Energy Drink Ingredients and What They Do


Energy drink companies are cramming all kinds ingredients into their energy products.

All these strange ingredients and what they supposedly do, can be confusing for consumers.

Here is a list of the most common energy drink ingredients and their reported effects on the human body.

Top 5 Energy Ingredients

According to the Innova Market Insights’ Database these five energy drink ingredients are the most common. The chart below shows the percentage of new energy products in which each ingredient is found.


According to a recent study, caffeine is the only ingredient that actually works. Participants who drank only caffeinated water had the same brain activity and response times as those consuming 5 Hour Energy, which adds also many of the above ingredients.


Caffeine is the most widely used drug on the planet and has been used for centuries for its stimulating effects. This common stimulant is found naturally in coffee and tea, but is also placed in energy drinks and soft drinks by manufacturers.

Most energy drinks contain between 70 and 200mg per can.

  • An 8oz cup of drip coffee contains 110-150mg
  • 65-125mg/cup of percolated coffee.
  • 40-80 mg for instant coffee.
  • Dr. Pepper delivers 41mg.
  • A can of Coke provides 34mg.
  • A full can of RockStar has 160mg.
Click here to find out how much caffeine in different energy drinks would be deadly.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system giving the body a sense of alertness as well as dilates blood vessels. It raises heart rate and blood pressure and dehydrates the body.

People experience side effects above 400mg (the recommended daily safe dose), which include sleeplessness, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, and most commonly the jitters.

A complete list of caffeine side effects is found here.

We also have a huge caffeine content database that reveals the amounts found in most beverages and food items and we teach you how to quit or cut back on caffeine here.


Taurine is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the human body. However, the version found in energy drinks is manufactured.

It helps regulate heartbeat, muscle contractions, and energy levels. Usually the body makes enough taurine so there is no need to supplement.

It’s thought, but not proven, that under “stressful conditions” like illness, physical exertion, or injury, the body does not create enough and supplements can help.

Taurine might be a mild inhibitory neurotransmitter. Some studies show it helps during excitable brain states, which could allow people to function better with elevated levels of other stimulants.

Studies have shown that taurine can help lower cholesterol, increase the effectiveness of heart muscle contractions, and improve blood flow and oxygen supply to heart cells.

Taurine, in the past, was banned by some countries from being used as a supplement, but since this ban has been lifted.

A complete list of taurine side effects is found here.


Guarana comes from a plant native to South America. Amazonians have used it for a long time to increase alertness and energy.

It’s more dense in caffeine than coffee beans:

Guarana is 3-4% caffeine vs. arabica coffee which is 1-2% caffeine.

Gaurana is different than “caffeine” because it contains a couple of other related molecules: theobromine and theophylline. They’re also found in different concentrations in coffees, teas, and chocolate.

Some people do respond differently to guarana as compared with regular caffeine, which is commonly used in energy drinks. Some report that guarana provides more alertness, while others believe it doesn’t have as good of a stimulating effect.

A complete list of guarana caffeine side effects is found here.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are found naturally in the foods we eat and are the most widely used energy supplement ingredient.

These essentially help the body convert food to energy. The jury’s still out on whether or not they increase energy levels via supplementation and the above study mentioned even proved otherwise.

Most people get adequate levels of B vitamins naturally through the diet except those that are on restrictive diets.

Other names for B vitamins:

  • niacin (B3)
  • folic acid (B9)
  • riboflavin (B2)
  • cyanocobalamin (B12)
  • pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6)
  • pantothenic acid (B5)

Vitamins B6 and B12 don’t absorb well when taken orally, so the small amounts placed in most energy drinks will likely have little chance of producing the desired effect.

A complete list of B vitamin side effects is found here.



Ginseng has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and is believed to increase energy, have some anti-fatigue properties, relieve stress, and promote memory.

It’s also suspected that ginseng helps stimulate the hypothalamic and pituitary glands, which then secrete something called adrenal corticotropic hormone.

The chemicals in ginseng are nothing that’s naturally created by the human body, so having this in a drink could possibly be risky for some who are sensitive to these chemicals.

200mg/day seems to be the standard dose in a typical ginseng including energy drink, but most people can safely take up to 2700mg through supplementation.

