Energy Drinks vs. Good Old Fashioned Water

Whether you’re a keen athlete or simply feeling overworked with the demands of daily life, it’s becoming increasingly popular to reach for a quick energy fix rather than address fatigue inducing factors in our lifestyle such as lack of sleep, eating too little and dehydration.


Last year, the DailyMail reported that British people spent £1.5 billion on energy drinks. And with over half the British population confessing to feeling tired regularly, this figure is unsurprising. But apart from the cost, (typically £1.19 for a 250ml can of a popular brand like Red Bull), what are the negatives of relying on energy drinks? And can we enjoy longer term benefits from simply drinking more water?

The Ingredients

Whilst pure water is made up of just two natural compounds (hydrogen and oxygen), the list of ingredients that make up popular energy drinks often hits double figures, many of which are artificial. And it’s the combination of certain ingredients which can be a risk to your health, particularly Ephedrine and Caffeine which together have been linked to side effects including insomnia, anxiety and increased blood pressure.

But it’s not all bad news. A quick look at the common ingredients found in energy drinks (below) highlights multiple energy boosting ingredients – something that simply cannot be replicated through drinking pure water. So whilst drinking more water may be suffice after a quick jog, professional athletes may require additional compounds such as sodium and carbohydrates to boost their energy levels and performance: both of which can be found in energy drinks. In an article for Men’s Fitness, Dietician Andrea Chernus suggests choosing an energy drink with “13-19 grams of carbohydrate per 8 oz serving, and at least 80-110 mg sodium” for workouts of one hour at a medium intensity.

Ingredients of energy drink

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The Risks

Staying hydrated by drinking clean drinking water poses little risk. This said, it is important to remember that when we drink too much water, our sodium levels are depleted, which can lead to swelling and in extreme cases water intoxication.


In comparison, although the risks of energy drinks are largely unknown, the infographic below highlights some of the side effects they’ve been linked to.

Risks of energy drinks

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Last year, the NHS published an article warning people about the risk of energy drinks due to their high caffeine levels, which in extreme cases can cause a caffeine overdose. In particular, Guarana, one of the main ingredients commonly found in energy drinks, is a stimulant containing twice the concentration of caffeine found in coffee beans. The long term effects of Guarana are unknown but the stimulant has been linked to vomiting, dizziness and irregular heartbeats.


The Benefits

Whilst energy drinks are a modern luxury, water is vital for our survival. In fact, two thirds of our body weight is made up of water, so we need to ensure we remain hydrated in order for our bodies to function properly. Benefits of drinking water include: the prevention of muscle fatigue, reducing the risk of headaches, the transportation of nutrients around the body and the regulation of body temperature. Drinking plenty of water can also help to improve skin problems, energy levels and digestion as well as promote weight loss.


Whilst the benefits of water far outweigh those of energy drinks, the energy boost achieved from the latter is unrivalled. When we drink an energy drink, the chemical which makes us sleep (adenosine) is blocked. The high caffeine content produces a quick surge of energy as our adrenaline and dopamine levels increase. The result is more energy.

When it comes to boosting our energy levels, energy drinks certainly provide us with a quick fix and this can be particularly useful for professional athletes. However, it’s important to remember that most of us are not exercising to the high intensity that requires a helping hand from energy drinks and relying on them to keep us alert day to day can result in a dependency. If you’re experiencing fatigue on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP to determine if there is an underlying cause. For most of us however, improving our lifestyle by getting enough sleep, drinking more water and eating a nutritious diet is enough to keep our energy levels up.

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