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Energy drinks are still relatively new in our grocery stores, but the drinks are becoming popular with all ages.

It's easy to confuse energy drinks with sports drinks, which can be a problem for our kids. They each serve two different purposes and energy drinks are not recommended for children.

It has been reported that teens are using energy drinks to hydrate before, during and after sports. Many teens don't understand the difference between energy drinks such as Red Bull, AMP, Monster, Rockstar, etc...and sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade.

What is the Difference Between Energy Drinks and Sports Drinks?

Water is the ideal drink to be consumed before, during, and after exercise, but sports drinks were designed for athletes to consume after 90 minutes of exercise. They contain electrolytes and calories in the form of sugar to help replace the body's electrolytes that are lost during strenuous exercise. Electrolytes help to regulate bodily fluids. Sports drinks do not contain caffeine or herbal supplements and are relatively safe for children.

Energy drinks are marketed as drink to boost energy levels. They contain a concentrated amount of caffeine, calories, and many added vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements. The ingredients listed as dietary supplements in energy drinks are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) like soft drinks and foods are. Energy drinks are potentially dangerous, and if they are consumed, please do so in moderation. To learn more information about the caffeine content and other ingredients in a particular drink, visit the energy drink's website or call the phone number listed on the can.

How Much Caffeine is Safe?

Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system and may make a person feel more alert and awake. Caffeine is in tea, chocolate, coffee, energy drinks, many soft drinks, and some over-the-counter medications. Consuming too much caffeine may result in insomnia, restlessness, dizziness, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, anxiety, nervousness, and irritability.

Everyone has a different level of caffeine sensitivity based on their age, body size, amount of caffeine normally consumed, stress level, and health conditions. Experts recommend no more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day for most adults. For teens 100 milligrams or less of caffeine per day is widely recommended, and younger children should consume even less if any at all. Keep in mind that many energy drinks come in 16-24 ounce cans, so you'll be consuming anywhere from 144-450 milligrams of caffeine in one can.

Most energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine and sugar with additional ingredients such as vitamins and herbal supplements. Some of the herbal ingredients such as guarana, ginseng, and taurine also contain caffeine.

per 8 ounces
Caffeine Content
in milligrams
Soft Drink 22 - 46  
Tea 48 - 175  
Energy Drink 72 - 150  
Coffee 134 - 240  

A Conversation with Your Kids

Energy drinks and caffeine are not recommended for children, but you may be surprised about what your kids know about energy drinks. Here's a few questions to start a conversation with them.

  • Do you know what energy drinks are?
  • Do you know the names of any energy drinks?
  • What do you know about energy drinks?
  • Do your friends consume energy drinks?
  • Have you ever had an energy drink?
  • Do you know the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks?

The Bottom Line

There are numerous reports that demonstrate the potential dangers of energy drinks when consumed in excess or consumed by someone with certain medical conditions. The best energy boost comes from making healthy lifestyle choices such as eating nutritious foods, drinking water, being physically active, and getting enough sleep. And as we know, our kids rarely need an energy boost.

Carrie Miller MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Carrie Miller is a mother of two and Registered Dietitian with a Master degree in Nutritional Science and Dietetics. Carrie has worked at UNL Extension in Omaha for over 12 years managing the Nutrition Education Program and teaching limited resource audiences. Special interests include feeding children healthy, fun foods, and finding time to get outside and be active. Learn more about Carrie and the other UNL Extension nutrition experts at ...

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Categories: nutrition,