Energy Drinks

Energy Drinks Defined

Generic Energy Drink

What exactly is an energy drink?

Over the last 20 years, “energy” products have become increasingly more popular and almost all of these products contain caffeine as the core ingredient. src.

But, does the use of caffeine in a beverage alone make it an energy drink?

Let’s take a look at what separates energy drinks from other beverages with caffeine such as colas and enhanced waters.

Official Energy Drink Definition

energy drink [en-er-jee dringk] noun

1.  A beverage containing multiple ingredients which service, with expressed intent, one or more facets of perceived neurological and/or psychophysiological efficiency.

  • Synonyms: energy shot, energy supplement

If that traditional dictionary definition is confusing you, here’s an easier to understand list of what a drink needs:

  1. More than one ingredient that is known to increase energy
  2. Explicit expression of an intent to increase energy
  3. “Energy” can be either a boost in your mental stamina, mental efficiency, alertness, or anything else that you’re going to perceive as brain boost.  Promises of purely physical energy boosts do not qualify.

Energy Drink or Caffeine Supplement?

Based on the above definition, energy drinks have to contain multiple ingredients known to increase energy. This is usually something along with caffeine, however, there are a few caffeine-free energy drinks available.

Energy Drink Examples:

Beverages with these ingredient combinations would be considered an energy drink.

  • Caffeine and B-vitamins
  • Caffeine and Taurine
  • Caffeine and Ginseng
  • B-vitamins and taurine

Not an Energy Drink:

Drinks that are formulated this way would not be energy drinks.

  • Just Caffeine
  • Caffeine and Sugar
  • Just B-vitamins
  • Just Amino Acids
  • Just Ginseng

Products that just contain large doses of caffeine would be considered a caffeine supplement.

An example of this would be NoDoz Energy Shot. Although it is labeled as an energy shot, it would really be just a caffeine supplement because caffeine is its only energy ingredient. It is essentially just a liquid version of NoDoz pills.

However, Caffeine is the Key Ingredient

A recent study from Centre College in Danville, KY studied the effects of 5 Hour Energy compared with that of caffeine water.

Participants that consumed only the caffeine water experienced the same “effects” as those who consumed 5 Hour Energy, which is combination of energy ingredients.

They found that caffeine was actually the only ingredient that had any significance, at least short-term.

What About Highly Caffeinated Sodas?

Although this market segment has been in decline, there are a few sodas that have more caffeine than would typically be in a soft drink.

These are usually a combination of sugar and caffeine. These are not considered energy drinks. A prime example is Bawls Guarana.

102 mg
16 fl oz
Bawls Guarana is a popular carbonated beverage that hit the market in 1997. It comes in both a blue 10 oz…

Another example is Mountain Dew Kickstart. PepsiCo call this an ‘energizing soda’ – and in one press release said it was “not an energy drink” – despite the higher levels of caffeine.

Mountain Dew Kickstart
90 mg
16 fl oz
Mountain Dew Kickstart is marketed as a healthier way to start your day than a traditional energy drink, soda, coffee,…

Whether a drink is labeled as an energy drink or not, we believe the most important energy ingredient to be aware of is caffeine. Consumers should be aware of how much caffeine they are are consuming through all caffeinated products not just energy drinks.


Written by Ted Kallmyer, last updated on June 29, 2021