top of page

What Do All Those Supplements in Energy Drinks & Pre-Workouts Even Do?

RESEARCHED: ENERGY DRINKS & PRE-WORKOUTS

A deep dive into what the supplements in energy drinks and pre workouts actually do.

How to buy

What to buy & What not to buy

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Caffeine Deep Dive

Ingredients

How to Buy

Top Picks

Worst Picks

Watch Out For



 

TOP PICKS


ENERGY DRINKS


HIGHBALL ENERGY $20 - $23 per 8 pack

  • 150mg Caffeine, 50mg Guarana, 50mg Ginseng

  • No sugar or natural/artificial sweeteners

  • No dyes, or unnecessary ingredients



CELSIUS POWDER STICKS: $11 - $22 per pack of 15

  • 200mg Caffeine, Guarana, Green Tea

  • No dyes

  • It is sweetened with sucralose

  • I find these so convenient to keep on hand and the flavors are great


RUNA ENERGY DRINK: $26 - $33 per 12 pack

  • 150 mg Caffeine, Guayusa

  • 2g sugar, no artificial sweeteners

  • Organic ingredients


 

PRE-WORKOUT


LEGION PULSE $39.97

  • Says 21 servings, but serving size is 2 scoops and it puts you at 350mg of caffeine. I use only 1 scoop and double my servings. I personally do not need/want 350mg of caffeine at 5 am.

  • No dyes, added sugar, or unnecessary preservatives

  • Sweetened with Swerve & Stevia


 

WORST PICKS



ROCKSTAR

31g sugar (8oz)

Artificial colors

Artificial flavors

Supplements are listed under ingredients meaning the dosage is negligible



ROCKSTAR ORGANIC

46g of sugar (16oz)

*Shows that just because it is labeled "organic" doesn't mean it's healthy!



MONSTER

54g of sugar (16oz)

Sucralose

Unnecessary additives: maltodextrin

Supplements are listed under ingredients meaning the dosage is negligible


RED BULL

37g sugar (12oz)

Artificial colors

Artificial flavors

Supplements are listed under ingredients meaning the dosage is negligible


FULL THROTTLE

58g sugar (16oz)

High fructose corn syrup is 2nd ingredient

Artificial flavors

Dyes

Supplements are listed under ingredients meaning the dosage is negligible



 

HOW TO BUY


BOTTOM LINE: There are sooo many options out there. After reading about the ingredients below, you should have no problem finding the perfect one.

Here's some tips on how to buy energy drinks & pre-workouts:

  1. Go straight to the nutrition label & ingredient list. Pay little attention to the advertisements on the front.

  2. Ingredient list: If I see artificial colors, unnecessary preservatives, added sugar (watch out for this one!!)000, or artificial sweetener (other than stevia or monk fruit - I'm ok with those), it's out.

  3. Next, the nutrition label for doses.

  • Caffeine hardly affects me, so my minimum is 150mg.

  • L-Theanine: Ideally, I would find a dose of 2x my caffeine dose. But it's pretty hard to find. So I am good with it matching my caffeine dose.

Pre Workout

  • Alpha-GPC: >150mg

  • Citrulline Malate: >6g

  • Beta-Alanine: >3g

Energy Drinks

  • The less supplements & ingredients, the better. I am looking for energy - that's it.


 


CAFFEINE DEEP DIVE


First up, the star of the show: Caffeine.

It's the most widely used drug on the planet and has been used for centuries for its stimulating effects. Since it mainly affects your brain, it is referred to as a psychoactive drug. It works as a natural stimulant to the central nervous system and brain to help you stay alert.


Once consumed, caffeine gets quickly absorbed by the gut then passes into the bloodstream. Then off to the liver where it is broken down into compounds that affect various organs. But caffeine mainly effects the brain.


Once in the brain, caffeine blocks the affects of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel tired by relaxing the brain. Levels of adenosine normally build up over the day, which is why you feel increasingly more tired as the day goes on. Caffeine connects to these adenosine receptors, blocking the effects and thus making you feel more alert.


One cup of coffee takes roughly 20 minutes to hit your bloodstream and around 1 hour to reap the benefits.

