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Energy Drinks vs. Sports Drinks

Spirit of Sport – July 2014
The general public is often confused by the differences between energy drinks and sports drinks. However, neither of these are official product categories.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not recognize a difference between the two. Instead, a distinction is only made between FOODS (including beverages), SUPPLEMENTS (which can be liquid), and DRUGS (which can also be liquids). The FDA classifies all products into one of these three categories.

Energy drinks and sport drinks are marketing terms that beverage companies created to target sales and tell consumers more about their products. The exact same drink could technically be marketed as a food (with a nutrition facts label) or as a supplement (with a supplement facts label).
This decision is up to the company, and the FDA does not review these labels to determine if the correct (and legal) choice has been made.

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 two categories below.

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).


Nutrition Facts

The product is marketed as a beverage (a “conventional food”).

Primary purpose must be hydration, but it 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, a product could contain substantially more amounts of caffeine than is listed on the label (there is at least one energy drink that contains six times the amount of caffeine as a regular cola). Companies are not required to report adverse events, which is important in an industry that needs to steer clear of having poor safety records for their products.


Supplement Facts

The product is marketed as a supplement (not a drink or beverage)

Purpose is to supplement the diet (purpose CAN’T be to hydrate)

Can’t use terms like drink, juice, or beverage anywhere on the label or in any advertising. Don’t have to list the amounts of ingredients in proprietary blends.

Can include a large variety of ingredients including botanicals, amino acids, proteins, peptides, extracts, glands, or tissues.

Can contain novel, untested ingredients which are supposed to be reviewed by the FDA before being sold, but rarely are.

Adverse-event reporting is mandatory, but there is a history of under-reporting.

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