Energy Drinks: Just the Facts

It seems like we’ll eat or drink anything that will increase our lagging energy levels. Put the phrase “boost your energy” on a food or beverage, and we think, “Hey, I need that!”

Marketed to improve energy, promote weight loss, increase stamina, and boost athletic performance/mental concentration, energy drink sales are expected to reach $52 billion by 2016. Energy drinks are most popular with teens and young adults — 30-50% of them frequently consume energy drinks.

What’s in Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks start off with a combination of sugar or sugar substitutes and caffeine. Then herbal extracts like ginseng, guarana, yohimbine, and ginko biloba are added. There also might be amino acids, taurine, L-carnitine, or B vitamins too.

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits caffeine content in soft drinks, there is no regulation of energy drinks, which are classified as dietary supplements. Many energy drinks contain 70-80 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per 8 ounces, which is three times the amount of caffeine in cola drinks. Since many energy drinks are packaged in containers that hold 12 ounces or more, the amount of caffeine can easily reach 200 mg or greater. 200-300 mg of caffeine per day is considered a safe amount for adults, and the American Academy of Pediatrics states that energy drinks are never appropriate for children and teens.

Manufacturers are not required to list the caffeine content from additives, which means that the actual caffeine content can exceed what is listed on the label – if it’s listed at all.

Plus, with 220-260 calories per 16-oz serving (that’s equal to 13-16 teaspoons of sugar), energy drinks also contain more sugar and calories than carbonated cola beverages. Sweetened beverages are a primary source of sugar in our diet, and they contribute to obesity and dental caries.

Should I Drink Energy Drinks?

I recommend that you skip energy drinks and instead choose beverages that promote health and hydration. Think water, fat-free milk, and 100% fruit juice. For optimum energy, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and participate in regular physical activity.

By Lynn Grieger RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC


  1. The History of Energy Drinks: A Look Back. Wall Street Insanity. Samantha Lile. 5-6-2013. Accessed 5-21-14.
  2. Caffeine in the Diet. MedLine Plus. Updated 4-20-2013. Accessed 5-21-14.
  3. Proposed Actions for the US Food and Drug Administration to Implement to Minimize Adverse Effects Associated With Energy Drink Consumption. Thorlton J, Colby DA, Devine P. Am J Public Health. 2014 May 15.
  4. Sports & Energy Drinks: Answers for Fitness Professionals. Jerry J. Mayo, Ph.D., R.D. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
  5. Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Seifert, Schaechter, Hershorin, Lipshultz. Pediatrics. Mar 2011; 127(3): 511–528.
  6. Clinical Report – Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate? Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Pediatrics 2011 Jun;127(6):1182-9.
  7. Energy Drinks. The American Association of Poison Control Centers. Accessed 5-21-14


Here’s a link to the free handout. Download it anytime!

Energy Drinks

More Resources:

The Nutrition Education Store is always evolving. Check out the latest resources for beverages and health!

Sugar Awareness Handout

Don’t Drink Your Calories: PowerPoint and Handout Set













Nutrition Poster

The Sugar Poster Story

Are you drinking candy?


After getting numerous requests to publish a poster that shows the sugar content of beverages, we decided to oblige.

First we made a list of the most common beverages with added sugar that you can typically find in grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants. Then we started brainstorming ways to make a memorable infographic that would tell the whole story in just one glance. We learned many humorous lessons along the way. We’re also very proud of our pictures, thanks to a new camera. If you are a friend on Facebook, then you already know that we are smitten with pictures. (If you are not a friend yet, we promise  that you will want to like our Facebook page to see all of the fun things we do all day)!

We found that several small lollipops contain 3.5 to 5 grams of sugar each. Suddenly, we had an illustration connection. One lollipop could represent 1 teaspoon of sugar! We felt that candy was more compelling than a plain image of a teaspoon of sugar. Isn’t it Mary Poppins that sings, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in the most delightful way?” And besides, our graphic artist loved making all of those lollipops… or so he told us.

