Adverts can make you believe that taking an energy or a sports drink is the answer to everything. Having a hard day? Have an energy drink! Can’t run quite as fast as the other kids in school? Get a sports drink! Working through the night and cannot seem to stay awake? An energy drink will keep you going!

Owing to all this advertising geared towards making these drinks look amazing, you might even start thinking that energy drinks and sports drinks are the same. After all, they promise to boost your mental and physical performance.

So, what is the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks? Energy drinks are for people looking for a big rush in energy and concentration. Sports drinks are made with athletes in mind and focus on replenishing fluid and electrolytes. Both drinks contain a lot of sugar but energy drinks also contain caffeine, which is not found in sports drinks. While sports drinks focus on better hydration, energy drinks can cause dehydration.

This article will get into the two drinks in detail, enabling you to see where they differ. It will also get into when the two drinks can be of help and when they can prove to be harmful.

What energy drinks are intended for

Generally, energy drinks increase energy levels, endurance, and concentration. Their main ingredient is caffeine, and they can even have extracts from the guarana plant, among other stimulating substances.

Simply put, energy drinks do what their name suggests. They contain ingredients that boost the consumer’s energy levels, both mentally and physically. You will come across quite many suggestions as to what these drinks can do, with some people stating that they can help with weight loss and management.

An example why someone would consume energy drinks would be a student who needs to finish studying for a big test but cannot seem to stay awake. An energy drink would help them sail through the extra hours.

Energy drinks you are likely to come across are Red Bull and Monster.

What sports drinks are intended for

Sports drinks were made with athletes in mind, based on the premise of replenishing fluid, energy, and electrolytes lost in exercise. People who use these drinks often engage in sports and other strenuous activities. These drinks often contain carbs, minerals, and a large amount of fluid. They come in different flavors, and people like using them owing to their palatability.

They have also been shown to be better with hydration than water, given that they do not interfere with the working of the hypothalamus. If you are after endurance in exercise, these drinks would be the better option. Examples of sports drinks include Powerade and Gatorade.

Sports drinks are best for athletes hoping to build their endurance and keep up with their performance levels. An example would be someone who is new in training and is yet to withstand the fluid and electrolyte levels. The sports drink would replenish their carb, fluid, and mineral levels, enabling them to keep going.

What makes energy drinks different?

Energy drinks are often frowned upon by medics across the globe, and they have been under a lot of fire in recent years. Energy drinks are basically beverages with high sugar and caffeine levels geared towards stimulating you both mentally and physically. Taking an energy drink can give you the push you need to work through the night or undertake an activity that is demanding on you.

Generally, an energy drink will not have alcohol but will contain caffeine as a stimulant. There is a trend in which people mix the drinks with alcohol, and this has been seen to have a negative impact on health. It is never advisable to mix depressants with stimulants as it only counteracts one’s actions, delaying the inevitable.

Such a drink will also have high amounts of sugar. You may look at this explanation and wonder if regular soda also falls into this category. Well, no. Regular soda does not have caffeine content that is high enough to make it an energy drink. Soda will give you about 40 mg of caffeine, yet a small can of energy drink will give you up to 80 mg.

If you go for the regular can, you can consume as much as 160 mg of caffeine in one sitting. Besides, it also lacks some other additions common in energy drinks such as taurine and B vitamins.

Energy drinks are a far cry from sports drinks. While they both work on the premise of enhancing performance, they are quite different in composition. They also differ when it comes to their branding and marketing.

If you have had a hard time telling the two apart, it could owe to the supermarket setting. You find that most retailers put energy drinks and sports drinks in the same isles, and even the same shelves in some cases.

This side-by-side placement can have you thinking that the two could be the same thing. The same also holds in online shopping where some sites categorize the two under one umbrella.

What makes sports drinks different?

The premise behind sports drinks is hydration. Thus, you can consume them before, during, and after exercise to hydrate and keep dehydration at bay, enabling you to recover from the workout.

They are best for athletes who often put their bodies under a lot of strain. Compared to water, sports drinks have been shown to be better at hydration. However, they are only necessary for athletes and people who undertake strenuous physical activity. Else, water can work just fine, given that most studies on sports drinks focus on healthy, trained individuals.

So, what are sports drinks? Well, these are beverages that fall under the soft drink category. They comprise sugar, minerals, electrolytes, and flavorings. Their fantastic taste makes them the go-to for many active people who find hydrating with water pretty dull.

