The energy drink craze has taken hold in the past few years, and along with that, it has become a mixer of choice for a new generation. The king of all energy drinks is Red Bull, but there are a great number of competitors like Monster Energy, Sobe Adrenalin Rush, Woop Ass and Bawls. They one key ingredient in all of these is caffeine. At clubs, these energy drinks are mixed with vodka in the hopes of getting a better buzz. Do all these extra ingredients, like Taurine, ginseng, L-Carnitine and vitamins do anything? Well, having studied chemistry for many years and worked for a pharmaceutical company and a pharmacy, I may be able to shed so light on this.
First things first, caffeine is the key to these energy drinks. Of all the ingredients, caffeine will have the most effect on a person's system. It is a thoroughly researched molecule and the effect are well known. When mixed with alcohol, there really isn’t a combination effect, you get the stimulation from the caffeine and the depressant effects from the alcohol. There doesn’t seem to be any physiological danger in combining these two substances. An Irish coffee has the same effect. But, some people claim that caffeine makes them less drunk, which is not true. Caffeine just makes you less sleepy.
The sugar contents are also part of the "buzz". A can of Red Bull contains 5 teaspoons of sugar. So it is sweet, but not as sweet as a can of Coke, which contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar per can. Note that a can of Red Bull (250 ml) is smaller than a can of Coke (355 ml). There is little difference between a rum and coke and a Red Bull and vodka, as far as sugar goes. So far so good.
Glucuronolactone is contained in most of the energy drinks and a lot of urban myths have been circulating around this ingredients. First, it is not a mind-altering stimulant. It is a naturally occurring metabolite found in the body that helps shuttle metabolic waste around. It is created in your liver. There doesn’t seem to be any long-term effects of increased consumption of Glucuronolactone, but there hasn’t been enough research done yet. There are no statistically valid research papers that indicate this compound improves mood or memory. No issues that I can see so far.
Taste wise I’m not sure there is anything to love. These drinks are sweet with a vitamin aftertaste. I’m sure you could get used to it. It seems these energy drinks have a single purpose, and that’s to give a person their caffeine sugar fix. I personally like a large cup of coffee, one teaspoon sugar, for my fix, but sugar is a big draw for some people. The sweeter the drink, the better, and caffeine is just the icing on the cake. As a bartender, I’ve seen people put eight teaspoons of sugar in a coffee!
Overall, the combination of sugar, caffeine and Glucuronolactone does not present a problem, to me anyway. However, there are other components of these drinks that will have a biological effect. In the write-ups, I’ll take a look at some of these.
In Part II, I’ll look at the amino acids Taurine, L-Arginine and L-Carnitine and how they affect the body. One issue is that in Canada, energy drinks don’t contain L-Carnitine since it is a prescription product. However, in the US it is a health supplement, so manufacturers put this amino acid into the drink.