Energy shots

Updated: 11 Jul 2010
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Introduction

Energy shots are a super-concentrated way to get a caffeine fix. We look at their ingredients, labels, and how much caffeine is too much.

Instant coffee delivers about 50mg of caffeine in a cup, a single shot of espresso about 100mg, and an “energy shot” up to 250mg in a tiny (60ml) liquid shot.

That’s a huge hit of caffeine – we think the amount of caffeine allowed in these energy shots should be restricted.

Caffeine content

NOS energy shot

NOS energy shot

The Food Standards Code allows energy drinks to contain a maximum caffeine concentration of 320mg per litre. So a 250ml can of a regular energy drink is allowed to contain up to 80mg of caffeine – about the same amount as you’d find in a strong cup of coffee.

But an energy shot is considered to be a “supplemented food” and the law doesn't state a maximum caffeine concentration for this. So energy shots can have much higher concentrations of caffeine than energy drinks. The NOS energy shot (see our product table) contained 250mg caffeine in a 60ml shot. That’s a concentration of 4000mg per litre!

Labelling information

There are labels to tell us what’s in these shots, though. The New Zealand Food (Supplemented Food) Standard 2010 – introduced in April this year – requires that all labels on supplemented foods be in English, provide information on allergens, and include a nutrition information panel (NIP) as well as warning labels for substances that are associated with risks (such as caffeine).

All the energy shots we looked at included warnings that they weren’t suitable for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or anyone sensitive to caffeine.

As well, all stated a recommended daily “dose” (serving) of one or two doses.

You should follow this recommendation. The average adult can safely consume about 400mg per day – some energy shots can contribute more than half this amount.

Voluntary code of practice

Through the New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association and the Australian Beverages Council, the energy-drink industry has developed a voluntary code of practice for shots. The code sets a maximum caffeine level for energy shots of 160mg per single shot. It also provides guidance on where retailers should display these products.

Products compared

 

Product Price ($) Serving/dose size (ml) Caffeine (mg) Sugar (tsp per serving/dose) How many per day? 
NOS  3.50  60  250 artificial sweetener  1
Demon Energy Shot  3.00  60  200 artificial sweetener  2
V Pocket Rocket  3.50  60  160  2.8  1
Red Bull Energy Shot  4.00  60  80  1.6  2

Guide to the table

Our survey was based on label information.

  • Price is what we paid for each product in Wellington convenience stores in May 2010.
  • How many per day? shows how many servings/doses you should consume as stated by the manufacturer.

The magic ingredients

V Pocket Rocket energy shot

V Pocket Rocket energy shot

Energy shots claim to contain a “power blend” or “energy blend” that consists of a large dose of caffeine along with guarana, taurine and B vitamins. But any temporary energy boost you experience after consuming an energy shot comes mostly from the caffeine, rather than from any of the “extras”.

A few of the drinks have relatively high levels of sugar (see our product table), which will also give an energy boost.

  • Caffeine is a stimulant you can become addicted to. If you regularly consume a lot of caffeine and then stop, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Guarana is a caffeine-containing extract from a South American plant.
  • Taurine is an amino acid used in a range of metabolic activities. But you don't need to buy it in a bottle or a can: meat and fish are good sources of taurine, so you can get what you need from your diet. There’s little evidence to suggest taurine is beneficial as a supplement.
  • B vitamins are used by the body to release energy from food, but a well-balanced diet usually provides an adequate intake. And it's not a case of more = better. Once you reach the optimal B-vitamin levels, you just get rid of the excess through your urine.
  • Sugar may be added to energy shots to make them taste better. Some of the products we found were sugar-free – but they were made more palatable with artificial sweeteners. Artificially sweetened products contain little or no energy, so they're more correctly called "stimulant shots" not "energy shots".

Are they safe?

Demon energy shot

Demon energy shot

There's no strong evidence that moderate caffeine consumption is associated with any lasting effects on health. Most adults can safely consume about 6 average-strength cups of coffee. Very high levels (1000mg a day or around 11 to 12 cups of strong coffee) can be harmful and may cause anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness.

Some people are sensitive to caffeine. They experience indigestion and difficulty in sleeping – even after relatively small amounts.

Children and pregnant or breastfeeding women should keep their caffeine intake low.

Check the caffeine content before you take an energy shot. The caffeine content of the shots we looked at varied from 80mg to 250mg per serving. Just one of the stronger shots plus an espresso coffee will have you consuming 400mg of caffeine.

Red Bull energy shot

Red Bull energy shot

Drug interactions

Some medication (such as ulcer and heartburn drugs) can affect your body’s ability to dispose of caffeine. Other medications that stimulate your nervous system (some appetite suppressants, asthma drugs and thyroid hormones) can add to the caffeine hit. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about any adverse effects from mixing your medication with caffeine.

Don’t mix energy shots with alcohol. Even on their own, energy shots can cause dehydration from the caffeine. The effects will be worse if you take them with alcohol.

Our view

  • Children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and anyone sensitive to caffeine should keep their caffeine intake low and avoid these energy shots.
  • The caffeine content of the energy shots we looked at varied from 80mg to 250mg. We’d like the Supplemented Food Standard to state a maximum caffeine concentration for energy shots.
  • Check how much caffeine you’re consuming in a single shot – and don’t exceed more than 400mg a day from all sources.

 

Report by Libby Manley.