Here's What The Ingredients In Energy Drinks Actually Do To Your Body

You'll be surprised how few of them actually supply energy.
A row of Red Bull's, the leading energy currently on the market.
Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters
A row of Red Bull's, the leading energy currently on the market.

The energy drink industry pulls in roughly 9 billion dollars annually, so it’s obvious that many of us turn to these sugary drinks when we need a jolt of energy. But what exactly is in those shiny cans that gives us wings?

We’re here to explain.

There are a few common ingredients found in the most popular energy drinks, and we’re going to break down for you what they are and how ― or if ― they work to boost your energy.


We all know what caffeine is. It’s the reason we’re so obsessed with coffee, and it’s the sole reason many of us get out of bed. It also happens to be the main source of energy in many energy drinks.

An 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine, and NOS Energy Drink reportedly used to contain 260 mg, but they lowered their caffeine by 100mg per can to around 160 mg. For comparison’s sake, an 8-ounce Dunkin’ Donuts coffee contains around 100 mg of caffeine, and an 8-ounce Starbucks coffee will rank closer to 160 mg of caffeine. The Mayo Clinic advises not drinking more than 400 mg of caffeine a day.

Which major brands use caffeine: Pretty much all of them ― specifically Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy Drink and NOS Energy Drink.


Taurine is an organic amino acid found in animal tissue that scientists discovered in ox bile in the 1820s. Our bodies can make taurine, and you can get it from eating things like meat and fish. (It’s also found naturally in human breast milk.) While taurine is thought to be vital in some body development, there is no actual evidence that taurine provides energy at all.

Which major brands use taurine: Pretty much all of them ― notably Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy Drink and NOS Energy Drink.

A handful of guarana berries, which many people have noted look a lot like eyes.
Bruno Kelly / Reuters
A handful of guarana berries, which many people have noted look a lot like eyes.


Guarana is a plant that grows in the Amazon and produces berries that contain caffeine, even more so per serving than coffee. It’s this high caffeine content that makes this tropical berry a natural addition in energy drinks. So when you see guarana listed on energy drinks, you can read that as “even more caffeine.”

Which major brands use gaurana: Monster Energy and Rockstar Energy Drink.


There are some rumors going around the internet about potential dangers linked to glucoruonolactone, but these are unsubstantiated claims. Glucuronolactone is actually a naturally-occurring chemical produced by the body (and found in plant gums). Even though glucuronolactone is a common ingredient in energy drinks, its actual energy effects remain unknown.

Which major brands use glucuronolactone: Monster Energy.

B vitamins

B vitamins show up in many different forms in energy drinks, such as niacin, folic acid, riboflavin and cyanocobalamin. B vitamins are commonly called upon for energy boosting, but the problem is that unless you have a B vitamin deficiency, they don’t really do much.

Which major brands use B vitamins: Red Bull, Monster Energy and Rockstar Energy Drink.


This naturally-occurring amino acid made by the liver and kidneys does affect energy levels, which is why so many energy drink companies call upon it. Unfortunately, the amount of L-carnitine found in most energy drinks is not high enough to have any real effect. Also, it is unclear as of yet if any additional L-carnitine than what the body already produces makes a difference in energy.

Which major brands use L-carnitine: Monster Energy, Rockstar Energy Drink and NOS Energy Drink.

The high sugar content in these drinks also plays a role in boosting energy levels, since glucose is a major energy source for most cells in the body. But with sugar comes sugar crashes, and since some of these energy drinks ― we’re talking a 16-ounce Monster Energy ― contain the sugar equivalent of two Snickers bars, the crash can be pretty hard. And then there are the possible links to adverse health effects that some studies have revealed.

So, you might want to consider brewing a pot of coffee instead. You’ll get all the caffeine, and you get to decide how much sugar goes into it.

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