How effective are energy drinks?

This is a question I’m pondering more and more as the night goes on. Last night when I was preparing for Blogathon, I asked people for energy drink recommendations since I usually don’t try them. While recommendations for everything under the sun rolled in, a couple people remarked that most energy drinks rely on pseudoscientific claptrap, false advertisement, and placebo effects.

First of all, screw you for ruining my potential placebo effect when I need it the most.

But I am a skeptic, and this was a topic I had never really given much thought to. How many energy drinks are based on BS? Are they really anything more than caffeine and sugar?

From a cursory googling, the answer seems to be “probably not.” One psychology professor at Vanderbilt says that a peanut butter sandwich with orange juice would have just as much effect as a bottle of 5-Hour Energy, and probably be way healthier for you. Most of the random ingredients in this kind of stuff haven’t been shown to actually increase energy at all – it’s mostly just caffeine.Taurine? Ginseng? Milk thistle? Homophobia? What the hell did you guys recommend I buy? Boo hiss!

But I admit, I haven’t done a lot of research into this, nor am I going at this moment. If anyone’s more informed, please enlighten us in the comments!

This is post 30 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.


  1. Jeremy Carroll says

    I work the grave shift and tried the whole energy drink thing for awhile. It sucks. Now I take provigil ( and I’m filled with a bunch of no suck. Provigil for the win!

  2. Tabby Lavalamp says

    It’s got a most unfortunate name (unfortunately, because it’s named after a truly noble animal and one of the symbols of my country), and I don’t know if your proximity to the True North Strong and Free means you can get it, but I love Beaver Buzz. can’t stand coffee, and it helps get me through the work day.

  3. says

    From my experience as a form energy drink addict, the parts that seem to have the most effect are the caffeine and sugar. If you’re up late trying to keep alert both will help. Rockstar Recovery gives you a nice bit of caffeine, but otherwise just helps to hydrate you. If you’re really struggling with a hangover it’s as useful as couple cups of coffee and a few glasses of water. On the other hand, a few years ago I was at a legitimate after hours club in Seattle and kept on getting handed Redbulls by someone I was there with. After about a half hour and four Redbulls I had more of a buzz than I had from the few beers I had earlier in the evening (I was the DD).Five Hour Energy is absolutely useless, I almost fell asleep at the wheel after downing one of those.My advice would be to have a pot of coffee and some snacks.

  4. says

    Even if it’s mostly just caffeine, the effects of caffeine have been demonstrated, right?Of course, there’s also Mountain Dew for that. But a higher concentration of caffeine is desirable if you’re trying to minimize your intake of sugar (or of artificial sweeteners, which have been reported to have negative effects in some studies).

  5. says

    Peanut Butter sandwich and orange juice? Yummy! When I needed to pull an all-nighter, I would usually just stick to the Picard classic: Earl Grey tea (Or Lady Grey to change it up a little) A lot of my friends recommended adderall, but I have some heart trouble and don’t want to try it without a doctor’s recommendation. O_O

  6. StevoR says

    When pulling all-nighters for uni I used to have coffee with cups a third full of the coffee at the bottom and hot water & a splash of milk. Hold your nose and slam it down fast. Got me through the night – but I was a zombie the next day. ;-) Cans of “Mother” are okay , I’ll sometimes drink those. Not overlyconvinced any of theenergy drinks are all that great however.BTW. I’m boycotting Red Bull over their appallingly unsporting treatment of Mark Webber in their F1 team.

  7. MD2014 says

    I have to say I appreciate 5 hour energy shots for when I need the jolt of a cup of coffee but just don’t want to drink the volume of a whole beverage because I’m already full or something.  But, their efficacy does come entirely from the caffeine; the other ingredients are placebos at best.

  8. StevoR says

    @Nominatissima : Peanutbutterand honey sandwhiches are the best! :-) Or possibly cheese and sweet mustard pickles. :-) Mmm .. feeling hungry now.

  9. says

    My friend and I, while staying up all night to watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an automotive race that goes for 24 hours straight), found that having something to occupy yourself with is very useful. In preparation for the race, we stocked up on Red Bull and Lego sets. The Lego sets proved to be far more helpful. We made ourselves wait until about 4:00 in the morning to finally break them open, and it was worth it. Having something to do with your hands, something that is more involving than staring at the television screen, was enormously helpful in staying awake. TL;DR Go buy some Danish toys, Jen!

  10. Vanessa says

    Idk they work for me. Every time I’ve had an energy drink I barely even blink for like an hour! Im still really tired, but at least my eyes stay open. And I doubt its because of the caffeine – I drink pop before bed and don’t have any difficulty sleeping.

  11. mememememe says

    All I can say is that I’ve been at a club, barely able to keep my eyes open due to jet lag and lack of sleep… and then I downed 3 red bulls, and next thing you know, I was dancing up a storm… and later that night was as unable to get to sleep as if I’d been doing coke. Caffeine. It works.

  12. says

    I tried 5 Hour Energy once at a convention, when I was practically on the verge of falling asleep at a panel and a friend of mine offered me one.  It seemed to work for me– I got a better boost than I would have off soda, didn’t get the jitters that I usually get from a high caffeine dose, and didn’t crash afterward.  Admittedly, there was probably some placebo effect in there, but it did actually work for me.  I probably still wouldn’t buy ’em myself.

  13. Rishi says

    Havent had a lot of those, I did have a red bull once when I wanted to stay up. Dint help much, I slept like a rock anyway, after about half hour. I prefer good ol’ fashioned tea. Chamomile’s best.

