Children's Hospital Colorado

Energy Drinks: Do You Really Want to "Unleash the Beast?"

A collection of energy drinks including Red Bull and Monster.

When I was in elementary school the First Lady, Nancy Reagan, promoted a health campaign called “Just Say No” to drugs. Similarly, I want to encourage all young athletes to “just say no” to energy drinks…

Energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and 5-Hour Energy shots are heavily marketed toward young people. If Red Bull sponsors New York’s Major League Soccer Team and world-renowned skier Lindsey Vonn, then it must be a good product for young athletes, right?

Experts say kids should never consume energy drinks

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness state that energy drinks “are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed.” However, sales of energy drinks are expected to hit $9 billion in 2011. Half of this market is aimed at children, adolescents and young adults.

What’s the difference between an energy drink and a sports drink?

Energy drinks are often confused with sports drinks, but they are actually quite different:

  • Sports drinks contain sugar and electrolytes.
  • Energy drinks contain sugar, caffeine, plant extracts such as guarana, herbs such as ginseng, as well as amino acids, vitamins, and antioxidants – sometimes in megadose quantities.
  • Sports drinks are categorized as “food” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and strict laws apply to their labeling.
  • Energy drinks are considered “dietary supplements” which are not required to have FDA approval before production or sale. The FDA does not regulate the amount of caffeine and other stimulants found in energy drinks.

 This infographic explains the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks. Energy drinks contain sugar, caffeine, plan extracts such as guarana, herbs such as ginseng, amino acids, vitamins, and antioxidants, sometimes mega-dose quantities. Energy Drinks are considered "dietary supplements" and are not FDA approved. Sports drinks contain sugar and electrolytes. Sports drinks are categorized as "food" by the FDA meaning strict laws apply to their labeling.

Why the strong warning against energy drinks?

They may contain up to 400 mg of caffeine per serving (that’s equivalent to 11 sodas or 4 coffees). High doses of caffeine may work together with the other ingredients in energy drinks to cause adverse reactions like sleep disturbances, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, irritability and vomiting. They have also been reported to cause very serious problems such as seizures, cardiac events, and even death.

Dr. Christopher Rausch, Director of the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Laboratory at Children’s Hospital Colorado states, “I have seen many teenage patients who report palpitations (a sensation of abnormal heart beats) in association with using energy drinks and these symptoms have resolved when they stopped using energy drinks ... Children with predisposing conditions may be at an even higher risk of cardiac arrhythmias with use of energy drinks.”

If you’re looking for a boost of energy, don’t put your health at risk by reaching for an energy drink. Instead, concentrate on effective training, healthy eating and getting adequate rest. It will be worth the extra effort!

For more information on energy drinks, check out this story from USA Today on the topic.

Written by: Laura Watne, MS, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado.

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