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2021 saw increases in home gym and fitness equipment purchases as people made resolutions to get fit—but in the safety of their homes, thanks to COVID. 2022 is looking a bit different. People have the same, if not greater, resolve to exercise and be more active, but no longer just at home. Gyms have seen a resurgence of new members as people return to active lifestyles out in the world again.
Inside or outside, exercise, recreation, and socialization are priorities for many of us. People want the energy to stay active and motivated. While most energy bars focus on carbohydrates for energy sources, caffeine is the main energy-delivery ingredient in beverages. Both products, however, have evolved to meet changing trends, particularly the plant-based and clean eating trends.
Today’s energy bars use ingredients like whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for natural sources of energy. KIND Energy Bars, for example, offer sustained energy from 100% whole grains (oats, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and millet).
Popular energy drink brands Red Bull, Monster Energy, and Rockstar utilize caffeine in their formulations. But as consumers look for plant-based and “clean” energy ingredients, such beverages are evolving and calling out their natural sources of caffeine and other consumer-friendly ingredients.
Last year the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) published its position on caffeine intake and exercise performance (Guest et al. 2021). ISSN stated that caffeine has consistently been shown to improve exercise performance when consumed in doses of 3–6 mg/kg body mass, and caffeine appears to improve physical performance in both trained and untrained individuals. The organization also stated that energy drinks and pre-workout supplements containing caffeine have been shown to enhance both anaerobic and aerobic performance.
A systematic review by Jimenez et al. (2021) also confirmed caffeinated drinks’ influence on physical performance in sports categories such as endurance, power-based sports, team sports, and skill-based sports. A total of 37 studies published from 2000 to 2020 were included in the review. The analysis revealed that both sports drinks with caffeine and energy drinks were effective in increasing several aspects of sports performance when the amount of drink provided at least 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass. Researchers also found that due to their composition, caffeinated sports drinks seemed to be more beneficial to consume during long-duration exercise as exercisers turn to them for both rehydration and caffeine supplementation.
Messaging related to caffeine—a top ingredient in energy beverages for athletes as well as active consumers—often now focuses on its source. Newer energy drink introductions use phrases like clean energy, natural energy, healthy energy, or fueled by plants to refer to their plant-based or natural sources of caffeine.
While calling out plant-based sources of caffeine is trending in energy beverages, B vitamins are one of the mainstay ingredients in these drinks. In fact, it’s rare that one doesn’t find B vitamins in an energy beverage ingredient list. Although they don’t provide caffeine, they are familiar ingredients to consumers. Their use in energy drinks is related to the fact that B vitamins are essential for energy production in the body.
Recently, Jagim et al. (2022) examined the Nutrition Facts panels of the top 75 commercially available energy drinks and shots in the United States to characterize common ingredient profiles. Researchers said their findings suggested a high prevalence of caffeine and B vitamins in energy products, with many of the formulations containing well above the recommended daily value of B vitamins. The top ingredients (based on prevalence and average amount) were caffeine, followed by vitamin B6, vitamin B3, vitamin B12, vitamin B5, and taurine.
One of the main concerns with energy drinks is that some contain high levels of sugar. While sugar provides a source of energy, many consumers are trying to reduce the amount of sugar in their diet. To meet this demand, natural, non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, and sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol) are increasingly used in energy drinks. Other carbohydrates, like ribose and isomaltulose, for example, can also be used for sustainable sources of energy while helping to reduce sugar content.
1. Understand growing consumer interest in energy drinks with low or no sugar and label-friendly ingredients.
2. List plant-based sources of caffeine that can be used in energy beverages.
3. Recognize that B vitamins are widely known ingredients in energy drinks.