Many people turn to energy drinks to increase energy levels, enhance mental alertness, and boost physical performance.
Energy drinks typically contain a large amount of caffeine, other stimulant ingredients, additives, and sugar.
What do energy drinks actually do to the body? Energy drink consumption affects the body both physically and mentally.
Healthier alternatives to boost energy include drinking water, eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
In today’s 24/7, always-on world, many Americans regularly feel tired or exhausted. That’s why many people turn to energy drinks to suppress that tired feeling and keep them going just a little bit longer. Yes, an energy drink can give a quick energy boost when you need it. But what do energy drinks do to the body? And how do energy drinks affect our bodies long-term?
Read on to learn better ways to get energy without a caffeine crash.
Why do people consume energy drinks?
For many people, it’s hard to strike that work/life balance when you’re juggling project deadlines, meetings, carpool duty, errands, housework, meal prep, workouts, volunteer work, and chauffeuring kids to soccer practice. In fact, it’s downright exhausting.
Other people, such as fitness fanatics and “weekend warriors,” want to boost their athletic performance or seek an edge in an endurance event, like a 5K run or triathlon. 
Plus, American teens and young adults often turn to them when they pull all-nighters and need to perform well on an exam or other schoolwork. Did you know that, next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by this age group? Men (ages 18-34 years) consume the most energy drinks, while almost one-third of teens (12-17 years) regularly consume energy drinks. 
No matter the reason, the goal is to bypass your fatigue and increase energy levels, enhance mental alertness, and boost physical performance.
While the beverage of choice for some people is coffee or a soft drink, others want a bigger caffeine boost. As a result, many people turn to energy drinks. Compared to coffee, energy drinks have significantly more caffeine—some containing 200 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of what you’d get in two cups of coffee.  For comparison, a 12-oz. can of cola contains even less caffeine—about 35 mg.
Energy drinks also pack in a lot of sugar and other stimulating ingredients, such as guarana, taurine, ginseng, B vitamins, yohimbe, glucuronolactone, and carnitine.  In fact, it might be hard to identify the true caffeine content in an energy drink because some ingredients are simply labeled as an “energy blend.” Plus, energy drinks might be categorized as a dietary supplement or a beverage, with zero requirement to indicate the amount of caffeine.
While they might seem like a short-term solution, what do energy drinks actually do to the body?
How do energy drinks impact one’s body
While energy drinks might initially give you that caffeine buzz you’re looking for, they quickly affect your body, including both your physical and mental health. In fact, the majority of research shows negative health effects ranging from increased stress and poor sleep quality to stomach irritation. Popular trends of mixing energy drinks with alcohol has also increased the risk of alcohol abuse, especially with younger people. [4,15]
One of the negative health consequences of drinking energy drinks is they can lead to dehydration  Among other health issues, dehydration can cause unclear thinking, mood change, overheating, dizziness, headaches, and exhaustion. [6,7]
Excessive caffeine consumption makes you shaky and nervous.  While energy drinks may boost reaction time and enhance alertness, they may also lower steadiness of the hands. 
If you drink any beverage (be it a sports drink, energy drink, coffee, or soda) packed with caffeine, taurine, and other energy-boosting additives, you can expect lower sleep quality. 
Just like drinking sweetened iced teas, coffees, sodas, juices, and sports drinks, energy drinks contain added sugar that provide a lot of unnecessary calories. In fact, sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugars in our diet. 
Alternative Ways to Get Clean Energy
Instead of drinking energy drinks for a boost, choose a healthy alternative for natural energy.
To stay hydrated, you need to drink adequate amounts of water every day. How much water you need varies depending on your gender, size, activity level, health, diet, metabolism, and location, but the standard number to aim for is 64-ounces a day.  Staying hydrated can help you avoid that caffeine crash or headache that sometimes accompany caffeine consumption.
If you’re tired of drinking plain, ol’ water, consider making fruit-infused water for a naturally sweet flavor booster. You can also drink herbal tea, which is made with water, to stay hydrated and increase your energy level.
Eating poorly can play a big role in your energy level. Follow a healthy eating plan to fuel your body throughout the day with nutrient-dense meals and snacks. To maintain a steady energy level, aim to eat every three to four hours and include a mix of proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats. 
Choose from multiple food groups (i.e., whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy) for balanced meals and snacks. For meals, add a small amount of healthy fat for lasting energy (such as avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil), and for snacks, include lean protein and fiber-rich carbs for sustained energy. 
To eat for energy, consume foods with a low glycemic index, such as whole grains, nuts, and high-fiber vegetables.  Focus on complex carbohydrates (found in whole grains, beans, and some starchy vegetables) rather than simple carbs (like white bread, pasta, and cookies).
Also, know that certain nutrients play important roles in your energy level. For instance, Vitamin B (especially Vitamin B12) breaks down the food you eat into cellular energy your body requires, magnesium helps convert carbohydrates and fats into cellular energy as well.. Because so many nutrients impact your energy level, it’s important to eat a wide variety of healthy foods.†‡
The restorative power of sleep can’t be underrated—especially if you want to wake up feel refreshed and energized throughout the day. The health benefits of sleep are far-reaching, specifically on our cognitive, cardiovascular, and immune systems.
The amount of sleep you need varies depending on your age and lifestyle. However, experts at the National Sleep Foundation recommend that most adults (18-64) need between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. 
It may sound counterintuitive but expending energy through exercise produces more energy! Among the many health benefits of exercise, regular physical activity can increase your endurance and enhance your muscle strength. Physical activity delivers nutrients and oxygen to your tissues and supports the proper functioning of your lungs and cardiovascular system. 
The good news: There’s no “one right way” to move your body. So, do what you enjoy, whether that’s practicing yoga, playing basketball, swimming, lifting weights, or riding your bike. And guess what? Many other forms of physical activity count as exercise too, such as walking the dog, stretching, doing housework, and gardening.
Many people—including teens and young adults—are turning to energy drinks to increase energy levels, enhance mental alertness, and boost physical performance. What do energy drinks actually do to the body? Unfortunately, energy drinks typically contain a high caffeine content, as well as other stimulant ingredients, additives, and sugar. Consuming energy drinks affects the body in a variety of ways, ranging from dehydration to restlessness to poor sleep quality. Healthier alternatives to boost your energy include drinking water, eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
‡Vitamin B12 helps convert food into cellular energy.†
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Emond JA, Gilbert-Diamond D, Tanski SE, Sargent JD. Energy drink consumption and the risk of alcohol use disorder among a national sample of adolescents and young adults. J Pediatr (2014) 165(6):1194–200. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.08.050
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.