Rare side effects such as diarrhea and headache have been reported.

Most energy drinks that contain Ginseng have such small amounts of this herb most will experience little if any benefit.

A complete list of caffeine side effects is found here.


L-Carnitine is an amino acid created naturally by the liver and kidneys. This amino acid helps speed up the metabolism and increase energy levels.

It may act as a thermogenic to help increase endurance during exercise. The jury’s still out on whether or not you need to supplement L-Carnitine.

Most people can take 2-6 grams without worry. Make sure the supplement contains L-Carnitine and not D-Carnitine, which is “inactive” and may actually hurt endurance levels.

A complete list of L-Carnitine side effects is found here.


sugar in energy drinks

Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel. Standard energy drinks contain a lot of sugar. Therefore, energy.

It’s a carbohydrate and a lot of exercise regimen suggest a good dose of carbs for workouts lasting more than an hour.

However, too much sugar intake has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and can spike insulin levels, which can often lead to a “crash” feeling after about an hour or so.

One Rockstar energy drink can have 63 grams of sugar which is the same amount in two regular size Snickers candy bars!

See the sugar in energy drinks database for a sortable table of beverage sugar content.

A complete list of sugar side effects is found here.


Antioxidants are molecules that help the body gracefully recover and prevent the damage from free radicals.

Vitamins C and E, Vitamin A (aka retinol, beta-carotene), and selenium are all antioxidants with Vitamin C probably the most popular in energy drinks.

Antioxidants help fend off illness and prevent cellular damage. A person wouldn’t want to depend on energy drinks for a healthy dose as they usually contain small amounts.

Most are flushed from the body when taken in excess, but Vitamin A can build up in body tissues and cause liver damage when too much is consumed.


Glucuronolactone (DGL) occurs naturally in the human body when glucose is broken down by the liver.

All connective tissue contains this compound. DGL is believed to aid in detoxification, freeing hormones and other chemicals, and the biosynthesis of vitamin C.

It is placed in energy drinks because it is believed to help prevent glycogen depletion by preventing other substances from depleting glycogen supplies in the muscles.

A complete list of Glucuronolactone side effects is found here.

Yerba Mate


Yerba Mate is derived from leaves of a shrub in the Holly family.

It is a natural source of caffeine, but some believe that the form of caffeine in Yerba Mate doesn’t produce the negative side-effects like the caffeine in coffee and guarana.

Yerba Mate is becoming more popular in energy drinks, especially the ones that are marketed as “all natural”.

Yerba mate has the same dangers as caffeine.


Creatine is naturally created by the body but can also be obtained by eating meat.

Creatine helps with supplying energy to the muscles and is usually found in energy drinks that are marketed to bodybuilders.

Too much creatine could possibly lead to kidney damage, but the scientific evidence of this is conflicting.

Acai Berry


Acai (pronounced ah-sah-ee) is finding its way into more and more energy drinks.

Acai berry comes from the Acai Palm tree which is found in South America. The berries are rich in antioxidants, but not as much as a concord grape or a wild blueberry.

Most of the acai berry benefits have no scientific basis and are attributed to marketing hype.

The amount of acai in energy drinks is very low and real acai berry juice no doubt tastes nothing like “acai flavored” beverages since usually other fruit juices and flavors are added.


Inositol was once considered a B vitamin, but has since been removed from this classification because the human body is able to produce its own supply without the need for supplementation.

It is a type of carbohydrate made from the breaking down of glucose.

Energy Drinks include this ingredient because it aids with the nervous system and serotonin modulation. High doses of inositol have also been given to patients with certain psychiatric conditions because of the positive effect on the nervous system.

Inositol is found in many foods such as fruits, beans, grains, and nuts. There are no known side effects from ingesting too much and Inositol is considered safe.


Green tea L-theanine

L-Theanine is an amino acid that according to recent studies has been shown to calm the brain to enhance concentration.

This amino acid comes from tea leaves and  Green tea has the highest concentrations.

Tea has been known for centuries for its ability to relax its drinkers and many tea cultures (not the USA), have a tea before bed every night.

