Thirsty Thursday: Ingredients of Energy Drinks

Since I cannot drink alcoholic beverages and unless it is really really cold, I do not really like hot beverages either*, I typically drink water, orange juice and the occasional can of fruit soda.  I am interested in finding out about new beverages available and have been very interested in the recent development and growth of energy drinks. For those of you unaware of energy drinks, like myself until I wrote this article, these are highly caffeinated, highly sugared sodas such as Red Bull, Monster or Rockstar**, which are advertised as improving performance and stamina. For example, Red Bull claims this:

Red Bull® Energy Drink is a functional beverage with a special formulation and combination of ingredients. It has been specially developed for times of increased mental and physical exertion. In addition, Red Bull vitalizes the body and mind.
Red Bull’s effects are appreciated throughout the world by top athletes, busy professionals, active students and drivers on long journeys.

Red Bull’s Ingredients include  taurine, glucoronlactone, caffeine, B vitamins, sugar (sucrose and glucose), water and acesulfame K or aspartame/sucrolose.

The biggest criticisms of energy drinks comes from their high caffeine levels.  Red Bull USA does not directly state the amount of caffeine in a can of Red Bull except to say:

The caffeine in one can of Red Bull equals that of one cup of filtered coffee.

According to CBC from an article published in 2005 this is 80 mg per 250 ml serving. In humans, caffeine is a diuretic and stimulant, and is probably the most highly consumed psychoactive substance.  Consuming caffeine can ward off drowsiness and general increase alertness.  There have been many studies into the benefits and harm of caffeine, but generally it is considered harmless is small doses.

Taurine is generally considered to be an amino acid, despite lacking a carboxylic acid group, and is produced during the metabolism of cysteine, a sulphur containing amino acid. It is present in Red Bull at 1000 mg/250 ml.  The effects of taurine on the body are varied and there is still on going research. Unlike other amino acids, taurine is not found in structural proteins but it typically present as a monomer.  It is found in high concentrations in the brain, where is it considered to act on the thalamus, a major regulartory area of the brain.  It may also act as an antioxidant and may aid with the detoxification pathway of some substance by binding with toxins to speed up their excretion. Interestingly in my studies with the reaction of amino acids and glucose, to measure browning, taurine was the second faster reacting amino acid after lysine.

Glucuronolactone is a carbohydrate that is produced during the metabolism of glucose.  It has a role in the detoxification process.

The final “health giving” ingredient in Red Bull is, according to their website, B-group vitamins.  I find this generalization annoying as B vitamins covers a wide range of metabolic functions. According to Wikipedia the UK version of Red Bull contains inositol, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.  If I want to find out what B vitamins are in US Red Bull, I obviously have to buy my own.

There have been some concerns (1, 2, 3, 4) that mixing energy drinks and alcohol could be a problem as the caffeine masks the effect of the alcohol.  The drinker thinks are less drunk than they actually are. However, Pintaday justifies his Red Bull habit despite reading the CBC article referred in #3 above.  There is also concern that energy drinks may affect heart rate and blood pressure.  This may just come down to another coffee situation, which one moment is the deadliest drink ever and the next minute coffee is redeemed and considered beneficial.  Consumers beware?

I was going to make a pun about needing an energy drink to keep me going, but I am too tired to care.

*My Britishness has been questioned as I do not like tea or beer.  I used to joke that the reason I came to the States was because I was expelled due to my unBritish drinking habits, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic.  However, since I like coffee even less than tea that leaves me even lower in terms of American drinking habits.

**A complete listing of energy drinks, Wikipedia-style, is here.


4 thoughts on “Thirsty Thursday: Ingredients of Energy Drinks

  1. To be clear, pintday is not a person. It’s a web site.

    I didn’t really write the piece as a justification of my caffeine intake. I wrote it as a rant against the ridiculous misinformation about something simple and measurable: caffeine content. Red Bull does not have more caffeine that coffee by any measure I have been able to obtain. Period.

    Thanks for the link!

  2. do some research b4 u write criticism about red bull. first it’s 3 cans of cola not 1 filtered cup of coffee. next, almost all the b-group vitamins are good for your health (which is not a very good fact if you’re against energy drinks. and third, red bull admits it has 80 mg of caffeine on the ingredients page so don’t try to be bias against it.

    • Dear Chrys

      All the quotes on this post came from the Red Bull site.

      As this blog is MINE, all bias is happily mine too. Even so, I am not particularly for or against energy drinks.

      • And again, the pintday article you linked to is not justifying any intake. It is pointing out how horrible the fact-checking is in the aforelinked CBC article.

        By the way, a standard “filtered cup of coffee” is 5.33 fl oz, or ~0.1576 litres. Checking the table referenced in the pintday post:

        * Strongest (Starbucks): 564/473 = 1192 mg/l * .1576 = 188 mg
        * Espresso (Starbucks): 185mg/170ml = 1088 mg/l * .1576 = 171 mg
        * Avg (Starbucks): 371mg / 473 ml = 784 mg/l = 124 mg
        * Weakest (Starbucks) 259mg / 473 ml = 548 mg/l * .1576 = 86 mg
        * Sock Soup (Dunkin Donuts): 143mg/473 ml = 302 mg/l = 48 mg

        So a can of Red Bull measures somewhere between a cup of the weakest possible coffee from starbucks, and the watered down garbage you get from your average donut shop.

        Of course, you can’t buy coffee in 5.33 oz (a “cup”) servings, so the reality is much different. A Red Bull has FAR less caffeine than your average cup of joe.

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