Taurine often features on the label of energy drinks, along with energy supplements and pre-workout products. But, what is the compound and why is taurine in energy drinks anyway?
The simplest answer is that taurine is meant to increase energy. It’s often included with other energy promoting ingredients, including caffeine and guarana. Indeed, many of the strongest energy drinks rely heavily on taurine.
That’s the theory, anyway. So, let’s take a look at what taurine actually is and the effects it has. As you can probably guess, there’s some debate about taurine – and the chemical mightn’t be as powerful as we expect.
The Role Of Taurine In Energy Drinks
What Is Taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid. It’s found throughout our bodies and we naturally produce it, meaning that we don’t need to get taurine from our food.
Taurine does play some important roles, such as regulating minerals and helping with digestion. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects too.
Despite this, taurine is a conditionally essential amino acid. This means that we don’t need it most of the time. When we do need it, our bodies produce it.
Taurine is present in some foods too, so you’re not likely to ever be deficient in it.
Where Does It Come From?
Urban myths say that taurine comes from bull urine or semen. That’s enough to put you off your energy drink for life, right?
It’s true that taurine was initially isolated from ox bile. This is where the name taurine comes from. But, we don’t still get taurine that way. Of course we don’t.
Instead, energy drink companies synthesize the taurine found in their drinks. This makes the amino acid fine for vegetarians and vegans (in fact, there are many vegan energy drinks).
This does raise a familiar debate though, are synthetic chemicals good for us? Many people feel that natural is always better. However, it’s not clear whether our bodies can tell the difference. At the end of the day, the structure of taurine will be the same whether our bodies make it or whether it is synthetically produced.
Why Is It In Energy Drinks?
There’s A Marketing Angle
Companies often try to make their energy drinks as powerful as possible. Simply increasing the caffeine content isn’t the answer, as the different companies would just end up in an arms race over caffeine.
Besides, too much caffeine is dangerous. Most of us are already getting plenty of it from coffee and even in some of our foods.
The trick is to turn to other ingredients, like guarana and taurine, ones that could have extra energy impacts. This creates more variation between the drinks and hopefully gives you an energy kick at the same time.
This approach has been so effective that consumers now associate taurine with energy – to the extent that we often assume that energy drinks with taurine are more effective than those without.
It May Provide Energy
Here’s where things get interesting.
If you search online, you’ll find plenty of people saying that taurine gives you an energy boost – plus some claiming the opposite. This is partly because our bodies are complicated. The same chemical can have different effects depending on the situation and what else we’re ingesting at the same time.
We’re still learning exactly what’s going on with taurine, caffeine, and energy.
One interesting study tapped into this, showing that on its own, taurine actually increases sleep, while caffeine decreases sleep. If taurine and caffeine are consumed at the same time, the effect is influenced by the ratio of the two.
In particular, if the ratio is stacked in favor of taurine, sleep gets promoted. If it stacked in favor of caffeine, sleep is inhibited. Energy drinks tend to have much more caffeine than taurine, which should mean they promote energy.
Simple enough, but that’s just one study and it focused on flies rather than humans. It isn’t specific to energy drinks either, so it doesn’t consider the amounts we’re actually consuming – nor all the other ingredients.
What happens when you add sugar and guarana into the mix too? Does taurine still inhibit sleep or does it start promoting it again? Most of the time, energy drinks do seem to promote energy. Still, it’s not clear whether the taurine helps this effect or is working against it.
Some studies in humans do suggest that the taurine may improve athletic performance and perhaps even mental performance. But, again, there are plenty of gaps in our knowledge.
The simple answer is that while taurine may increase energy levels, more research is needed before we know whether it does so in our energy drinks.
Potential Problems With Taurine
It Could Decrease Energy
Remember how we mentioned that taurine can actually promote sleep in some contexts? This could mean that sometimes the taurine in your energy drinks doesn’t actually help you to stay awake at all.
One idea is that taurine stimulates the brain but has a depressant effect on the nervous system. This could be why taurine acts as a stimulant in some situations and not in others.