Manufacturers begun putting it into energy drinks to counteract some of the side effects of caffeine. They claim that it works well with caffeine because it eases the jitteriness that caffeine can cause, but with added concentration enhancement.

Some of the drinks that contain this energy drink ingredient are:  Sobe Lifewater, Vitamin Water, Vib, Gatorade Tiger Focus, and Reed’s Natural Energy Elixir.

Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle, mainly found in Rockstar and a few other energy drinks, is believed  to work as a liver detoxifying agent.

It is placed in energy drinks not really for any energy enhancing properties but as a counter agent to mixing energy drinks with alcohol since milk thistle is supposed to help ease hangovers and help the liver detox from alcohol.

However, studies show that the amount put in energy drinks would be of hardly any benefit to the consumer.

Ginkgo Biloba


This ingredient is named after the rare tree it originates from and only in a few energy drinks.

It is believed to help with memory retention, concentration, circulation, and to act as an antidepressant.

The German government recognizes it as something that helps with memory loss, concentration, and depression.

60mg is a standard supplementation dose, but people can safely take up to 240mg daily.

It is advised, however, that most energy drinks do not contain enough ginkgo to be of any benefit.

People on other antidepressants shouldn’t take ginkgo.

A complete list of Ginkgo side effects is found here.

Artificial Sweeteners


Most energy drinks have sugar-free versions that contain artificial sweeteners.

Even energy drinks that contain high amounts of sugar will also include artificial sweeteners to help cover the medicinal taste of the other energy drink ingredients.

The debate rages on concerning the safety of artificial sweeteners and some studies have shown that those that consume sugar-free drinks, on average, have bigger waistlines than those who don’t.

Common sweeteners used are Aspartame, Sucralose, Ace-K, as well as  some alcohol sugars. Here are more facts about artificial sweeteners and we have popular sugar free energy drinks listed as well.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence showing that artificial sweeteners cause a whole range of health problems, including cancer. However, scientific based studies have shown them to be safe in the amounts typically found in beverages.

What isn’t clear is the long-term dangers from artificial sweeteners since most studies only looked at short-term dangers.


Quercetin is found in just a few energy drinks. It is a phytochemical derived from plants and acts as a vasodilator.

This means that it opens blood vessels to allow increased blood flow, which could help with exercise endurance and stamina.

People on primarily plant-based diets get plenty of quercetin, but typical supplement doses are 500-1000mg per day.

Under 3.6 grams per day is considered safe as more than this has been linked to kidney damage.

Energy Drink Preservatives and Artificial Colors

Besides the active ingredients in energy drinks, there are other chemicals placed in energy drinks to give them a longer shelf-life and a more vibrant color.

  • Citric acid – preservative and adds sour taste
  • Sodium citrate – acidity regulator
  • Sodium benzoate – preservative
  • Potassium sorbate – preservative
  • Caramel color – food coloring
  • Benzoic acid – preservative, prevents mold
  • Sorbic acid – preservative
  • Sodium hexametaphosphate – emulsifier
  • Gum arabic – stabilizer
  • Calcium disodium EDTA – a preservative and sequestrant
  • Potassium benzoate – preservative
  • Brominated vegetable oil – emulsifier
  • Monopotassium phosphate – buffering and neutralizing agent
  • Ester Gum – emulsifier
  • Yellow 5 – artificial coloring
  • Yellow 6 – artificial coloring
  • Red 40 – artificial coloring
  • Blue 1 – artificial coloring

In some cases when people have adverse reactions to energy drinks they could be allergic or sensitive to one of the above additives. The artificial colorings are particularly troublesome for some as well as the brominated vegetable oil.

The Final Word

While energy drink ingredients such as caffeine have been widely studied, others haven’t and manufacturers are using mainly anecdotal evidence as justification of their use in their beverages or other products.

Consumers should be aware of the ingredients contained in energy drinks and make educated decisions whether or not these beverages are the best choice for their bodies.


