Do Energy Drinks Enhance Athletic Performance?

Four Loko, an energy drink laced with caffeine and alcohol, has recently been banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This news focuses the spotlight on non-alcoholic energy drinks. Are they effective and safe? In this article, we discuss the findings of research that has been conducted on the effectiveness of energy drinks for athletes.

Energy Drinks Are Not Sports Drinks
Energy drinks contain plenty of sugar, besides caffeine and ingredients like guarana which is a stimulating herb, and taurine, an amino acid. A target market for these energy drinks are athletes. But, energy drinks cannot be compared to sports drinks, which contain much less sugar. Besides, caffeine is almost absent in sports drinks like Gatorade. Many stores display energy drinks right next to sports drinks. But, they are definitely not interchangeable.

Energy Drinks Are Popular Among Athletes
Still, energy drinks are becoming very popular among athletes, especially the younger lot. A recent survey reveals that 32% of high-school athletes use energy beverages. In another survey of 16,000 teen athletes, 27% admitted to using energy drinks as they thought this would enhance their athletic performance. 13% revealed that their coaches had prompted them to do so.

Sketchy Evidence on the Effectiveness of Energy Drinks

But, there is only sketchy evidence that energy drinks boost athletic performance. Research evidence suggests that caffeine can enhance sports performance, but the amounts required to boost performance differ greatly from one person to another. Besides, once an athlete gets used to caffeine, its effectiveness gets lowered.

Research Studies
In a study, college runners were given sugar-free Red Bull, which contained plenty of caffeine. This drink had no effect on the athletes’ performance. Too much caffeine can in fact lead to dehydration. Besides, the high quantity of sugar in energy beverages can cause stomach upset and diarrhea.

In another study, college students drank energy drinks with varying caffeine levels. Then, they were subjected to a game, which tested their reaction times. The students who were given caffeine-laden energy beverages displayed faster reaction times. But, the group that imbibed much less caffeine was much more accurate, though slower.

In a third study, youngsters between 12 and 17 were given soft drinks with varying caffeine amounts. The beverages tasted similar to Red Bull. Then, the kids were sent inside a lab stocked with plenty of snacks. The group that drank the most caffeine, opted for sugary snacks. This indicates there might be a link between caffeine intake and eating high-calorie foods. Besides, this group also showed higher blood pressure, though this impact was not seen in girls.


More research needs to be conducted on the long-term impact of frequent drinking of energy drinks. The FDA has no regulations on the contents of these energy drinks. It is also not mandatory for the makers of such beverages to prove their efficacy or safety. To conclude, energy drinks are not recommended for athletes, of any age. These are definitely not sports drinks.

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