The Long and Short Stuff on Energy Shots Versus Energy Drinks

With the plethora of traditional ways (and alternative ways) in which caffeine is consumed, it would seem that almost every type of food and drink product one can imagine (from beverages to ready-to-eat products to dietary supplements to medications and even mouth fresheners) can contain caffeine. As new caffeinated products emerge, caffeine has been promoted as an energy-boosting solution for many of us, from busy employees to the fitness-focused crowd. Today, we peer further into the caffeinated beverage category and move beyond the traditional steaming cup of hot coffee into the world of energy shots and energy drinks.

Energy Shots and Energy Drinks Are Not One in the Same

Yes, there are differences between energy shots and energy drinks.

Something you may not know is that energy shots are classified as dietary supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines dietary supplements as products taken by mouth that contain a “dietary ingredient.” Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs or botanicals, as well as other substances that can be used to supplement the diet.

People use dietary supplements for a wide assortment of reasons. Some seek to compensate for diets, medical conditions, or eating habits that limit the intake of essential vitamins and nutrients. Other people look to them to boost energy or to get a good night’s sleep.

In contrast, energy drinks are regulated as conventional foods. “Conventional foods” (including beverages) are those that are consumed for taste, aroma, and nutritional value. The FDA has further stated that beverages generally are intended, for example, to provide a source of fluids (e.g. water and soda), provide nutritional value (e.g. milk and orange juice), or provide taste and aroma (e.g. hot cocoa).

Doubling Down on Differences

The differences between energy shots and energy drinks don’t stop at their FDA regulation and classification; they also differ in packaging size and in the amounts of caffeine offered.

As can be inferred from their names, both energy shots and energy drinks contain caffeine to give you the energy boost you are looking for. Developed in Asia in the 1960s in response to increasing consumer demands for products that would result in increased energy, energy drinks became popular in the 1980s in Europe before making their way to the American market and other parts of the world in the late 1990s. Energy drinks have been associated with adrenaline-induced activities (such as sports and e-sports) and are more often targeted towards and more frequently consumed by younger adults (18–34 years old).

By size, an energy shot is typically way smaller than a cup of coffee. The average size of a shot is about 50 milliliters (mL) (or about 2 fluid ounces, one-quarter of the size of a cup of coffee you make at home). On the other hand, the average size of an energy drink can range from 8.4 fl oz to 24 fl oz.

The caffeine content in either product type can differ quite a bit. Standard energy shots have a caffeine content of 200 milligrams/2 fluid ounces (100mg/fl oz). On the other hand, the caffeine content of one can of an energy drink will depend on the size of the container. On average, a can of energy drink contains 72–77 mg/8 fl oz of caffeine (about 10 mg/fl oz or 1/10th of a standard energy shot!).

So, when you decide which product to select, be mindful of the product type and portion size that will provide you with the caffeine amount that is right for you.

For both types of products, the caffeine can come from various sources, including plant-based caffeine and synthetic caffeine. It is important to remember that whether the caffeine is synthetically produced or naturally occurring, it is chemically identical and your body processes it the same way. In other words, caffeine is caffeine regardless of its source.

Energy Drinks and Energy Shots Contain Similar Ingredients

In addition to caffeine, energy drinks and energy shots often contain similar ingredients, including vitamins (e.g. B-group vitamins like niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12), amino acids (e.g. taurine) and sweeteners (e.g. sugars or non-caloric sweeteners or sugar substitutes). To drive market appeal and product flavor, alternative caffeine or energy derivatives (e.g. guarana, ginseng, gingko biloba and yerba mate) and other similar ingredients—often advertised as an “energy blend”—may also be added.

What Does Safe Consumption of Energy Drinks or Energy Shots Look Like?

As with most products, it’s important to flip the bottle or can over and read either the Supplement Facts Panel (for energy shots) or the Nutrition Facts Panel (for energy drinks) and ingredients label. As indicated above, the most important difference between the two types of products is their caffeine concentration. Knowing how much caffeine is available in each serving and in the bottle or can is very important.

Scientifically validated studies and governing bodies (including the FDA, Health Canada, and The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)) have determined that a safe moderate daily consumption of caffeine by a healthy adult is 400 milligrams per day (about 3–5 cups of home-brewed coffee).

Additionally, EFSA has determined that single doses of caffeine of up to 200 mg from all sources are safe for the general healthy adult population, while 400 mg of caffeine total per day from any source is considered a safe moderate daily intake amount.

EFSA also has determined that up to 200 mg of caffeine per day from all sources consumed throughout the day does not raise concerns for pregnant mothers. Remember that if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, breastfeeding, have a specific health condition or are consuming a specific medication, it is important that you consult a healthcare provider to discuss what amount of caffeine is right for you.

While energy shots and energy drinks provide that much-needed boost of tasty energy, it is important to remember that these products, like all caffeinated beverages and caffeine-containing products, should be consumed in moderation. Moreover, an individual’s personal caffeine sensitivity, lifestyle choices, and body weight will affect the impact of caffeine on one’s body.