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December 15, 2010 3:57 AM   Subscribe

What is it about energy drinks that help my alertness so much better than just caffeine alone? What research supports the use of any of the other ingredients?

I've always used a lot of soda in an attempt to get caffeine in my system. (I hate the taste of coffee). This semester I've switched to energy drinks. I find it doesn't trigger my sugar cravings for "MORE" after I drink it, and I actually feel more alert than what I would expect for the caffeine alone.

I know there are plenty of extra ingredients in there, I am just wondering what the research support for them are, so that if I wanted to try a few supplements instead of pricey, sugary beverage I could. I looked at this old thread which has some suggestions, but a lot of research can come out in two years, so I figure it would be worth asking for an update. My attempts for searches are coming up with no sources I'd consider reliable.

Things that have shown up in my search as supported or partly supported: taurine supplements, L-carnatine, and of course, caffeine. Is this accurate? Any fun pharmacology studies you can point me towards?
posted by gilsonal to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the basic idea is that taurine has a calming effect so you can bang more caffeine than usual and feel calm and focused not jittery.
posted by Not Supplied at 4:28 AM on December 15, 2010

I would think the main effect is just the sheer amount of caffeine. Energy drinks easily have 3 to 4 times the amount of caffeine as sodas, on a per-volume basis.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:34 AM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of them are chock full of a bunch of stuff, like copious amounts of Niacin (a vasodilator), as opposed to caffeine, which is a bronchodilator (and vasodilator, I believe), as well as significant volumes of B vitamins which have varying effects for individuals, but on the whole they can affect circulation and the endocrine system.

Then they usually tack in some good ol' ginseng, another stimulant, and some random bits. Some of them even have small traces of synthetic hormones.

Take a look at the ingredient list of 5 hour energy, for example.

Also, lots of caffeine. Supposedly the cocktail helps eliminate caffeine crash as well.
posted by TomMelee at 5:44 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's mostly placebo affect, personally. And I say this as someone who has consumed far, far, far, far too many red bulls.
posted by empath at 5:56 AM on December 15, 2010

The sugar gives you a boost that caffeine alone doesn't. The caffeine concentration is also much, much higher than you were getting from soda. Beyond that, placebo effect.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:12 AM on December 15, 2010

I've had sort of the opposite effect. I can drink 2-3 cups of coffee no problem, but if I even have so much as half an energy drink I get all panicky and have chest pains. I've had the caffeine jitters and this is a totally different feeling, so I've suspected that something specific to energy drinks is the culprit (maybe taurine, ginseng, or guarana).

I couldn't find much, but here's a study suggesting that guarana increased memory retention and physical endurance in lab animals. Wikipedia also says that guarana is rich in caffeine, so Rhomboid's answer is probably the most plausible one.
posted by a.steele at 6:25 AM on December 15, 2010

I wonder if the fact that you often drink them more quickly than you would a whole soda or coffee might have an impact as well. I enjoy an occasional red bull, which (for the standard size) has the caffeine equal to a couple of sodas; however, I drink it in a few minutes vs. over an hour or so for a soda.
posted by bizzyb at 8:12 AM on December 15, 2010

This link might interest you and seems to confirm my own experience that sugar + caffeine = rocket fuel.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 8:56 AM on December 15, 2010

Interesting answers so far. B12 is useless for me, since I've had that part of my small intestine taken out, but I don't know much about the other B vitamins.
posted by gilsonal at 10:33 AM on December 15, 2010

There's more caffeine, yeah, but there's also less sugar compared to the caffeine, so the crash isn't as bad. This has a big impact for me - soda by itself (even high-caffeine soda like Mountain Dew) doesn't help much because the sugar crash is so profound.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:50 AM on December 15, 2010

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