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Posted on Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 7:38 a.m.

Energy drinks: Teenagers drink them as if they're sodapop, but do you know what's really in them?

By Melissa Gerharter MS, RD

The following is a guest post from Michael Korona, who is currently spending a six-week internship in Ann Arbor with Melissa Gerharter.

The trash filled with cans of Red Bull, Monster and other varieties of energy drinks is a usual sight in the locker room before a high school sporting event. Kids are no longer reaching for the Powerade or Gatorade to get energized before a game, they are reaching for one of the various brands of energy drinks that are readily available in todayʼs market.

The United States is the largest consumer of energy drinks by volume, with about 3.8 quarts consumed per person in 2007. These energy drinks have caffeine content ranging from 50 to 505mg per serving (1). Donʼt get me wrong — high school students are not the only ones consuming these energy drinks, but they are the ones most often abusing them and consuming them as if they were merely cans of pop.

What some parents may not realize is that some of the most relaxed regulations for energy drinks exist here in the United States (1). For starters, no energy drinks are currently banned here in the United States, unlike in France, Norway or Denmark, where the popular energy drink Red Bull has been banned due to its negative side effects. Beverage companies in the United States can say anything they want in terms of the benefits and increase in performance that consumers will experience in order to promote sales.

Sports drinks (such as Gatorade and Powerade) are recommended for use during physical activity because they provide hydration and the replenishment of electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during exercise. Energy drinks are those with "energy blends" consisting of caffeine, taurine, guarana, sugar and other ingredients.

Energy drinks have diuretic effects which can increase urinary output and can actually lead to dehydration quicker. If there is one thing that all athletes know, itʼs that dehydration is the one thing that can hinder performance and can lead to severe health consequences.

The FDA has a limit of caffeine that can be in carbonated beverages, such as pop or soda, of 65mg per 12 fluid ounces. Energy drinks do not fall within this regulation because they are considered supplements by the beverage companies.

It is generally considered safe to consume up to 200mg of caffeine per day. To put that into perspective that would only allow one Red Bull energy drink, two cups of standard coffee, or about four 12-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew.

The real problem comes when these beverage companies advertise and market these energy drinks as if they were just another kind of pop, which in fact they are not. Kids think it is safe to drink two or three of them a day.

However, they are actually consuming double to triple the daily recommended intake of caffeine. Over-consumption of caffeine has been shown to lead to insomnia, headaches, nausea, irregular heartbeat and, in the worst cases, cardiac arrest (2).

I am not asking adolescents to quit drinking these energy drinks"cold turkey" — I just want to spread awareness. These energy drinks are not regulated by the federal government for safety like most other foods and beverages are. There are very few regulations on them at all in the United States, and some of them have even been banned in other countries due to safety reasons.

Energy drinks are not meant to hydrateor quench your thirst, and should be used in moderation if at all. Consumption of them should not be more than one can per day, and medical attention should be sought if you are experiencing adverse side effects.

The size of these drinks can be deceiving; they are in such small servings that kids assume they can have more than one. Please talk to your kids about consuming these drinks safely.

1. Weise E. Petition calls for FDA to regulate energy drinks. USA Today. October 22, 2008. Accessed September 11, 2011.
2.Clauson KA, Shields KM, McQueen CE, Persad N. Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks. J Am Pharm Assoc. (2003) 2008;48(3):e55-e63.

Michael Korona is a senior dietetic student at Eastern Michigan University and plans to graduate in the spring of 2012. He is currently spending a six-week internship with Melissa Gerharter MS, RD, CSSD co-owner of Joust Strength and Fitness.


Eva Johnson

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 5:10 p.m.

Thank you for raising awareness about these energy drinks. I don't recommend them to my clients or to anyone. Not only are they unnecessary for athletic use, but, as said here, they can be dangerous! Stick to water or to a drink with electrolytes, such as Gatorade or Powerade. I also worry about those teenagers who drink these energy drinks and do not actually exercise, since they can lead to weight gain.