Behind the Label: 16 Common Energy Drink Ingredients

Behind the Label: 16 Common Energy Drink Ingredients

What's in Energy Drinks, Anyways?

Seemingly every energy drink brand likes to throw around lofty claims of "improving cognitive performance" and even “giving you wings'', each promoting their own unique ‘proprietary blend’ of ingredients for kick better than coffee. Companies love to tout their products as a silver bullet, zapping problems like procrastination and fatigue while boosting energy and mental performance like focus and creativity. 

But what does it all even mean? What is actually in energy drinks? Do they really work as they say they do? Or worse, do energy drinks contain ingredients that are potentially harmful? 

This is all to say that many energy drink companies don’t make it easy for the consumer to see through the smoke and mirrors. It has become an increasingly confusing and frustrating task to determine what claims are backed by truth and which are simply marketing ploys — and they like it that way. 

While the ingredients lists can offer insight on what is in the can, it doesn’t disclose how much, which is crucial information for identifying the health benefits or potential risks it might pose. Since the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate energy drinks, manufacturers aren't required to tell you the amounts of each ingredient their product contains. 

At VISO Energy, we firmly believe the consumer has a right to know exactly what is in the bottle, how much, as well as the source of the ingredients and reason why it’s in there. That’s why we’ve broken down the 16 most common ingredients and what you need to know, including each ingredient’s function and recommended intake for safe consumption.

Join us as we peel back the label and uncover 16 of the most common ingredients in popular energy drinks as well as some answers to common questions surrounding the subject.

16. Caffeine

Average amount in energy drinks 100 to 300 mg
Recommended daily intake Up to 400 mg
Why it’s in there Increase alertness, stimulating effects memory and mental focus, fights fatigue

The most prevalent ingredient in energy products and perhaps the most widely consumed drug in the world, there’s a reason this common stimulant is so popular. It occurs naturally in coffee, tea, cola, cocoa, guarana, yerba mate, and over 60 other substances. Coveted for its stimulating effect all cover the body, from the central nervous system, heart, muscles, and blood pressure.

15. Green Coffee Extract

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake Up to 1600 mg
Why it’s in there Caffeine additive, weight loss aid

Caffeine extracted from unroasted coffee beans, this trendy newcomer provides that coveted kick without the taste. With a caffeine content of about 10%, it contains about a fourth the caffeine of coffee. It has even been associated with aiding weight loss, although research results are mixed. 

14. Green Tea Extract

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake 250-500 mg per day
Why it’s in there Caffeine additive, source of L-Theanine and beneficial antioxidants

Another common source of caffeine, green tea leaves also provide the soothing amino acid L-Theanine, counteracting the negative effects of caffeine for smooth sailing without the jolt or jitters. Green tea has also been confirmed as a top source of cancer fighting antioxidants, and loosely linked to lowering blood pressure. 

13. B-Vitamins

Average amount in energy drinks 8 to 12 μg
Recommended daily intake Unlimited
Why it’s in there Convert food to energy, boost cognitive performance

Among the most common of energy drink ingredients, B-vitamins are vital for energy conversion and are found naturally in many foods. While a balanced diet should have you covered in the B-vitamin department, restrictive diets and a busy lifestyle can make it easy to overlook these necessary supplements, so having an extra boost in your routine is not a bad idea. 

12. Sugar

Average amount in energy drinks 0 to 55g
Recommended daily intake 24 to 36g
Why it’s in there Natural sweetener 

Who doesn’t love a good sugar high? Well, people who are watching their sugar intake for the sake of healthy eating, for one. With leading energy brands containing up to 55 grams of sugar (over the FDA’s recommended daily intake by nearly 20 grams!), we probably don’t have to lecture you on the long-term health issues of consuming elevated levels of sugar. What you might be overlooking, however, is the dip in insulin levels after, leading to the dreaded ‘crash’. Not ideal. 

11. Artificial Sweeteners

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake 50 mg per kg of weight
Why it’s in there Improve taste; replace sugar

When it’s not pumped full of sugar, chances are it’s being sweetened artificially. Aspartame, sucralose, and ace-K are all used to help mask the bitter taste of the active ingredients while cutting the sugar. Anecdotal evidence has linked artificial sweeteners with health problems ranging from weight gain (counterintuitively) to cancer, but more research is needed. 

10. Artificial Colors

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake NA
Why it’s in there Improve color and appearance

Along with artificial sweeteners you’ll also often find artificial colors such as ‘caramel coloring’, red 40 and yellow 5. Serving no other purpose than to ‘improve appearance’, this superficial and unfortunate addition can wreak havoc to those with allergies and sensitivities, and have been the subject of some serious and controversial accusations like causing neurological and developmental complications in children.

9. Preservatives

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake NA
Why it’s in there Prolong shelf life

Preservatives, emulsifiers, and stabilizers are rampant in processed foods, but doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe and healthy to consume. Some of the particularly gnarly chemicals have been found to cause serious health hazards like hypersensitivity, allergies, asthma, hyperactivity, neurological damage and even cancer. Some to watch out for are nitrates, benzoates, sulfites, sorbates, and parabens. 

