association of Australia: Caffeine
- Dietitians of Canada: Sports Drinks: Their Role in Hydration for Athletic Performance
- Australian Sports Commission: Carbohydrate Loading