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Energy Drinks for Exercise

Energy drinks are hugely popular among the youth as a quick pick-me-up and energy hit. Traditionally this has primarily been the job of coffee, though coffee, with its bitter taste, is not to everyone’s likely. What makes energy drinks so attractive is that they’re prepared in convenient, ready to drink cans, are sweet, and are typically well flavoured. Combine this with attractive packaging and solid marketing, you have yourself a winning product.

What is in Energy Drinks?

Although the exact ingredients of energy drinks vary between manufacturers and varieties, there are some generalisations that can be made. A very popular brand of energy drink contains 21.50 g sucrose, 5.25 g glucose, citric acid, 1000 mg taurine, 600 mg glucuronolactone, 80 mg caffeine, 50 mg inositol, and B vitamins in each serve.

Energy Drink Benefits

The same energy drink mentioned above has undergone scientific research to assess its effect on exercise performance.  It has been found than when subjects were given two serves of the energy drink before exercise, they experienced improvements in endurance performance (Alford et al, 2001; Forbes et al, 2007; Ivy et al, 2009), anaerobic performance (Alford et al, 2001; Forbes et al, 2007), and even mental performance (Alford et al, 2001). There is therefore merit in certain formulations out there for improving exercise performance, and these improvements are likely to be a result of the combination of ingredients used (Alford et al, 2001)

Energy Drink Negatives

The biggest downside to many energy drinks is the high sugar content. Although carbohydrates before a workout also have their merits, it may not always be appropriate for everyone, such as those in the cutting phase of their training. Additionally, the high levels of sugar make it more likely for individuals to experience a sugar crash during an extended training session, particularly if they consume the beverage on an empty stomach. This of course would negatively impact on their performance. Finally, energy drinks are not typically cheap. Considering the above studies typically required subjects to consume two serves, this could equate to around $5 for each training session. For all these reasons, a pre workout supplement may be a better alternative.

Pre Workout Supplements Vs Energy Drinks

All the active ingredients found in the most popular energy drinks are no foreign concept to supplement manufacturers. Caffeine from various sources, taurine, glucuronolactone, and B vitamins are also commonly found in pre workout supplements. In addition to these ingredients, pre workout supplements also contain a variety of other ergogenic ingredients, many of which have been proven to be effective in improving exercise performance. A small selection includes creatine, citrulline, and beta-alanine, none of which are found in energy drinks. This means that in addition to providing energy and mental focus, pre workouts are able to physically support the workout, by increasing strength, pump, and by providing buffering against exercise induced by-products. Being specifically designed to support the workout, pre workout supplements are therefore more effective than energy drinks for improving workout performance.

Many pre workout supplements, particularly the concentrated pre workout supplements contain no sugar. This makes them suitable any time of the year, and even for those under the strictest diets. The lack of sugar also makes pre workout supplements less likely to cause a sugar crash. Finally, pre workout supplements are also much cheaper than energy drinks. They tend to range from $1 to $2 per serve, being under half the cost of an equivalent dose of an energy drink.

For these reasons, although energy drinks have their place in society, they may not be the best option for use pre workout. Specifically formulated pre workout supplements are superior in formulation and price, and make them the logical choice for improving exercise performance.

Alford et al (2001), The effect of Red Bull Energy Drink on human performance and mood. Amino Acids, 21: 139-150
Forbes et al (2007), Effect of Red Bull Energy Drink on Repeated Wingate Cycle Performance and Bench-Press Muscle Endurance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 17: 433-444
Ivy et al (2009), Improved Cycling Time-Trial Performance After Ingestion of a Caffeine Energy Drink. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19: 61-78


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