Fun facts:

The first brewed tea is dated back to 2731 B.C.

Eighty percent of the world's population and 90% of the adults in North America will consume a caffeinated product each day.


Caffeine is naturally found in the nuts, leaves, or seeds of certain plants. Here's a list of common caffeinated beverages and the amount of caffeine in them:

Here's a list of the drinks containing the most caffeine.

Here's a caffeine calculator to see how much is in your favorite drinks.



 

INGREDIENTS

Some disclaimers:

  1. Most of these ingredients either have no research or very, very little research to back the claims. So keep that in mind...

  2. Most of the doses are listed as "trace amounts" which means there's not enough to even matter.

  3. 80% of the ingredients are marketing strategies

  4. The most effective are listed first (not in order). Least effective or research-lacking are listed towards the end.


CAFFEINE

Natural stimulant found in seeds, nuts or leaves of certain plants

Also synthetically produced (read more on that here)

Average dose: 70 - 200mg

Recommended dose: <400mg

Functions:

  • improves mood & brain function

  • may boost metabolism & fat burning

  • may enhance exercise performance

  • may protect against heart disease & diabetes

  • may reduce the risk of liver damage

  • may increase life span

  • decreases cancer risk

  • lowers risk of skin cancer

  • reduced risk of MS

  • prevents gout

  • increases gut health

Side effects: (in excess of 400mg)

  • headache

  • insomnia

  • nervousness

  • irritability

  • frequent urination or inability to control urination

  • fast heartbeat

  • muscle tremors

Natural vs Synthetic: Main difference (other than being produced by a concoction of chemicals): synthetic caffeine is absorbed faster, so you feel a quicker boost, which then leads to a quicker crash.


L-THEANINE

Amino acid found in green and black tea

Average dose: 50 - 200mg

Recommended dose: This is not an official recommendation, but people swear by the effects of combining L-Theanine & caffeine in a 2:1 ratio. They recommend either taking caffeine & l-theanine tablets or drink your morning cup of coffee (~100mg) and either add in 200mg of l-theanine powder or take 200mg of l-theanine tablets. (read more on this here)

Functions:

  • In energy drinks: to counteract some of the side effects from caffeine

  • Calm the brain and enhance concentration

  • Ease anxiety & stress

Side effects: None

more on l-theanine here



BCAAS

Amino acids

Average dose: "Trace amounts" aka not enough to matter

Recommended dose: 4 - 20g daily

Functions:

  • Help muscles recover & repair faster

Side effects:

more on BCAAs here



ALPHA-GPC

Protein building block, Nootropic

Average dose: 150mg per serving

Recommended dose: 150 - 600mg daily

Functions:

  • Increases power, strength, and agility (results can be seen within a week of taking!)

  • Increases fat oxidation

  • Improves cognition

  • Supports natural human growth hormone

Side effects: Heartburn, headache, dizziness, skin rash is rare, but can happen.

This is a super interesting supplement. I encourage you to read more about it here.



CITRULLINE MALATE (L-CITRULLINE)

Amino acid

Average dose: 3g per serving

Recommended dose: <18g daily ; at least 6g to see effects.

Functions:

  • Improves blood flow during workouts

  • Increases endurance and power

  • Fights muscle fatigue

  • Lowers blood pressure

Side effects: None for citrulline, but the malic acid has been linked to headaches, diarrhea, and nausea.

more on citrulline malate here



BETA-ALANINE

Amino acid (this is what gives you all the tingles)

Average dose: 2g per serving

Recommended dose: 1.5 - 5g daily

Functions:

  • Helps fight muscle fatigue

  • Controls lactic acid build up

  • Boosts endurance

Side effects: Skin flushing, tingling sensation.

more on beta-alanine here



BETAINE

Amino acid

Average dose: 2.5g per serving

Recommended dose: 1.25 - 1.5g twice daily, pre & post workout.