But their taste is not the only good thing. They also boast of the ability to hydrate individuals before, during, and after training. In doing this, they improve the consumer’s performance, enabling them to do even better at a sport.

It is no wonder that many athletes have taken to using these drinks instead of water, energy drinks, and other alternatives in the market. Note that these are quite different from energy drinks. If you come across labels such as Red Bull and Monster, these are energy drinks and will dehydrate you. Sports drinks include Powerade and Gatorade.

Interestingly, the sales of sports drinks seem to be going down while those of energy drinks seem to be soaring. It is hard to tell if this trend owes to the confusion between the two or the fact that energy drink manufacturers have led aggressive campaigns in recent years.

Ingredients in energy drinks that make them different

When you understand what is in an energy drink, you will have an easier time seeing why it is different from a sports drink. No two energy drinks will contain the same ingredients. Each manufacturer will try to adjust their composition for their product to stand out in the market.

However, some key components seem to be common in all the available energy drinks. These include sugar, caffeine, taurine, artificial sweeteners, vitamins, and some herbal ingredients. In the more than two decades that these drinks have been in circulation, they have changed quite a bit.

Their compositions often differ when it comes to the caffeine content, a building block in energy drinks. One drink may have about 50 mg of caffeine, while another has 100 mg for the same amount. The sugar content also varies, with some having non-nutritive sweeteners while others work with table sugar as a source of carbs.


Most energy drinks rely on caffeine in their working and will contain loads of it, even in the tunes of hundreds for every can. This stimulant comes from coffee beans. However, it is possible to make it in a lab.

Its working is quite simple. This stimulant has a similar form to that of the adenosine molecule. It can thus keep the adenosine molecule from attaching to the adenosine receptors by taking its place.

When this happens, your ability to get tired and feel sleepy reduces, and stimulating hormones take over your system. Instead of feeling sedated and relaxed, you feel jumpy, and depending on how much caffeine you use, you can go hours before getting tired.

First-time energy drink users often feel very amped and can stay that way for about five hours before they get a caffeine crash. Usually, caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, after which it starts breaking down and leaving the body.


The more you use caffeine, the harder it becomes for you to feel alert and awake after having an energy drink. A habitual coffee drinker might not even feel an effect if they take similar milligrams to those in coffee.

Why? Well, the first time you block the adenosine chemicals, the brain will not react to the change. But if you regularly consume caffeine, the brain will have to adjust to the new normal by creating more receptors.

As such, if 50 mg could get you feeling awake, you now start needing 100 mg. And even then, caffeine tolerance keeps growing, and soon enough, you start needing 200 mg for the same effect. Thus, it is essential that you watch your caffeine intake, in energy drinks or otherwise, to avoid such an effect.

Plus, tolerance is not the only thing you have to worry about. Caffeine intake can also get in the way of your sleep and can lead to disrupted sleep patterns. It would only increase your need for energy drinks and other caffeine sources, thus fuelling the problem.


Have you ever heard of this ingredient? Well, it is an organic acid that is in plenty in your body. You can find it in your bloodstream, brain, muscles, and heart, among other areas. As such, it is not a foreign substance that would bring about unpleasant effects in your system.

It works in stabilizing cell membranes and carries out a range of anti-oxidant functions. Plus, it has been shown to help with anxiety when ingested orally. That can work in increasing alertness and boosting confidence. So far, studies have not shown any negative implications that relate to the use of taurine.

taurine molecule

Taurine molecule


The sugars present in energy drinks come in many forms. They can be monosaccharides, such as fructose and glucose. These work as primary energy sources and are fast absorbed in the bloodstream. Take glucose as an example. With the help of insulin, this sugar provides you with the energy required to take on various body functions.

The use of sugar in energy drinks has raised concerns over these drinks’ suitability in the long term. Habitual use of sugar has been linked to the development of many health complications. These include heart disease, type II diabetes, dental decay, and unhealthy weight gain.

Children and young adults are most at risk of developing dental decay and gastrointestinal issues due to their heavy use of energy drinks.


Manufacturers often use B vitamins in their energy drinks, citing the need to have components that aid in sugar metabolism. According to them, the vitamins can help in fast releasing the sugar and somewhat mitigating the sugar’s negative impact.

