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HPRC Fitness Arena: Dietary Supplements
Most energy drinks are now labeled with Nutrition Facts instead of Supplement Facts, but that doesn’t automatically make them safe. The most popular energy drinks contain about 80–120 mg of caffeine per serving (8 oz.)—about the same amount of caffeine in an 8-ounce coffee. Caffeine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When used appropriately, caffeine can boost mental and physical performance. But each energy drink can or bottle often contains more than one serving, making it easier to consume larger amounts of caffeine, especially if you drink more than one per day. Too much caffeine (>400 mg) can cause nervousness, shakiness, rapid heart rate, and trouble sleeping.
In addition to caffeine, energy drinks commonly contain amino acids, vitamins, and plant-based ingredients such as guarana (which also contains caffeine) and ginseng. Although these ingredients are generally safe, there still isn’t enough reliable information about their long-term safety or how combinations of these ingredients might interact in the body.
If you drink energy drinks, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be aware of how much caffeine (from all sources) is in each can or bottle, and limit the number you drink each day.
- Avoid caffeinated foods, beverages, and medications while using energy drinks. You may be consuming more caffeine than you realize.
- Don’t mistake energy drinks for sports drinks. Unlike energy drinks, sports drinks are designed to fuel and hydrate you during long workouts.
- Don’t mix energy drinks with alcohol. Energy drinks can mask the feeling of intoxication but still leave you impaired.
- Find other ways to energize yourself. It’s best to get the sleep your body needs, but you can try other ways to stay alert, such as exercising or listening to upbeat music.
SARMs, or “selective androgen receptor modulators,” are experimental drugs that are illegal for use in dietary supplement products, but they still can be found in stores and on the Internet. SARMs are most often found in products advertised to have effects similar to those of anabolic steroids.
Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about SARMs to learn more, including the ingredient names used for SARMs that may appear on dietary supplement labels. And remember: FDA does not approve dietary supplements prior to marketing. For more information on FDA’s role with regard to dietary supplements, visit FDA Basics.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a major chemical found in marijuana that may have beneficial effects on certain health conditions, but it’s still being tested as a new drug. However, FDA recently announced that products containing CBD cannot be sold as dietary supplements.
Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ for more information, which also includes a link to the OPSS FAQ on hemp. While you’re there, check out our other OPSS FAQs. Still can’t find the answer you’re looking for? Use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.
It’s cause for concern: Approximately 30% of teens consume energy drinks on a regular basis. Energy drinks provide no nutritional benefit and can actually pose health risks to adolescents, including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, anxiety, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, dehydration, and even death. Teens who consume energy drinks are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages, smoking cigarettes, and using drugs and alcohol.
Many of the negative effects associated with energy drinks are due to the large amounts of stimulants in these beverages. Their caffeine content can range from 50 to more than 500 mg per can or bottle. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens:
- consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine per day (equal to about 2 cans of caffeine-containing soda or one 8 oz. cup of coffee) and
- avoid energy drinks altogether.
However, the amount of caffeine teens consume from energy drinks is trending upwards, in part due to heavy marketing with celebrity athletes. Be sure to talk to your teens about the potential problems associated with energy drinks, and make sure they don’t confuse them with sports drinks.
Whole foods, not dietary supplements, should be your first choice for protein. Protein supports muscle growth and repair. People often turn to protein supplements (such as whey, casein, and soy) to optimize those effects, especially after a workout. Whole food protein sources such as lean meats, fish, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds are just as effective (in some cases more effective) than protein supplements. Whey protein products can be an acceptable, convenient, and efficient way to deliver protein when your needs are greater or when normal dietary sources are not available. If you are using protein supplements, be sure to choose a product that has been third-party evaluated for its quality. Read more here.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is again warning about the dangers of powdered pure caffeine. At least 2 deaths (both teenagers) were associated with it in 2014, yet it continues to be sold, primarily in bulk online. FDA recently sent warning letters to 5 distributors of pure powdered caffeine, warning about potential serious health effects. FDA notes that it’s difficult to determine the difference between a safe amount and a toxic amount but that one teaspoon is roughly equivalent to 28 cups of coffee. For more information, read FDA’s update and HPRC’s 2014 article.
Conventional foods and dietary supplements follow different rules when it comes to labeling, but the difference between the two isn’t always black and white. Such is the case with protein powders. If you look closely at various protein powders, you may notice that some are labeled with Nutrition Facts (required for foods), while others have Supplement Facts (required for supplements). So are protein powders conventional foods or dietary supplements? Read more in our OPSS FAQ on protein powder labels.
For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety FAQs.
Stimulants can be dangerous to your health, especially in large quantities, but they’re what give energy drinks their “punch.” You may already know caffeine is a major stimulant found in energy drinks. But do you know that energy drinks often contain other stimulants? These can include “hidden sources” of caffeine (such as guarana, green coffee bean, green tea, and yerba mate), yohimbe, and synephrine (bitter orange).
Many energy drinks, however, aren’t labeled with the amounts of caffeine or other stimulants in them. Some or all of these ingredients are often part of “proprietary blends,” so it’s impossible to determine from the label the exact amount of each ingredient you would be taking. Furthermore, energy drinks might be mislabeled or marketed as sports drinks, causing even more confusion.
Remember, stimulants come in many different forms, so Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) put together a list of stimulants found in dietary supplements to help you identify these potentially harmful ingredients. And to help you understand what’s in your energy drink, check out the OPSS infosheet on energy drink labels, which includes helpful notes about ingredients.
Sports drinks that contain electrolytes and carbohydrates can be essential to performance by replenishing what is lost during activity, mostly through sweat. For activities less than 60 minutes, water is the best drink to replace lost fluids. If your exercise session or mission exceeds 60 minutes, then sports drinks can be helpful. Follow HPRC’s guidelines for maintaining important nutrients such as fluid, carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium during activity to keep well hydrated and on top of your game. Read more here.
High-risk dietary supplements are those that may present serious health risks. Many have been found to contain undeclared drug ingredients, steroids, steroid-like ingredients, and/or stimulants, which can have negative and dangerous side effects. Products most commonly “tainted” in this way are those marketed for bodybuilding, performance enhancement, weight loss, sexual enhancement, and diabetes. Such products may also result in a positive drug test. For more information, read FDA’s Consumer Update “Tainted Products Marketed as Dietary Supplements.” For more information about urinalysis and drug testing, read HPRC’s “Dietary supplements and drug testing."
In addition, you can visit the OPSS High-Risk Supplement List for information about certain dietary supplements that may pose a health or sport anti-doping risk.
For more Frequently Asked Questions about dietary supplements, visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs.