Over 30% of Americans now drink at least one energy drink per day, making the energy drink market the second largest niche in the entire supplement industry (behind only multivitamins).
That’s about 85 million people, and this number has been steadily growing year on year for nearly a decade. (1)
One thing I have noticed with this increase in popularity is that many people have started using energy drinks before exercise to improve their performance in the gym… but this is a mistake!
In this article I’m going to show you why energy drinks are terrible pre workouts.
Energy Drinks Do Not Contain Enough Caffeine
Now you’re probably thinking:
“Huh?! Energy drinks are loaded with caffeine!”
But they’re not.
A great meta-analysis published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal confirmed that athletes need a caffeine dose of 5mg per kilogram of body weight to unlock the full performance benefits it offers (greater strength output, endurance, mental focus, increased calorie burn). (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
For an 80kg person this equates to 400mg caffeine.
The same researchers also found that anything below 2.1mg per kilogram offers no training benefits AT ALL. That means an 80kg person needs at least 168mg caffeine to see ANY performance improvements.
And here’s the thing…
There are zero energy drinks on the market which can provide you with the top end dose to unlock the full training benefits, and if you take a look at the inforgraphic below (from the wonderful folks at Examine.com!) you can see that most energy drinks actually come in way below the bottom threshold!
Severely Under-dosed In Other Key Ingredients
There are lots of things which go into making a great pre workout besides caffeine.
Ingredients like betaine anhydrous, citrulline malate, l-theanine, beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate can dramatically improve our performance in several key areas; faster recovery between sets… the ability to achieve more reps before failure… more explosive strength… offset the caffeine crash… provide better delivery of nutrients to working muscles… to name just a few! (9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16)
However, ingredients like CitMal and betaine are expensive so they’re rarely included in energy drinks.
Instead caffeine is the star of the show, and it’s often paired with a bunch of BCAAs and vitamins which come in trace amounts, rendering them completely useless for performance!
Taurine & Caffeine Do Not Work Well Together
Taurine has some pretty solid benefits when used as a standalone product.
Research shows it can lead to better blood flow during training, temporarily boost mental focus, and even speed up muscle recovery between workouts. (17, 18, 19)
By including this ingredient in their formula, manufacturers are legally allowed to boast about all of the above – but what they don’t tell you is that we’d need a clinical dose of 2 grams, which is significantly higher than the amount of taurine you’ll find in an energy drink.
However, there’s an even bigger problem which me must address, and that is the fact that taurine is a known antagonist of caffeine. That means it literally prevents caffeine from doing its job properly. (20)
A study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior (2012) concluded that:
“When taurine and caffeine are consumed simultaneously, taurine appears to reverse caffeine’s effects on vigor.”
This was re-confirmed in further studies performed in 2013 and 2014. (21, 22)
What this means is not only can taurine undo the effects of caffeine, but these two clashing ingredients can leave the trainee (you) feeling sluggish and fatigued rather than energized. Which begs the question; why include it?
Well part of the reason is bad science. Many supplement manufacturers still live in the dark ages when it comes to formulating products (BCAAs, anyone?!). And another part of the reason is ulterior motive. As taurine effectively “dilutes” the effects of caffeine, the trainee (you) will not feel as much of a kick from the product as you should, meaning you’ll grab another one later in the day and quickly become hooked on having a constant stream of caffeine in your bloodstream just to feel normal.
(If you’ve got a friend who smashes 8 cans of Monster every day this is why!)
I say f**k that with a capital fist. If you want to improve in-gym performance with a pre workout, get yourself a quality pre workout instead of a can of energy drink!
- Hoffman J. R., et al. Caffeine and Energy Drinks. Str Cond J (2010).
- McCormack W. P., et al. Caffeine, Energy Drinks, and Strength-Power Performance. Str Con J (2012).
- Duncan M. J., et al. The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure. J Strength Cond Res (2011).
- Childs E., et al. Subjective, behavioral, and physiological effects of acute caffeine in light, nondependent caffeine users. Psychopharmacology (2006).
- Kim T. W., et al. Caffeine increases sweating sensitivity via changes in sudomotor activity during physical loading. J Med Food (2011).
- Cook C., et al. Acute caffeine ingestion increases voluntarily chosen resistance training load following limited sleep. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2012).
- Del Coso J., et al. Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2012).
- Mora-Rodríguez R., et al. Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS One (2012).
- Lee E. C., et al. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2010).
- Holewa J., et al. Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, Coastal Carolina University (2013).
- Pérez-Guisado J., et al. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res (2010).
- Haskell C. F., et al. The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biol Psychol (2008).
- Hoffman J., et al. Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med (2008).
- Artioli G. G., et al. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2010).
- Rawson E. S., et al. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res (2003).
- Pearson D. R., et al. Long-Term Effects of Creatine Monohydrate on Strength and Power. J Str Cond Res (1999).
- Kim S., et al. Taurine Induces Anti-Anxiety by Activating Strychnine-Sensitive Glycine Receptor in Vivo. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (2009).
- Moloney M. A., et al. Two weeks taurine supplementation reverses endothelial dysfunction in young male type 1 diabetics. Diab Vasc Dis Res (2010).
- Goodman C.A., et al. Taurine supplementation increases skeletal muscle force production and protects muscle function during and after high-frequency in vitro stimulation. J Appl Physiol (1985).
- Giles G. E., et al. Differential cognitive effects of energy drink ingredients: caffeine, taurine, and glucose. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. (2012)
- Peacock A., et al. Energy drink ingredients. Contribution of caffeine and taurine to performance outcomes. Appetite (2013).
- Sorkin B. C., et al. Executive summary of NIH workshop on the Use and Biology of Energy Drinks: Current Knowledge and Critical Gaps. Nutr Rev (2014).