Try your hand at reading an energy drink label.
Click the energy drink bottle below.

energy-drink-bottle_energy drinks

There is a difference between energy drinks and sports drinks.

It is easy to get confused about the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks. Sport drinks contain electrolytes and carbohydrates to rehydrate you and provide fuel after exercise. Energy drinks, on the other hand, may or may not contain electrolytes, but they always contain a large dose of stimulants.

Energy drinks and sport drinks are simply marketing terms that companies use to target sales and tell consumers more about their product. Sometimes, manufacturers of energy drinks deliberately try to make their product seem like a sport drink to avoid close scrutiny by consumers. The truth is that the same drink can be marketed in different ways, and depending on the choice of the company, the product will fall under different regulations. This determines what information a company has to disclose to you about the product.  What aren’t they telling you?

Whether a product is marketed as a food or a supplement will determine which laws apply to it and what information companies have to provide to consumers. See the differences between the categories below.

Nutrition Facts

  • The company has decided to market the product as a beverage (a drink) which is considered a “conventional food.”
  • The primary purpose of a drink must be hydration, but the drink can also deliver nutrients and calories.
  • If the company is in compliance with the law AND their label is accurate, then the product will not contain novel designer ingredients because conventional foods must adhere to strict food additive regulations…
  • …however, sometimes companies wrongly label Energy drinks with a Nutrition Facts panel to avoid scrutiny by FDA.
  • …. And a product could contain substantially more caffeine than is listed on the label. For example, there is at least one drink on the market that contains six times the amount of caffeine as a regular cola.
  • Companies that sell conventional foods are not required to track or report side effects.

Supplement Facts

  • The company has decided to sell their product as a supplement (not a drink or beverage).
  • The purpose is to supplement the diet with something. The purpose CAN’T be hydration.
  • A company can’t use terms like drink, juice, or beverage anywhere on the label or in any advertising. The companies don’t have to list the amounts of ingredients in proprietary blends.
  • The product can include a large variety of ingredients including botanicals, amino acids, proteins, peptides, extracts, glands, or tissues.
  • These drinks often contain novel, untested ingredients which are supposed to be reviewed by the FDA before being sold, but they rarely are.
  • Adverse-event reporting is mandatory, but there is a history of under-reporting.

How do you figure out which ingredients are actually in a product and if they are safe and healthy? The safest solution is to avoid energy products all together and stick with ones that market themselves as foods. Examine the ingredient list closely, and learn more about electrolytes and carbohydrates to decide which sport drink (not energy drink) is the best choice for you, your kids, or your team. Or, skip the fancy drinks all together and have water or chocolate milk (post-workout) instead.