Given that there are non-nutritive sweeteners in energy drinks, one might wonder what these vitamins aid with now.

vitamin b

Herbal ingredients

Energy drinks also contain a wide range of herbs, among them ginseng, guarana, and ginko biloba. The thing with these ingredients, though, is that they are available in small amounts that would barely affect the consumer.

Thus, there is little justification for their use, other than the fact that they greatly aid in marketing energy drinks to health-conscious consumers. Additionally, some of these herbal ingredients also contain caffeine and have a stimulating effect on the consumer. Given that manufacturers only cite the caffeine levels from coffee beans, their caffeine content could be misleading.

On the plus side, the amounts used are so small that they would barely hurt the consumer if they were to have potential risk factors.

ginseng roots

Ginseng roots

Ingredients in sports drinks that make them different

Like we did with energy drinks, we will also get into what sports drinks comprise, and why they can work for athletes. The general idea with these beverages is that they improve performance. What is in them that makes them have such an effect?


Your body is 60% water on average. Water aids in the transportation of nutrients and oxygen, the removal of waste, a reagent and solvent in chemical reactions, and lubrication of joints, among other processes.

When you take part in an exercise, your body generates heat, which it requires to dissipate, lest it interferes with the normal body working. The body mainly loses this heat through sweating. As you sweat, the water evaporates from your body, creating a cooling effect.

Unfortunately, this dips into the fluid reserves, thus dehydrating you. Did you know that you can lose up to 2 liters of fluid per hour through sweat? It all comes down to the exercise’s intensity, how long you do it, the environmental conditions, your clothing, and other factors.

You need to keep replacing this lost fluid. Else, you can end up dehydrated, hence the need for sports drinks, water, and other such beverages.


Sports drinks contain energy in the form of sugars, which easily get absorbed in the system. This fast absorption is essential as it reduces the time spent in recovery.

When taking part in moderate exercise, you can work with fatty acids as energy sources. The body would have enough time to break these down and give you enough energy to last hours. But as you increase your endurance, your energy demands go up, and the body starts needing more carbs, as these are easier to break down.

The fact that glucose metabolism can take part in any part of the body makes it the go-to for most sports drinks manufacturers. The use of fructose is also common. However, manufacturers avoid using fructose as an only source, given that it often causes stomach upsets.


You may not know this, but electrolytes play integral roles in the functioning of your body. These aid in the transmission of signals, enabling you to move and execute other kinds of stimuli. The stimuli must be strong for muscle contractions to take place, amongst other activities.

The problem with sweating is that you lose electrolytes too with the fluid depletion. And this affects the contraction of muscles, thus hampering performance levels.

Sports drinks contain electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, which help prevent muscle fatigue, thus ensuring that contractions take place as needed.

Are sports drinks healthier than energy drinks?

The use of energy drinks among teens has caused great concern among authorities, parents, and other groups. Their brains are still in the developmental stage and are thus quite susceptible to changes.

Studies have shown that young minds tend to be more receptive to changes and that it is relatively easy to activate the brain’s reward centers. Thus, it is quite possible that a young person binging on energy drinks could develop a dependency on energy drinks.

Besides dependency, there are also risks of gaining unhealthy weight, heart disease, and cancers.

Do sports drinks have adverse effects of which the masses should be aware? Yes!

Sports drinks are a soft drink variety, and they contain high amounts of sugars, which have been seen to cause a myriad of adverse effects in consumers.

Other than that, most of the studies conducted on sports drinks feature highly athletic individuals. As such, the studies only apply in cases where athletes are affected. When it comes to the general populace, most of which lead a sedentary lifestyle, it is hard to tell if the drinks would work.

For this reason, it is best to avoid such beverages unless otherwise advised by a medical professional.

ultimately it comes down to how often you drink these beverages. If you take one of these drinks from time to time, say once a week, it most likely won’t hurt you. If consumed in excess, both drinks can cause adverse effects.


Energy drinks and sports drinks may have energy boosts in common, but the drinks are quite different in their composition and effects.

Energy drinks are suitable for once-in-a-while energy boosts, while sports drinks regularly boost performance in athletes. They both contain high amounts of sugars, which make them unhealthy additions to one’s diet.

Also, energy drinks contain high caffeine content that makes them unsuitable in the long term. Now that you know the differences between the two drinks, which is the best option in your case?