Why Is Taurine Showing Up in Energy Drinks?

Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, M.S., RDN

July 6, 2023

You look at the ingredient label on your energy drink and see taurine. 

And not just a small amount, but 1,000 whole milligrams of it (although the actual dosage isn’t listed anywhere on the can).

So you begin to wonder why this amino acid—which technically isn’t “essential” to the human body—was added in the first place.

I wondered the same thing, so my nutrition-forward brain started to do some research. Here’s what I found…

What Is Taurine?

Let’s first define taurine…

Taurine is a naturally occurring amino acid that plays a role in your hydration, immunity, central nervous system, and as of June 2023, longevity (1, 2, 3, 4). It’s highly concentrated in the heart, brain, eyes, placenta, and skeletal muscles (1).

The average healthy body is able to make enough taurine on its own: it has about 1 gram of taurine per kilogram of body weight (5). So if you weigh 150 pounds (or 68 kg), you have approximately 68 grams of taurine in your body.

And if you regularly eat taurine-rich foods like shellfish (particularly scallops, mussels, and clams), the dark meat of chicken and turkey, and eggs, you likely consume an additional 40 to 400 milligrams of taurine per day (6). Add an energy drink to the mix and that number can skyrocket to well over 1,000 milligrams.

All that said, humans can technically live without taurine (since it’s not an essential amino acid). However, those with a taurine deficiency can experience fatigue, impaired cognitive function, and an increased risk of heart disease.

So Why Is Taurine in Energy Drinks?

Based on data from 2021, 45% of Americans get less than 7 hours per sleep each night (around 6.8 hours, to be exact) (7). This is likely one of the reasons why we spend more money on energy drinks than any other country (8).

In an effort to combat our declining sleep—and energy levels—many of us will pop open a can of Redbull and down anywhere from 80 to 200 milligrams of caffeine in a single sitting. (To compare, a cup of coffee has around 95 milligrams of caffeine.)

What we may not know is that we’re also consuming roughly 1,000 milligrams of taurine, too.

Energy Drink Nutrition Profile

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There’s a reason why energy drink brands far and wide have hopped on the bandwagon and added taurine to their energizing formula: taurine is believed to be a stimulant itself.

But, this theory does raise a few questionable red flags:

  1. Most of the studies touting about taurine’s supposed benefits in the stimulation department are based on rodent studies. When it comes to human-based studies, most studies done are those where taurine is evaluated when consumed with other ingredients (like caffeine). Not super reliable if you ask me. Furthermore, when it comes to the highest quality studies (e.g., systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials), evidence is mixed and more human studies are needed to determine definitive benefits, therapeutic dosage, and long-term safety and efficacy.
  2. Several supplement companies claim taurine is essential for humans, yet they base their statements on studies conducted on cats in the 1970s (9). Yikes.

However, there’s one small study that shows some promise: in 2003, eleven men aged 18-20 years old participated in two identical cycling exercises until exhaustion. The result: Supplementing with 6 grams of taurine per day showed a 30-second increase in cycling energy capacity after 7 days. Although positive, it’s important to note that this study was neither blinded nor placebo-controlled (10). 

Another study, however, revealed that 1 gram of taurine supplementation had no effect on fitness indices (like energy), concentration, or memory (11). So again, evidence is varied and further high quality human studies are needed to confirm a definitive beneficial effect and therapeutic dosage.

What we can gather is that adding taurine to your diet—whether it’s through a supplement or an energy drink—won’t guarantee a boost in energy or athletic performance. It can, however, do quite a few other things: maintain hydration, form bile salts (thus aiding in digestion), regulate minerals like calcium, support the functioning of your central nervous system and eyes, regulate your immune system, and most recently discovered—promote healthy aging (1, 2, 3, 4). It also has impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The Side Effects of Taurine in Energy Drinks

Taurine in supplement form: not bad.

Taurine in an energy drink: pretty bad.

The number of energy drink-related visits to the emergency room doubled over a recent five-year span (12).

Here are four side effects that have landed habitual energy drink consumers in the hospital:

1. Caffeine Intoxication

Consuming too much caffeine can result in a condition called acute caffeine intoxication (13). Symptoms of this condition include vomiting, seizures, and an increased heartbeat. Since energy drinks are packed with caffeine (typically 80-360 mg), your chances of these side effects may increase.

2. Insomnia

Energy drinks are packed with caffeine. Excessive caffeine intake is linked to difficulty sleeping for many people, especially those who have a specific gene (ADORA2A) that makes them ultra sensitive to caffeine (14). One obvious effect of having poor sleep is feeling tired the next day. But there are many less-obvious effects of not getting quality and adequate sleep too, including an increased risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes (15).

3. Increased Sugar Intake

Many energy drinks are jam-packed with sugar. For example, just one can of classic Red Bull contains a whopping 29 grams of added sugar, which is over half of the recommended daily intake for added sugar daily (16). Most ice creams provide only 15-25 grams of added sugar per serving. 

Consuming too much sugar increases your risk of experiencing dental cavities, obesity, and elevated blood sugar. 

4. Increased Anxiety

Increased nervousness and anxiety may be elevated after consuming energy drinks. If you’re already a generally anxious person, relying on energy drinks may not be the best fit for you (17).

Should You Get Your Taurine Intake From Energy Drinks?

With these side effects of energy drinks in mind, you may want to consider getting your taurine a different way. The healthiest and most natural method: simply eating a balanced diet that contains taurine-rich foods like meat, seafood, and eggs. Or if you are going to opt for a supplement, there are better options out there that are pure taurine. The plus side: you’ll be skipping out on the obscene amounts of caffeine, sugar, and artificial ingredients that energy drinks have. 

When it comes to increasing your energy, your best bet is to focus on prioritizing quality and adequate sleep, getting adequate nutrients through the diet, moving your body throughout the day, and getting sunlight exposure when possible to help you feel energized consistently. 

Lauren Manaker
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Lauren Manaker

Lauren Manaker is an award-winning Registered Dietitian who has been in practice for over 20 years. She earned her BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida and her MS in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University in Chicago.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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