  14. says

    *Anecdotal evidence alert*I am in the habit of drinking *very* strong coffee.  But there comes a point in my day when coffee makes me feel sick (upset stomach, rapid, but not worrisome pulse, sweating, etc).Energy coffees (I don’t drink energy drinks that are non-coffee) are a nice transition to say, lemonade, or iced tea.  I drink these beverages, with their super b vitamin dosages, taurine, etc every day.  I’m at my best during my first two coffees- after that it’s all down hill.  The energy drinks just make me feel like crap.

  15. says

    Oh my, you look so unhappy to be drinking that. If I recall correctly, it smells like concentrated Smarties and is colored like radioactive waste?

  16. Barry Williams says

    Doctor Karl (Australian science communicator) has often said that energy drinks are just caffeine, sugar & pixie dust (placebo) sorry to say.

  17. Mepat1111 says

    I tend to agree, it’s just a bunch of caffeine and sugar combined with ingredients which are about as effective as what you’d get from your local homeopath.

  18. says

    Caffeine does a much better job of helping me wake up in the morning than it does helping me stay awake when all my body wants to do is sleep (even if I think I want to be awake). This is regardless of form–coffee, tea, soda, energy drink, pills–in the end, I merely wind up a very alert tired person.That said, food in the form of light snacks actually helps stave off sleepiness better than just caffeine alone. And weirdly enough, many of my grad school all-nighters were fueled with a combination of iced tea, microwave popcorn, and wine. Don’t ask me how that worked, but it did.And FWIW, energy drinks with B vitamins are pretty great for hangovers.

  19. Schafw says

    It’s too late now, but…In your preparation you should have gone caffeine-free for several days.  You develop a tolerance for caffeine, so if you are a normal user, you have to consume more than a person that has not had caffeine in their system to get the same effect.A cold wet washcloth might help for a few minutes, or even better, go outside and run around naked in a sprinkler ;

  20. says

    I’m a coffee or red bull drinker when I need to be awake during boring times. I know you are a poor grad student with no money and live in one of the best coffee drinking cities on this planet, but my Keurig pot makes damn good coffee for around 50 cents a cup, and I don’t have to make a whole pot that I won’t drink. If you go that direction in the future, get one with a water reservoir and fill it with distilled water (or be tricky and get ddH2O from work) so as to reduce maintenance. As for Red Bull, I only drink that when I am driving long distances. I lived off of it (except for breakfast, coffee at breakfast is my only sacrement) while driving 5000 miles in two weeks, with hikes and natural history museum stops. Here is an odd thing I saw on one of my stops. Some early teens kid was in front of me at a gas station and was going to buy a can of some energy drink, when she was told that it was store policy to not sell energy drinks to minors. Can you guess what state I was in? Yeah. Utah.

  21. Yellow Hatguy says

    “Dude, I took one of those 5-Hour Energy’s because I have to study for this test tomorrow… I… I… I… I can’t. I need to kill a hooker or something.” — J.D.

  22. Nichole says

    I thought 5 hour energy didn’t contain caffeine? Or at least, I thought it was the absurd amount of vitamin B12 in it that was supposed to be the “active ingredient.” But I have no idea how absurd amounts of vitamin B12 actually affect people, so… someone else will have to research that :-P

  23. Kristen V says

    The whole B-vitamin thing is misunderstood by most people too.  Vitamins don’t work like drugs do, your body doesn’t use more of it/react quicker or in a bigger way, just because you give it more at one time.  Any B-vitamins that your body doesn’t need at the exact moment you ingest them, will simply be peed out.  (This will happen with any vitamin that is water soluble)This also doesn’t mean that because you are currently tired, that this is a situation that your body “needs” more vitamin B.  This vitamin does help with the efficiency of the process of creating energy, but simply ingesting it doesn’t force your body to start making it.And because vitamins aren’t drugs, they have nothing to do with crossing the brain barrier, so there is no chemistry altering, and thus no buzz or high that caffeine provides. B-12 is the only one of the B’s that can be stored in the body for later use if your body doesn’t need it when given it.  But there’s still a limit over how much it will store, and it still works the same as other vitamins. If the storage limit is maxed out, the B12 will be peed out as well.

  24. psmith123456 says

    Is the discussion “energy drinks” like Red Bull, or “sports drinks” like Gatorade?I can’t be bothered paying for cold drinks laced with caffeine and sugar,  I’d rather drink coffee if I wanted that.  I drink hot coffee and tea even during summer but not so much now that I’m in my 40s, to keep my BP under 120/80.As for sports drinks, I sometimes use them but not often.  I’d rather just use water at home or from the machine at the gym.  If I ever want a hit of energy while working out or after, I prefer grapefruit juice.  It’s sour as hell, but does great at reviving me after a workout..

  25. psmith123456 says

    Actually, the act of drinking will do as much or more than what is being drunk.  Plain water drunk regularly will do no harm to the body other than increasing urination, and will keep a person engaged in an activity.Sleepiness increases with inactivity and/or monotony, which is why you always hear about drivers falling asleep at the wheel alone, but not with others talking to them in the vehicle.

  26. says

    I’ve tried 5 Hour Energy-  it absolutely *wrecks* my digestive system.  I’m not sure which ingredient is to blame, but I have better luck with a plain old caffeinated cola.  I’m fond of Cherry Coke.

  27. says

    I don’t understand why every users recommended about cold drinks beverage. Teas are also best beverage yet which widely consumed buy world. Now every outdoor products contains sugar in bulk size.

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