The consumption of energy drinks has increased in recent years. In the case of athletes, the use of them before practicing has also risen: more than 50% take them during training and even before competitions.

A 4-year study carried out by experts from Camilo José Cela University (UCJC) has evaluated the positive and negative effects of energy drinks on athletes.

In the study, top soccer players, climbers, swimmers, and basketball, rugby, volleyball, tennis, and hockey players took the equivalent of three cans of energy drinks or energy drink placebos before a sports competition.

Performance was measured with the use of GPS devices, which determined the distance and the speed at which it was covered in team sports. Researchers also used dynamometers and potentiometers to measure muscle performance in other sports. Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the results show that athletes increased their sporting performance by between 3% and 7%.

“What is more, they ran further in team competitions, specially at higher intensities, which is related to sports performance,” says Juan Del Coso Garrigós, one of the authors of the study who is also in charge of the Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the UCJC, in a release. “Energy drinks increase jump height for basketball players, muscle force and power for climbers and trained individuals, swimming speed for sprinter swimmers, hit force and accuracy for volleyball players, and the number of points scored in tennis.”

Insomnia and Nervousness

These studies not only measured objective parameters of sporting performance, but also asked athletes about their sensations after consuming the energy drink and measured the frequency of the side effects in comparison with the placebo drink.

“Athletes felt they had more strength, power, and resistance with the energy drink than with the placebo drink,” state the authors. “However, the energy drinks increased the frequency of insomnia, nervousness, and the level of stimulation in the hours following the competition.”

Their consumption produces an increase in the side effects typically found with other caffeinated drinks. Researchers also found no significant differences between male and female athletes in the perception of positive sensations, nor in the apparition of side effects.

“Caffeinated energy drinks are a commercial product that can significantly increase sporting performance in many sports activities,” says Del Coso. “The increase in their consumption is probably driven by the hard advertising campaigns of energy drink companies related to sports sponsorships.”

They Don’t Provide More Energy

Energy drinks mainly contain carbohydrates, caffeine, taurine, and B vitamins, with little difference in the quantities and ingredients among the main energy drink brands.

On the contrary to that indicated by their trade name, energy drinks do not provide more energy than other soft drinks (~40 kcal/100 ml of product), but they do have an “energizing” effect related to the stimulation provided by caffeine.

In fact, none of the other ingredients present in energy drinks and in the amounts in a can of energy drink actually produces a significant effect on physical or cognitive performance.

The concentration of caffeine (32 mg/100 ml of product) present in energy drinks provides a total of 80 mg of caffeine per 250 ml can, although 500 ml cans are currently being sold.