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  • Jeramy

    Those are not the only ingredients,the FDA has never broken down an energy drink to see what’s in it.I’m mentally ill,used to drink excessive coffee,no relapse.Energy drinks bring out the psychotic symptoms though.It’s pseudo-speed

  • Julian

    There is a motion being passed by Doctors of NS and the CMA banning children under the legal age from purchasing the drinks. If you’re just looking at caffeine, a Monster or Redbull is probably not going to cause too much harm. It’s the taurine, the B-vitamins and the alchohol that can be mixed in; there are no studies claiming that this is safe. Saying that energy drinks are “just as bad as coffee” is completely pointles; there is not enough evidence currently in existence to prove either way.

  • lsia

    Because everyone’s life allows them to sleep 8 hours and eat 3 servings of vegetables everyday, right? Oh and Narcoleptic and other people who have fatigue inducing disorders just need to sleep more amirite

  • g

    ^ ^ ^

  • me

    yeahhhhhhhhhhh prove it

  • Bob


  • wtf

    Bad website name and poor article. You mention side effects for almost every ingredient and leaving out Shapiro’s toxic waste Aspartame? Energy drinks are your friend . . your best friends

  • Lars-Lars Larsson

    I hereby pronounce myself ruler of the universe. Bow before me, minions!

  • Bryan L. R. Benner

    Interesting article, it is always good to see such details in an ingredients list. I have only been drinking Verve, a healthy energy drink. The article that changed my perspective on energy drinks and antioxidants (healthy energy drinks) here –

  • Thanks for your comments. The article has now been completely overhauled, and our website name actually changed not long after your comment was written.

    As for aspartame, a discussion of artificial sweeteners was beyond the scope of this article (already 2,200 words). We do have a chart of sugar-free energy drinks

    Very few are sweetened with aspartame.

  • Americans

    sure is america in here,” hurr durrr doctor oz on tv told me that they are bad blah blah” do your own research lazy asses. one can wont fucking kill you. ofcourse people have died but because they drank too much, everything is bad in excess

  • monster221

    im sorry about what happened to you. i have a close family memeber who had a stroke recently. he cant type a single word.

    that said, i would say “energy drinks” are less to blame than the “time i woke up to the time i went to bed” part of your comment. its the same with all foods, supplements and drugs. the persons choices, seldom the drug/supplement/food itself, are to blame for problems associated with their use.

  • monster221

    i drink one monster a day on my workdays, sometimes on weekends. i also drink a cup of coffee before bed for its health benefits for men.

    i can honestly say, i have a slight dependency, like a coffee drinker does. i get headaches when i wake up, the monster makes it stop. its not painful, just mildly uncomfortable. but when i drink it i get alert, focused, ready to go. then once i get into my rhythm and the “energy” wears off i stay alert and focused without it. i wouldnt call it a problem.

    i see nothing wrong with them. you still should eat properly during your day and not rely on energy drinks to fuel you every day all day long. its like my morning cup of coffee.

    there are people though who consume multiple ones a day. i used to work with a couple guys that were sipping on one throughout the day, probably having 3 or 4 every day. thats insane. they arent sody pops. they are drugs/supplements and must be treated as such. they are useful tools, maybe even enjoyable, not a replacement for water.

  • boot camp

    My daughter’s boyfriend had a heart attack from a famous energy drink-needless to say he drank a lot of them…the doctors confirmed from energy drink and his heart will never recover fully.

  • yarightloser


  • whats it to ya

    yeah, about that, what about those who can drink COFFEE AND GET TIRED? for example, my brother, he can drink coffe and get exausted, i have seen it before. he was wide awake, then drank a cup of coffe and fell asleep not half an hour later.

  • Jacob

    Some countries don’t have warning labels

  • KingKhaos

    I drank a full 64 ounces of Monster in the space of an hour. It all depends on your tolerance to the chemical itself. Some people can go through a 30 rack of beer in a night, wake up the next morning and be feeling great. Others puke it all up on the living room floor. Another thing to note is the possibility of other conditions contributing to such things. Take the 14 year old girl mentioned in another page who’s parents are suing Monster. 1, she was 14. 2, she had a preexisting heart condition. Healthy people shouldn’t have any issues.

  • Ana

    Try NEON all natural energy drink!!!

  • IndigoRed

    So they should be banned from the other 7.16 billion other people who didn’t die because we care.

Last Modified: September 20, 2017