8. L-Carnitine

Average amount in energy drinks 150 to 250 mg
Recommended daily intake 2 g 
Why it’s in there Boost metabolism and exercise endurance

This amino acid is popular among athletes as it’s thought to act as a thermogenic to increase endurance and enhance exercise performance. Produced naturally by the liver and kidneys, l-carnitine (not to be confused with the inactive counterpart d-carnitine, which should be avoided) also assists in speeding up the metabolism and increasing energy levels. 

7. L-Theanine

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake NA
Why it’s in there Anxiety and stress relief; increase focus and concentration

Another powerful amino acid, l-theanine is a favorite among energy drink ingredients for its ability to calm the brain, relieve stress, and enhance concentration. Sourced from green tea, it’s the secret sauce in VISO Energy to counteract the jitters and negative effects of most caffeine and stimulant ingredients.

6. Taurine

Average amount in energy drinks 750 to 1,250 mg
Recommended daily intake 6,000 mg per day
Why it’s in there Boosts metabolism, athletic performance, and supports nerve growth

A trendy buzzword popularized by a leading energy drink brand, taurine is a prevalent ingredient in energy drinks catered to athletes as it’s thought to enhance physical performance. The use of this amino acid has mixed reception, however, as the body usually produces enough taurine naturally, rendering the supplemental ingredient redundant. 

5. Ginseng

Average amount in energy drinks 8 to 400 mg
Recommended daily intake 200 mg 
Why it’s in there Enhances mental performance and memory, relieves mental fatigue and stress

An herbal ingredient with a long history of medicinal uses, ginseng contains anti-inflammatory properties and has been associated with stimulating the hypothalamic and pituitary glands. It doesn’t come without caveats however, as some may be prone to adverse reactions of ginseng like headaches, stomach upset and diarrhea. 

4. Creatine

Average amount in energy drinks Unknown
Recommended daily intake 3-5 g 
Why it’s in there Helps to induce sense of alertness, supports muscle strength and development

A popular supplement among the body-building community, creatine has been attributed with helping the human body supply energy to rebuilding muscles. Sometimes used in energy beverages and pre-workout food and supplements, some side effects include weight gain, diarrhea, kidney problems.

3. Guarana

Average amount in energy drinks 1.4 to 300 mg
Recommended daily intake 3 g 
Why it’s in there Caffeine additive - Relieves fatigue, promotes aptitude and memory

A native Amazonian plant, this fruit has a tribal history centuries old for its therapeutic effects, and is often used as a caffeine additive today. Careful, though – the caffeine content in guarana can really sneak up on you. The seeds contain highly concentrated amounts of caffeine, about four times the amount of caffeine found in coffee beans.

2. Ginkgo Biloba

Average amount in energy drinks 30 to 70 mg
Recommended daily intake 240 mg 
Why it’s in there Improves cognitive function, memory retention, concentration, circulation

Perhaps the rarest ingredient in energy beverages, this antioxidant-packed ancient herb is harvested from the leaves of the Chinese ginkgo tree and is cherished for its memory retention, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant powers. 

1. Antioxidants

Average amount in energy drinks Varies
Recommended daily intake Varies
Why it’s in there Boost immune function 

Essential for building immunity, fending off illness, and preventing cellular damage in the body, antioxidants are frequently added for their health benefits. Vitamins C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A are all common energy drink ingredients and a necessary part of a healthy eating lifestyle.


What are the main energy drink ingredients?

The ingredients vary greatly between different brands and products, a phenomenon that energy drink companies love to refer to as their ‘own unique proprietary energy blend’. There are some basic components that you’ll find in most energy drinks however: A source of caffeine, a sweetener, and various B-vitamins. 

What harmful ingredients are in many energy drinks?

While the jury’s still out on the safety of some of the ingredients found in energy products, there is one thing that can be said with scientific evidence to prove it: It’s often not what it is that’s potentially harmful, but how much. In other words, everything in moderation — a piece of advice you most likely won’t see employed as a slogan by an energy drink company, but relevant, nonetheless.

That said, it turns out the very ingredients that make your typical energy drink what it is — a drink to increase energy — are the ones you should watch out for. Caffeine, taurine (an amino acid), guarana (more caffeine), niacin (aka vitamin B3), and sugar, are just some of the seemingly innocuous energy drink ingredients you should be aware of.

Are most energy drinks bad for you? 

When it comes to a topic as complex and dynamic as health and safety, it’s typically best to steer clear of blanket statements guilty of overgeneralizing. Because the energy drink industry is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, there are no official standards for determining the safety of a product in the same way there is for coffee or soft drinks.

With many ingredients in energy drinks, there is an inherent risk of interactions with other foods, supplements, and prescription medicines which have not been studied exhaustively. Therefore, it’s recommended to consult with your physician before imbibing in an energy drink, particularly if you suffer from arrhythmias or coronary artery disease.

All in all, it cannot be stressed enough the importance of knowing what you’re putting into your body when consuming these beverages. Read the label, do your research, and keep on keepin’ on.  

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