We have placed cookies on your computer to help make this website better. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.
Don't show this message again

Energy drinks

If you are tired, thirsty or need energy, the perfect panacea is a Power drink, true or false?   2012-11-11

All of us are acquainted with power drinks, they imbue you with a burst of energy when you feel tired, run down or when you need a sudden energy boost.

They are known as 'power drinks' 'energy drinks' and alternatively as 'sports drinks' is there a difference between them or are these terms interchangeable?

Power drinks is a collective term that includes both energy and sports drinks. The name was coined by the beverage or soft drinks industry.

Sports drinks are aimed at active individuals. The American Beverage Association (ABA) describes sports drinks as providing nutrients that "quickly replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during physical activity or exposure to high temperatures".

There are three types of sports drinks:

  • Isotonic – replace lost fluids and give the drinker a boost of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, in the form of glucose are fuel for the muscles which are what give the sportsperson the ability to perform.
  • Hypotonic – contain electrolytes and low levels of carbohydrates. Electrolytes are salts such as sodium, potassium and chloride that are a natural part of the body fluids and are lost with the sweat. Hypotonic drinks replenish the lost electrolytes.
  • Hypertonic – contain high levels of carbohydrates and are aimed at high intensity athletes.

The idea behind these three variations is to rehydrate the sportsperson, to reinvigorate him to help him perform.

Energy drinks

Unlike sports drinks, energy drinks are not meant to rehydrate and to replenish electrolytes; they are described by the ABA as having a "pick-me-up quality" that comes from the high sugar and caffeine content which gives the drinker an energy boost.

Energy drinks are basically soft drinks with high levels of sugar, taurine and caffeine all of which have a simulating effect. Depending on the brand, caffeine levels can exceed 200mgs per bottle or can. By way of comparison, an average sized mug of instant coffee can contain 100mgs of caffeine (N.B. the caffeine content of coffee, obviously depends on many factors, including the type of coffee bean and its source).

Do they really improve the performance of athletes?

On 19 July 2012 the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a lengthy analysis on the science behind the claims of the sports drinks industry that water is insufficient to hydrate you and that sports drinks are vitally essential for a successful performance. The introduction to the BMJ article says what the conclusions are, namely that “links between the sports drinks industry and academia - - - have helped market the science of hydration”. Basically the BMJ points out that well known soft drinks giants have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) which has over 45,000 members and it is the ACSM’s guidelines which advise that sports drinks hydrate better than water. The BMJ goes on to say that the European Food Safety Authority which upholds the claims about sports drinks, partly based its findings on the ACSM’ guidelines.

Harvard Health supports these findings, quoting Dr Francis Wang, the team physician for Harvard athletics as saying: “For most players, thirst is a good guide for hydration,” adding that “Athletes who have had muscle cramps may need to drink extra, and may need more electrolytes”.

Over hydration

Harvard Health goes on to express concern at the dangers of over hydration quoting the BMJ as saying that 16 marathoners have died over the years and 1,600 have been ill due to over hydration and hypnotremia.

Energy drinks - caffeine

As mentioned above, energy drinks should be treated as a regular soft drink with the addition of a high caffeine content. The individual response to caffeine varies but caffeine does boost the heart rate and blood pressure which can be dangerous for people with a heart condition. It was recently reported that a 14 year old girl from Maryland USA died last December after drinking two Monster energy drinks within 24 hours. Together the energy drinks contained 480 milligrams of caffeine. By way of comparison, a typical cup of brewed coffee contains between 90 to 200 milligrams of caffeine. The girl suffered from a heart condition called mitral valve proplapse which is usually harmless. She died from cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.


The aim of the MyHealthPortal medical team is to empower subscribers with information that will enable them to make an educated decision. This article is not meant to exhaust the topic of power drinks. Rather, the idea is to give MyHealthPortal subscribers some background on the nature of power drinks. If you would like more information on the suitability of soft drinks in general and power drinks in particular, to your health and lifestyle you are invited to contact the MyHealthPortal medical team.