Energy Drinks vs. Sports Drinks: What you should know

Energy Drinks vs. Sports Drinks: What you should know

As a member of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the California Interscholastic Federation on High School Sports, we had our semi-annual meeting in Los Angeles this week.

One active discussion topic was energy drink use in athletes. What an energy drink is and how we define it was a surprisingly challenging topic for the group. With all the marketing strategies manufacturers use today, it may be easier to define what is not an energy drink. We know anecdotally that excessive energy drink use may be related to heart problems and even sudden cardiac death. Overuse of these products is a (relatively) easy problem to prevent in my mind and simple education should do the trick.

What is an energy drink?

Energy Drinks are beverages that contain varying amounts of caffeine, guarana, taurine, vitamins, carbohydrates (sugar) and other supplements. Marketed to improve energy, concentration, stamina, athletic performance, and weight loss, manufacturers are not required to list the caffeine content in Energy Drinks. There is no regulation of the amount of caffeine in Energy Drinks unlike the FDA regulation of soft drinks (maximum of 71 mg of caffeine per 12 fl oz. soda). Energy Drinks may contain 3-5x the amount of caffeine when compared to cola products. The total amount of caffeine in an Energy Drink can exceed 500 mg/ Energy Drink.

The big issue: Many athletes do not differentiate between sports drinks and energy drinks.

Sports drinks and energy drinks are different. Sports Drinks are flavored beverages containing carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) and other vitamins or nutrients. Sports Drinks are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.

Why do we care?

Kids, especially athletes, are using these “energy drinks” as hydration tools and performance enhancers. Some athletes are mistaking energy drinks for sports drinks. I have heard of football players taking upwards of 5 energy drinks before a game to “rev them up.” I have also seen teens drink beverages touted as “healthy” only to later find out that these beverages have an amazingly high caffeine content.

What can go wrong?

Athletes should not use excessive caffeine or caffeine substitutes for hydration or performance enhancement. The more caffeine you ingest the more side effects may occur which are NOT performance enhancing or hydrating (headache, nausea, jitteriness, racing heart, agitation, abdominal pain, vomiting, and sleep disorders.) That does not even include the serious side effects (liver damage, kidney failure, respiratory disorders, agitation, seizures, psychotic conditions, muscle breakdown, increased heart rate, heart dysrhythmias, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and sudden death.)

Marketing Bias?

Don’t be fooled. Manufacturers market to young people with their labels and promises just to make more money. They think that you will believe anything they tell you. Show them that you are smarter than that.

Read the labels. Ask your kids what they drink. Be aware and involved.

Have a Question?

  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • American Association for Hand Surgery
  • American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The American Board of Pediatrics