Anyway, here’s what we learned while we made the poster…

  • The biggest shock to us was that the average  juice box has the equivalent of 6 lollipops worth of sugar (though some contain as little as 4). Juice boxes are ubiquitous in the land of children. They get put into lunch boxes, after-game coolers, birthday and classroom party coolers, and home refrigerators. They freeze well and keep a lunchbox cool. They are handy because they don’t have to be refrigerated, and they even come with a free retractable straw. Plus, they don’t spill easily, they are easy to open, and easy to hold. Wow, we sound like a juice box commercial!And 100% juice is good for kids who won’t eat fruits or vegetables. However, chances are that most juice drinks served to kids are not always 100% juice. These boxes can be overused to the point that they displace the calories from real food, which contain more nutrients and fiber while making a balanced diet.



  • Sports drinks contain almost as much sugar as a can of soda. Now, if you are doing Ironman training (where you swim, bike and run for hours and hours each day), the liquid calories are perfect because eating real food would cause digestive distress. But, for most people who struggle to put in enough time at the gym, these drinks are not necessary sport fuel. And we cringe when we think about all the overweight kids who sit on a soccer bench for an hour and then drink “sports drinks” and eat bags of pretzels before dinner. The colors of these drinks suer are beautiful, though. We had a hard time choosing a for the poster, but then we decided that orange was lovely with the pink background:



  • Energy drinks and large flavored sweetened coffees are very similar in sugar content. We thought this was handy, since people drink them for the same reasons. Plus, they’re very photogenic together.The caffeine content in some energy drinks can be downright scary.



  • Another surprise was that sweetened flavored tea could be a lot higher in sugar than the a soda of the same size. Who would have thought that a passion fruit iced tea would come in as the winner for our sugar show with 71 grams of sugar per 40 ounce cup?



  • Frozen sweetened drinks contain a surprising amount of sugar. There are even worse cases than the one we show on the new poster. You can go up to 85 grams of sugar in a large fruit smoothie. Large is the operative word, but it is not as large as you think! A 20 ounce cup filled with a frozen fruit smoothie can get you to 85 grams of sugar because syrup is added in the blender. We used a slush type of drink for the poster, because they are more common in convenience stores and it is mesmerizing to watch them go around and around and around and then come out of the machine in a swirl.



  • But the biggest and greatest surprise of all was the SIZE of the large drinks: 40 ounces. I think we puzzled the man in the drive through when we ordered one of each of the largest drinks and we already had a full bag from a few other places. But 40 ounces is HUGE. I had to carry them to the studio one at a time so they wouldn’t spill along the way. And one of them filled 4 of my large water glasses, which is a great size recognition exercise all by itself. It was hard to find a clear glass that would hold all of it and still fit in the frame for the picture. One of these drinks contains 71 g of sugar, which is the equivalent of almost 18 small lollipops. I would not even eat that many lollipops between Halloween and spring break, but on a hot day this drink could go down fast.
  • A 40-ounce soda contains almost 400 calories, which is practically a full meal. Of course, this “meal” isn’t balanced or healthful and there is no fiber whatsoever.



I can already picture the displays that you could make with this poster. You could put 18 lollipops in a jar and ask how many drinks they would make? (The answer is 1 — I bet no one would guess that all day). Or you could fill all sorts of cups and jars with the lollipops and make your participants guess which jar goes with matches which drink. There is a lollipop company on the internet who says they are combating obesity because one pop is a treat and it only contains 26 calories. I will leave the opinion on that theory up to you! I guess it is better than a big candy bar that has 500 calories. Maybe that is what they mean?

Making refrigerator tea at home is a great idea. It is fast, inexpensive, and tastes great! And of course water is always a great idea, too.


The CDC just published a new report in May 2013. This report shows that, for adults, one third of the calories they consume from added sugars (33%) came from beverages. In children and adolescents, 40% of calories from added sugars came from beverages. This is almost the same as a previous report from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That report showed that over half the amount of added sugar calories comes from beverages. Apparently the new finding is that foods eaten at home can add a lot of sugar to the diet. I am sure you will see this update in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

If you read the section about discretionary calories on, the amount of discretionary calories for most adults is around 150. That is only 37 grams of sugar a day.

