Energy Drinks: What’s in the Can?

Tim Dull II November 2, 2012 Supplement Articles

We’ve all had bad mornings, and some bad days to follow. You get up, there’s no coffee, no soda, and nothing to get you going. You’re late getting out the door to work or class and you desperately need a pick-me-up. What do you do? You need that caffeine to get awake and you need it now!!

If you are one of the billions to who rely on the “Ready to Drink” energy drinks found at the local grocery store or convenience station, then this article is for you. Are “RTDs” the safest and most efficient stimulant that you could take? Are they really worth it? Do you even know what’s in one? Let’s take a look inside and find out.

For the sake of this article, I’m picking a Monster Energy, specifically a Monster “Extra Strength”, complete with “Nitrous Technology”, because that just so happens to be the can sitting next to me. (I bought it cause the can was cool, ok? Get off my back!)

Note: Drinks like this are being labeled as “supplements” these days, not regular recreational beverages. Keep that in mind as you read this list, presented in the order it appears on the label.

Carbonated and Nitrogenated Water. Ok, it’s fizzy, but why the nitrogen? Fizz, plain and simple. They do the same thing with beer to give it more head. More head is better, right? Uh, moving on…

Sucrose, Glucose. Yup, that’s sugar, folks. Two kinds in fact. How exotic! Not so fast, though. Looking at the “nutritional breakdown” label, this puppy has 38 grams of sugar in a 12oz can. 38 grams. Any idea how much that is? It’s the same as a regular can of Coke, or about 11 sugar cubes worth. That’s a lot of quick energy, followed by crash and burn, folks. Hello calories!

Citric Acid, Natural Flavor. I don’t know what nature tastes like, but I’m guessing it’s twigs and water that raccoons wash their hands in. Citric acid, on the other hand, lends that citrusy taste to it. It’s also used as a preservative. Not really much harm going on here, unless the raccoon bit is real.

Taurine. Hey, here we go! Taurine is an amino acid, right? We’ve got 2000mg of Taurine in this one. It’s used in the body for cardio fuction, bone building, vision and nerve function, and is the main ingredient in bile! (Yes, bile.) Supplementing with Taurine can aid in recovery, so this one’s a keeper! (FINALLY.)

Sodium Citrate: A salt from citrate, this one is just a preservative. Not a huge deal here.

Panax Ginseng Root Extract: Here’s a familiar name in the supplement world. Panax ginseng is often used to aid in recovery, regulate blood pressure, and to stimulate the nervous system and the entire body. At last, we’ve gotten to a stimulant! Just be wary; there are more to follow. 400mg of PGRE in a 12 oz can here, which is twice the recommended daily dose for it.

Caffeine: There it is!! Caffeine, that go-go miracle substance that we all crave. It’s in there, and it’s there to get you going. The label doesn’t outright say how much is in there, but it’s part of a 5000mg “energy blend”. At this point, red flags are starting to go off in my head. Then again, what do I know? (Answer: Quite a bit, actually.)

Potassium Sorbate, Whey Protein, Sodium Benzoate, Niacinamide, Sucralose: To translate, here we have another preservative, a pretty useless amount of whey protein, another preservative, looks like some niacin of some sort, and another sugar. Sugar. Sugar….

L-Carnitine: Here’s another familiar name! It’s part of the “energy blend”, so no idea how much is in here. L-Carnitine is used by the body to metabolize food into energy. Energy is good.

Sodium Chloride: Oooh… Salty… It’s a flavor enhancer, most likely, and not enough to really replace much of what you’ve lost from sweating due to the high amounts of other stims in here that are about to make your heart explode.

Glucuronolactone: This one is in most all energy drinks, and has been widely used in sports supplementation to increase mental accuity as well as reduce fatigue. While there’s probably not a very high dose in here, it’ll work synergistically with the other stims to get your motor runnin’.

Guarana Seed Extract: Hey look, it’s yet another stimulant! Yup, this one is pretty much caffeine, too. More go for your go-go juice.

Inositol, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin: Fancy name, but they’re B-vitamins. These are typically found in, wait for it… “non-stimulant” stimulants, aka the tiny little energy shots that claim to have no caffeine in them. Inositol has many functions, and often helps to move lipids throughout the body and to increase muscle contraction. In essence, these are performance-enhancing carbohydrates.

Maltodextrin: SUGAR!!! It’s way down on the list, so it’s more of a filler than anything. Maltodextrin is derived from starches and often used as a thickening agent in things like canned peaches.

Yerba Mate: This is an herbal stim, usually found in South America, and is used to increase energy. Duh. On the good side, it’s reported to be a safer source of caffeine than that in coffee. It typically lasts longer than caffeine, too. On the downside, this is the next to last ingredient on the list, meaning that there’s not much at all in here.

Cyanocobalamin: B12. That’s it! Nothing fancy here but the name.


While there are certainly some good ingredients to this RTD stim drink, there are certainly some downsides as well. The sheer amount of caffeine in there is enough to jumpstart a dead moose, and could lead to some serious adverse reactions in you. If you are stim sensitive, chances are good that one of these is going to get you going enough to fly off the side of a building. That’s what you want, right? Not exactly.

In RTD stim drinks, the amount of cheap caffeine and sugars are the major flaw. When you guzzle these down, you’re adding in tons of extra calories and inefficient stimulants that will indeed lead to a crash later on. It could actually make you want to drink another one a few hours later, which really isn’t going to be a good idea!

There are many genuine alternatives out there to these stim-laden sugarbombs in a can. I’m not talking about the “sugar-free” versions, but turning to the actual supplement world. Products such as StimulantX or SlimFX from Athletic Xtreme are super-efficient at providing you with a wake-up call that lasts for a long time, doesn’t crash at the end, and won’t leave you high and dry wanting more.

In the end, your best bet is to just modify your schedule and learn to sleep better and more often. If you’re tired, there’s a reason for it! Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise… or something like that.

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About The Author

Tim has been with Athletic Xtreme for over 5 years, serving to dominate the online world with his unique combination of wit, wisdom, and die-hard enthusiasm to help others become who they want to be. He prides himself as being the “Average Joe” gymrat who works hard, plays harder, and lives by the motto that “strength comes from within”.

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