Some theories even suggest that taurine calms your central nervous system in a similar way to GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). That’s concerning for an ingredient that’s meant to stimulate you.
This type of energy decreasing effect mightn’t be immediately noticeable underneath the caffeine and sugar in your energy drink. However, it could make your energy drink a little less effective (which isn’t what you want at all!).
There Are Serious Research Gaps
We’ve talked about some studies, so there’s clearly information out there about taurine. But, there are also huge gaps.
We still don’t really know how caffeine, taurine, guarana, sugar, and the other ingredients all interact in our bodies – especially as the various energy drinks all differ in their formulas. We don’t know much about the long-term effects of taurine consumption.
For that matter, few studies really look at energy drinks in the amounts we use them.
These patterns don’t mean you need to avoid energy drinks and taurine entirely. But, it’s still important to be careful, to pay attention to how your body responds and keep an eye out for any potential issues.
It’s Not All That Special
Sure, taurine might increase your energy. Let’s be honest though, most of the lift that you get from energy drinks comes from the caffeine.
What’s the taurine even doing? At best, it’s giving you a slight boost.
Is Taurine Worth Bothering With?
Taurine has potential. There’s no denying that.
The problem is that we really don’t know. There isn’t enough research to confidently say that taurine will always be safe and will effectively boost energy.
There’s still the chance that it actually drops your energy levels down some of the time. That begs the question, should you be using it?
That’s a decision you’ll need to make for yourself.
You might want to experiment with different energy drinks, including some that use taurine and others that don’t. Watch what impact the drinks have on your energy levels.
Which ones are most effective? What do they have in common? Is there taurine?
Taurine Free Energy Drinks
If you’re concerned about taurine, then why not look for energy drinks that don’t use the chemical? Companies that focus on natural products are a great place to begin. These often use organic sources of caffeine, plus extras like L-theanine, but avoid artificial additives.
Proper Wild is one example. Their drinks rely on natural juices and contain twice as much coffee as an espresso shot. The caffeine is derived from green tea, making it more natural than what’s found in many modern energy drinks.
Some brands, like SOUND and Guayaki, make yerba mate energy drinks that are naturally high in caffeine. These tend to avoid additives too, so it’s rare to find any that include taurine.
Matcha energy drinks are worth considering too, like the one from Toro Matcha. These are similar in that they stick to natural ingredients and avoid most additives.
Vital Proteins also offers a collagen energy shot. This takes a completely different approach, with a focus on collagen peptides, electrolytes, caffeine from coffee fruit extract, hyaluronic acid, and some fruit juice. The shot style makes this an easy drink to use.
Most of these energy drinks keep the sugar content to a minimum or skip sugar entirely and use natural sweeteners. Some may not have as strong of an energy kick as regular energy drinks, but they should be healthier and give you a more sustainable energy increase.
Besides, it’s not like all the additives in regular energy drinks help you at all. At least with these natural ones you know what you’re getting. Most even have a fairly short ingredients list that focuses on familiar entries.
Should You Use Energy Drinks?
We also need to ask whether energy drinks are actually a good idea. Many of us rely on them regularly, often for an energy kick when we’re struggling to stay awake or when we’re working with a tight deadline.
Energy drinks do work, there’s no denying that.
They also come with diminishing returns – the more we rely on them, the less effective they are. This is largely due to the caffeine, as we develop a tolerance for its effects.
Some people even find that energy drinks make them sleepy, which is awful news when you’re relying on your drink to kick you into high gear.
Energy drinks are also highly processed. They often use synthetic ingredients and other additives, including artificial colors and flavors. Many are packed with sugar too, while those that aren’t often rely on artificial sweeteners.
If you’re going for an energy boost, coffee may be a much better choice. It tends to win in the energy drink vs coffee debate, as it is more natural and actually offers health benefits. Even then, it’s important to not overdo it. Too much caffeine simply leads to high tolerance and doesn’t help your energy much at all.
Some people would suggest avoiding energy drinks entirely.
Ultimately, that’s up to you. If you only use them occasionally, then energy drinks can work well, often giving you a bigger kick than you get from coffee. The trick is to watch your intake and try not to overdo it.