See the story about our fat poster here.

You can buy the fat and sugar poster together and save a great deal of money with our introductory offer:



Nutrition and Math Lesson

Now that summer is here, it is time to keep using your math skills in a practical way — with nutrition. See the fun activity below that is great for kids and families or anyone who wants to realize what is in their beverages. But first you have to learn how to use a new tool by Google which displays nutrient information on the search results page.

Google now has the ability to find and display calories and other nutrients in foods from the USDA database. Take a look at our apple query:

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 12.29.58 PM

How do you find these displays?

Go to and type in the word “calories” followed by a food or beverage name that you want to see. For example you can type in “calories cookies” and you will see a cookie and a drop down box on the left (red rectangle) with many kinds of cookies. You can also ask, “how many grams of protein in a banana” or “how much saturated fat in butter.” The data shown comes from the USDA database with a description feed from Wikipedia. This feature also works with Google Voice. It is currently only available in English.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.27.36 PM

Many browsers like Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer have a Google plugin so you can search with Google in the top of your browser.

And here are four tips for success using the Google Calorie Search Tool:

  1. Brand names are not usually found. For example if you type “calories Oreos” you won’t find a Google calorie display for that item. But you can usually find the nutrition data in most brand name foods by going to the manufacturer’s website or by using, a grocer in the NE section of the US who has most nutrient information for items that they carry.
  2. Generic searches yield more results. You won’t find chicken wings but if you type “calories chicken” you will find a bunch of choices. You won’t find your favorite brand of soda like “Coke” or “Sprite” but you will find soda.
  3. Use the boxes on the left to narrow description and size. You can view the drop down box on the left to see the specifics of the generic search. For example, the chicken search will show many chicken choices and you can adjust the sizes using the boxes on the left.
  4. Research further for restaurant or brand items. Always compare specific store or restaurant foods by manufacturer’s data versus the USDA database. We have found through many of our searches (we use the USDA database for our recipes) that a generic “stuffing” from USDA will not always be the same as a brand name box of stuffing on the store shelf which often has more sodium. And restaurant food can be higher in sodium.

And here is a little Nutrition and Math experiment for you:

  • How many cups (8 ounces) of soda are in a can? Or a bottle? (this is available from searching on Google)
  • How many cups of soda are in a large soda at your favorite fast food place? (visit or to see large serving sizes)
  • How many grams of sugar are in a large soda at your favorite restaurant? (view nutrition information for each beverage on the fast food site)
  • Divide the number of grams of sugar by 4 and that is how many teaspoons of sugar are in that soda. Is it different for sweetened tea found on
  • What is the difference in fiber between an apple and apple juice? (use the Google tool)
  • Now, tell us, what do you think about what you just found? Do the restaurants and convenience stores make a “large cup” appear normal? Some large drinks have 15 teaspoons of sugar!!

Can you come up with some non-calorie drinks to enjoy? Of course water is the top choice but what if you added some lemon circles to your water? Or if you turned it red with a little cranberry juice?

Here is an interesting tidbit: 1 kilo calorie (1000 calories) represents the energy needed to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree.

Update – thank you to Chef Jasun Zakro, MBA, CDM, SNS, who wrote to us to recommend this app:

You can use it online (search box top left) and type in all the ingredients for a recipe at once and it allows you to specify each one and it shows you the analysis. I have never seen a recipe analysis work THAT fast. Although I will have to play with it for a while to see how it does with all of our ingredients.

That app is available through any browser or for a smart phone.

Thanks, Jasun!

Here is a shot of the Grilled Potato Salad I made on the grill for dinner:

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 8.25.42 PM

I was able to specify the golden potatoes AND the exact brand of mayonnaise. That would be a great way for kids to develop a recipe and then see what they eat!

(That is a great potato salad by the way – the potatoes were crispy golden on the outside and tender on the inside and the mayonnaise just melted over them and so I used a lot less. The fresh chives from the garden were all you needed for a light onion flavor.)