Functions:

  • Boosts muscle size and strength by increasing creatine production

  • Supports healthy homocysteine levels, which affects muscle growth and fat loss

  • Increases SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine) levels, which supports mood, liver health and joint recovery

Side effects: Nausea, stomach upset, and diarrhea is rare but possible.

more on betaine here



GUARANA

Natural source of caffeine (bean)

Average dose: 1.4mg - 300mg

Recommended dose: None currently

Functions:

  • Stimulant (3-4% caffeine vs 1-2% in coffee beans)

  • Reduces mental & physical fatigue

  • Weight loss

  • Enhances athletic performance

Side Effects:

In doses greater than 250-300 mg daily, side effects such as anxiety, headaches, nausea, insomnia, and increased heart rate are possible.

more on guarana here



GINSENG

Plant extract

Average dose: 8mg-400mg (per 16oz)

Recommended dose: 200-400mg

Functions:

  • Improves brain function

  • Lessens mental fatigue

Side effects: In doses greater than 3g daily, diarrhea may be possible

more on ginseng here



CREATINE

Natural compound

Average dose: 0.84-1.21mg

Recommended dose: 0.3g per kilogram daily for 5-7 days, then 3-5g daily.

Functions: (of caffeine & creatine combo)

  • Increased strength & power

  • Increased muscle mass

  • Increased energy & alertness

  • Performance enhancer

Side effects: Digestive discomfort has been reported when mixing caffeine & creatine together. Dehydration & poor sleep is also a possibility.

more on creatine here



GUAYUSA

Natural source of caffeine (herb used in tea)

Average dose: ~41mg caffeine in 8oz depending on steep time and quality of product

Recommended dose: <400mg daily

Functions:

  • Improved concentration

  • Antioxidants

  • Stabilized blood sugar

  • Aids in weight loss

Side effects: Same as caffeine side effects plus: it may cause nausea or interfere with iron absorption.

more on guayusa here



YERBA MATE

Natural source of caffeine (herb used in tea)

Average dose: 20 - 180mg caffeine per 8oz depending on steep time & quality of product

Recommended dose: <400mg daily

Functions:

  • Antioxidants & nutrients

  • Boosts energy & mental performance

  • Enhances physical performance

  • Weight loss

  • Boost immune system

Side effects: Same as caffeine side effects plus: in long term use, an increased risk in upper respiratory & digestive tract cancers.

more on yerba mate here



TAURINE (Amino Sulfonic Acid) (more research needed)

Amino Acid

Long term effects have not been studied.

Average dose: 20mg - 2,000mg (per 16oz)

Recommended dose: 3,000mg daily

Functions:

  • Improves mental function

  • Antioxidant

  • Improves athletic performance

Side Effects:

Long term, high dose use combined with caffeine can result in side effects such as nausea, dizziness, headaches, and difficulty walking are possible.

More on taurine here



L-CARNITINE (more research needed)

Amino acid

Average dose: 42mg

Recommended dose: 500 - 2,000mg

Although the science suggests L-carnitine should benefit weight loss, the results, if any, are small.

  • Energy production

  • Weight loss, fat burner

  • Improved exercise performance

Side Effects: In doses greater than 2 grams daily, mild side effects such as nausea and stomach discomfort are possible.

more on l-carnitine here



B VITAMINS

B vitamins are misunderstood. They only help with energy for people that are deficient, which is rare. Those that are deficient are most anemia, which is the source of the fatigue. B vitamins do not boost your energy. Being deficient is rare and only somewhat common in those with a strictly plant based diet.MO

Bottom line: B vitamins advertised in supplements are just a marketing tactic. And you pee most of them out.

more on b vitamins here



GLUCURONOLACTONE (more research needed)

Natural or synthetic chemical

Average dose: 600mg

Recommended dose: 1.2 - 2.3mg daily

Functions:

  • Increased athletic performance

  • Improved focus

Side effects: None

more on glucuronolactone here



INOSITOL (more research needed)

Carbohydrate

Functions:

  • Aids in serotonin & nervous system modulation

Side effects: None

more on inositol here



MILK THISTLE (more research needed)

Plant with live detoxifying capabilities

Not super common, but should be ignored since trace amounts are found. So you won't be reaping any of the benefits drinking an energy drink.

more on milk thistle here