Energy drinks before exercise – Is it really needed?

Energy drinks before exercise - Is it really needed?

Energy drinks are functional beverages containing caffeine, taurine, glucose, and other additives. They have become very popular throughout the world since 1997 when “Red Bull” was introduced in the market.

Companies are aggressively marketing the drinks through advertisements and sponsorship of sports events. The wide range of advertisements and campaigns of energy drinks have been successful in taking the annual consumption to approximately 5.8 billion liters (2013 estimate) in around 160 countries.

Energy drinks have been marketed with claims to give an ‘energy boost’ in the form of increased alertness, visual information processing, attention, and physical performance. Therefore, energy drinks are very attractive to young adults and athletes with the age range of almost 65% of the consumers between 13-35 years. Despite all of these claims, the effects of energy drinks on physical and cognitive performances remain controversial leaving a physiologist wondering if these drinks deliver what they claim.
Caffeine in Energy drinks

The main active stimulant in most energy drinks is caffeine since it is cheap and effective. Recently, Canada passed new rules limiting caffeine levels at 180 mg per drink (12). For comparison, the average cup of coffee contains between 40 and 150 mg caffeine.

Excessive caffeine in energy drinks has been reported to elevate mean arterial pressure as well as heart rate.

In addition, it has been found that caffeine in energy drinks enhances diuresis (excretion of water from the body ) and natriuresis (loss of sodium from the body) , while it decreases insulin sensitivity (ability of body cells to respond to existing insulin) .
Caffeine in coffee versus energy drinks

Coffee has to be brewed, you may need to find a coffee shop and it is difficult to drink large quantities quickly. On the other hand, energy drinks are convenient, come in multi- packs and some, like 5-Hour Energy, come in small bottles as “shots,” with websites prominently displaying banners that exhort you to “Take it in Seconds,” and “Feel it in Minutes.” The amount of caffeine is not listed on the 5-Hour Energy or Extra Strength 5-hour Energy Max, but is estimated to be twice that of a regular energy drink.

The American College of Sports Medicine says that during exercise lasting less than one hour there’s little evidence of any difference in performance between exercisers who drink beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes, and those who drink plain water.

While clear-cut recommendations for athletes do not exist, some groups such as the Mayo Clinic do not recommend energy drinks for athletes participating in exercise lasting less than 1 hour (15), but also admit there is a lack of long-term data to support this conclusion.
 Energy drinks have known and unknown pharmacologic effects that may put some children at risk for serious adverse effects.

  • Caffeine in low to moderate doses does improve mood, attention, concentration and energy levels in healthy people.
  • Energy drinks contain high levels of taurine and guarana along with other ingredients whose effects have not been scientifically studied.
  • The marketing is inappropriately aimed at youth and risks taking individuals which increases the risk of overdose and abuse.
  • Safe levels of many of these substances have not been established for children


Even when consumption of an energy drink results in a statistical increase in performance, this translates into a very small real-world change; it will not transform anyone into the next Olympic athlete overnight. The main ergogenic ingredient (caffeine) has a great safety record when used in moderation.


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Saudi Med J. 2015 May; 36(5): 580–586.
doi:  10.15537/smj.2015.5.11141
PMCID: PMC4436755
Effect of energy drink intake before exercise on indices of physical performance in untrained females
Maiadah N. Al-Fares, MBBS, MSc, Ahmed A. Alsunni, MBBS, PhD, Farrukh Majeed, MBBS, FCPS, and Ahmed Badar, MBBS, FCPS
Global: Energy drink sales hindered by Thai decline – reseach. [Updated 2009 October 13, Accessed 2014 November 27]. Available from: .
Alsunni AA, Badar A. Energy drinks consumption pattern, perceived benefits and associated adverse effects amongst students of University of Dammam, Saudi Arabia. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad. 2011;23:3–9. [PubMed]
  1. Al-Misbahi A. Ad ban on energy drinks takes effect. The Saudi Gazette. [Updated 2014 July 1, Accessed 2014 November 27]. Available from URL: .
  2. Ishak WW, Ugochukwu C, Bagot K, Khalili D, Zaky C. Energy Drinks: Psychological Effects and Impact on Well-being and Quality of Life—A Literature Review. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2012;9:25–34. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  3. Alsunni AA. Are energy drinks Physiological?Pakistan Journal of Physiology. 2011;7:44–49.

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