Energy drinks have entered the market 30 years ago and are still standing. The reason for their success is quite obvious: they work! You can gain a boost of energy when you feel you need it.
Going Into Ingredients
This main energy effect comes from the functional ingredients. The most popular has stayed the same since Red Bull was launched in 1987. This key ingredient is caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant used to reduce physical fatigue. Using caffeine has variable effects on learning and memory, but generally improves reaction time and concentration. On the negative side, amounts of this functional ingredient are not very strictly regulated and it has a bitter aftertaste.
Another group of functional ingredients used in standard energy drinks are the B vitamin group. Particularly niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, and B12 are the most commonly used in these beverage formulations. These vitamins are water soluble and thus easily dissolved in the human body to give proper results.
B-group vitamins contribute to normal energy-yielding metabolism and mental performance, as well as reduce tiredness and fatigue. In addition, B-group vitamins play a central role in the brain: they contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system. It is pretty easy to work with this active ingredient as it has no aftertaste, the dosages are very small (and thus no big influence on price), and vitamins have authorised health claims that can be used in a marketing campaign.
The last, but not least, ingredient according to popularity in the field of energy drinks is taurine. This is an amino sulfonic acid, also known as a conditional amino acid, which means that it is manufactured by the human body.
This functional ingredient seems to help congestive heart failure because it tends to lower blood pressure and calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is often too active in people with high blood pressure. Unfortunately, according to small science studies, taurine in combination with caffeine does not improve caffeine’s effectiveness, so it is possibly used for its placebo effect.
The Search For Healthier Options
Over the last decade customers have become more innovative and health-conscious, and because of this the demand for natural healthy energy drinks has risen. This very successful product group is in need of some upgrades, and new options have been presented to the market.
As caffeine is absolutely the most important energy source in energy drinks, new, healthier solutions have been proposed, such as natural caffeine extracted from green coffee beans or guarana.
Green coffee beans are loaded with polyphenols, caffeine, and chlorogenic acid. This source of caffeine brings not only the same alertness but is also used as a weight loss management ingredient due to the chlorogenic acid, which is believed to be responsible for weight loss effects. Guarana is also used for weight loss, to improve athletic performance, as a stimulant, and to reduce mental and physical fatigue.
Another type of herbal source for caffeine are tea extracts. Green tea, yerba mate, or matcha are great sources of caffeine and natural polyphenols. Another important aspect to mention is taste. Using tea extracts creates slightly different taste profiles, as they bring herbal notes or might even impact the appearance of the drink by causing turbidity.
What is more, caffeine from tea extracts is well-known for providing an energy boost that has been described as gentle, clean, and calm. Yerba mate and green tea extract with EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) are also known for helping with weight loss. Developing beverages with herbal extracts is trickier than using synthetic raw materials. Pasteurisation is always recommended in this case, which might create turbidity and an herbal taste.
Ginseng and ginkgo biloba have been used for ages in Chinese medicine with reference to cooling and calming properties, treatment of poor nutritional status, and alleviation of digestive distress. This is quite different from today’s recommendations to use them as an energy booster or in cardiovascular therapy. Currently there is little evidence to support their performance enhancing and energy boosting effects. Usually these ingredients are used in energy drinks just for marketing purposes, so even ineffective dosages could appear in the ingredients list of a drink.
A while after the herbal trend entered the energy drink market, the so-called super fruit trend began. Standard energy drink flavours, usually thought to be strawberry or berry, have changed. Brand owners want to stand out from the crowd. Juices have appeared as a part of the ingredients list and are presented as an additional value source.
Berries such as goji, pomegranate, or acai are thought to be a natural origin of energy. But how true is this thought? This is probably part of a placebo effect, marketing campaign, or final product price. Effective dosages have to be used in a formulation for them to have a benefit.
Another important ingredient to mention is sweetener. Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel. Usually, an energy drink is loaded with sugar, and this sweetness is also a way to cover the bitterness of the caffeine. Having a dose of carbohydrate before a long workout is a solution for more energy; however, using too much sugar has been linked to obesity and diabetes. Because of this, healthier sugar substitutes have been proposed as a solution.
Agave syrup and deionised grape juice concentrate are sweeteners with no aftertaste, are natural in origin, and have a low GI index, which might suit them for even people with diabetes. An additional option is to use steviol glycosides. Stevia as a regulated sweetener with a maximum dosage, but it does not have a very good aftertaste. Instead, a perfect solution is to mix stevia with grape sugar or agave syrup in order for a nice taste and a lower amount of calories.
Creating Healthy Drinks With Added Benefits
As our global society becomes more and more obsessed with health and sporty bodies, we see new sport beverages enter the market. This trend has grown quickly and created a huge demand for innovative functional products.
One of the latest trends in the sport beverage field is the inclusion of BCAA (branched chained amino acids), which are namely valine, leucine, and isoleucine. A popular idea is that BCAAs can move to the brain through the blood and are able to decrease the production of serotonin, thereby lowering mental fatigue, which can create a sense of tiredness.
Another important fact for athletes is that BCAA is one of the main ingredients in muscle protein, which helps decrease the loss of other amino acids from muscles during exercise and helps the body absorb protein. The biggest issue is dealing with the specific aftertaste BCAA brings to the product. Technically, it is important to find the right maximum dosage and to choose the right flavour; the best masking flavours for this have been found to be citrus and berry.
An even stronger aftertaste is caused by the complex of essential amino acids (EAA) that are also often included in sports beverages. There are nine essential amino acids: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. These materials are important because they cannot be synthesised by the human body and are supposed to be obtained through meals.
If they are present in the body in the necessary amounts, whole body mechanisms are activated to build tissue. An energy drink developer’s biggest task is to find the best ratio of all acids with the least aftertaste and the best solubility in water.
Concerning protein tissue formation, it is crucial to mention protein water and drinks. An additional amount of protein can be received from whey protein isolate, which definitely empowers an athlete for better results. The biggest challenge is to get as big an amount of protein as possible and still retain not only the pH level, which is vital for such beverages, but also the taste. The pH level is closely related to the stability of the final drink, so the same issues might be faced with an alkaline beverage.
Such sports beverages are loaded with electrolytes— salts that are reduced in the body during a tough workout session. The most popular electrolytes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium bicarbonate. These salts can protect an athlete from muscle cramping and help to rehydrate.
The biggest issue is finding the best ratio in order to avoid strong saltiness from sodium, or sedimentation from calcium. An interesting solution for having natural electrolytes is a special salt mixture extracted from salt lakes. This has a very specific and unique taste and could be a perfect marketing point.
A final sport beverage type is weight management. As mentioned before, herbal extracts such as green tea EGCG, yerba mate, or white tea extracts can be used not only for their caffeine, but also for their additional active ingredient, chlorogenic acid, which could bring better and faster results in combination with sports routines.
Another very popular ingredient for this function is L-carnitine. This helps the body produce energy and is important for heart and brain function and muscle movement, helps keep the body from storing fat, and increases aerobic capacity to help burn more calories. It is a good ingredient with a good solubility in water and no specific aftertaste.
Energy drinks and sport beverages are very closely related; sometimes we can find delicious and effective combinations of these two types of beverages. It is very nice to see how consumers are becoming more aware and demanding better quality and effectiveness.