The energy drink industry is fucking huge.
Over 30% of Americans now drink at least one can per day, and this sector is expected to grow even bigger in the next few years after marketing powerhouses like Coca-Cola entered the arena (for me, as soon as The Rock got involved I knew it was serious). (1)
As a result of this popularity, I’ve seen a number of people in gyms using an energy drink (i.e. a can of White Monster) as their “pre workout”. I advise against following this trend, because while these things might be good for a quick energy boost, they actually make for terrible pre workout supplements.
Table of Contents
- Problem 1: Taurine & Caffeine Clash
- Problem 2: Energy Drinks Don’t Have Enough Caffeine
- Problem 3: There’s Barely Any Other Ingredients
- Problem 4: It Costs You More Money
Problem 1: Taurine & Caffeine Clash
Have you ever felt sluggish and irritated after having an energy drink?
This is why.
Both taurine and caffeine are fantastic ingredients in their own right, but they should never be combined. Research published in Pharmacology, Biology & Behavior showed that taurine is an antagonist of caffeine, so when the two ingredients are taken together they clash, causing the trainee to feel sluggish and fatigued, instead of energized. (20, 21, 22)
“When taurine and caffeine are consumed simultaneously, taurine appears to reverse caffeine’s effects on vigor.”
When comsumed separately, taurine has some pretty solid benefits with regards to increased blood flow and mental focus, but the main reason energy drinks manufacturers continue to combine these two ingredients is because it essentially dilutes caffeine, so the user feels like they need another drink, which creates addiction faster. (17, 18, 19)
Fuck that with a capital fist.
Problem 2: Energy Drinks Don’t Have Enough Caffeine
Here’s something not a lot of people know about caffeine:
A meta-analysis published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal discovered that we need at least 2.1mg per kg of body weight to unlock any of the training benefits caffeine offers (including increased calorie burn, endurance, mental focus, and strength), and the threshold for maximizing results is 5mg per kg of body weight. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
This means an 80kg person needs 168mg – 400mg.
The vast majority of energy drinks fall below the bottom level, so what you’re feeling is a placebo.
Problem 3: There’s Barely Any Other Ingredients
There’s not a lot going on in an energy drink except caffeine.
A good pre workout, however, will contain several other ingredients which can take your training to a new level.
These include creatine, citrulline, beta-alanine, betaine, l-tyrosine, and l-theanine to name just a few, and the training benefits start to stack up very nicely:
- Faster recovery between sets
- More reps to failure
- Greater explosive strength
- Increased nutrient delivery to muscles as you work
- Offset caffeine jitters and/or crash
(9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16)
Problem 4: It Costs You More Money
It seems absurd, right?
Convenience is king, and many people are paying more than they would for a good pre-workout for these drinks which contain ingredients which clash, under-dosed caffeine, and no other performance-boosting ingredients!
As an example; a can of Monster White costs £1.75, and a solid pre-workout like Rage Savage works out at just £1 per serving.
- 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).
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- 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).