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Can you hydrate with energy drinks?

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York recently asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate Prime, a beverage brand backed by popular YouTube influencers that has children lining up for hours to buy the drink.  

Store sign in window in All CAPS: Sold out of Prime Hydration Lemonade

Sign in the window of a store: Sold Out of Prime Hydration Lemonade. 

Prime products contain sucralose, an artificial sweetener and sugar substitute. The brand’s energy drink line also has the caffeine content—200 milligrams—of about six cans of Coke. That's 200 milligrams more caffeine than any child should ever consume.  

Energy drinks like Prime are a serious health concern for kids, said Schumer in a press conference.  

Sports medicine physician Elan Goldwaser, DO, agrees. “Energy drinks need to be used with caution and shouldn’t be a source of hydration or nutrition, especially not for children.” 

And hydration drinks, including those made by Prime, should be scrutinized as well.  

“It’s confusing because people see vitamins in an energy or hydration drink and think it must be good for you,” says Goldwaser. “But you cannot ignore all the added sugar and sugar equivalents, chemicals, and caffeine in these drinks, which can lead to neurodevelopmental issues, anxiety, headache, hypertension, mood alteration, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular issues, and more, including caffeine toxicity.”  

We asked Goldwaser to explain energy drinks and why being hydrated is important to our health.

What does it mean to be hydrated? 

When there is the right amount of water inside and outside of each cell in the body, a person is hydrated. On a more real-world level, to be adequately hydrated means the amount of water we take in should equal the amount of water we let out. 

Why is being dehydrated bad?

When dehydrated, the body cannot function at peak performance. We feel sluggish, slow, tired, and thirsty. An even bigger problem with dehydration is that our organs cannot function properly without enough water in them. Our kidneys begin to strain, our heart has to pump harder, even our brain can’t think at a fast speed or with enough alertness when we’re dehydrated. All this can lead to permanent damage to our bodies.

How do you know you’re hydrated?

When properly hydrated, you feel more energetic and have better physical performance. Your urine is light yellow, near-clear, or clear; your lips and skin are soft; you are not thirsty.

Cracked or pruned lips, dry eyes, cotton-mouth, and dry/scaly skin can be indicators of dehydration. 

How much should you drink?

A person’s hydration needs are unique to them. Activity levels, age, size, overall health, and the weather and climate are all factors.

Our bodies are made of 60% water, so it’s very important to replenish what we lose through sweat and going to the bathroom. 

There are different ways to calculate water needs. One way is to keep an eye on hydration status through the color of your urine: The darker and more yellow it is, the more water you need. Everyone’s goal should be to have near-clear color to their urine.

My advice is always to stay ahead of it, especially when it's hot. Take frequent water breaks in shaded areas, because heat illness is very dangerous but completely preventable with forethought.

What do you think about energy drinks and trendy hydration drinks?

No chemically engineered energy drink is proven to be “healthy” and there are differing levels of “unhealthiness” to each one. Some have more sugar or sugar equivalents, some have more caffeine, some advertise amino acids, vitamins, and so forth, each drink claiming to be better than others due to these little nuances. 

But despite the labels, the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements. And there is no actual scientific evidence to support most, if not all, energy drink health claims. As consumers, we have to be mindful of marketing tactics and understand the risks energy drinks pose to our bodies.

There is no proven health benefit to using an energy drink other than as a performance enhancer in athletics and that benefit is due exclusively to the caffeine content.

On the other hand, there are products without added chemicals, caffeine, sweeteners, like Liquid Death. These products are no different from Schweppes or Polar or other waters, but if catchy marketing means more people are drinking water because the name strikes a sense of bold defiance and edginess, that's a good thing. It’s water. Achieving better hydration is great for health. Read labels.

Are energy drinks good sources of vitamins and minerals?

No. Regardless of what the energy drink contains or claims to contain, energy drinks are never good sources of vitamins and minerals. That’s why they’re called supplements. Energy drinks can supplement a diet already rich in vitamins and minerals.

Should you drink products with electrolytes?

No. It can be okay to get electrolytes from drinks, but the amount of sugar and/or caffeine is a problem. Sugar molecules pull water out of the body and into the bloodstream and caffeine causes increased urination; together they double up and lead to quick dehydration. It’s better to get electrolytes and your nutrition in general from food, rather than supplements, including energy drinks.

Can you hydrate with non-alcoholic beer?

No. The FDA allows non-alcoholic beer to contain up to 0.5% alcohol, and most companies will do that to create the taste of alcohol. Despite the low alcohol content, alcohol by nature is a diuretic and activates the hormones responsible for urination. This will lead to dehydration. If you drink non-alcoholic beverages, you should drink a glass of water between each one to maintain an adequate level of hydration. 

What do you drink to hydrate?

Water, plain and simple, 2-3 liters a day.  I also like coconut water.


Elan Goldwaser, DO, is a sports medicine physician at ColumbiaDoctors and assistant professor of sports medicine in the Center for Family and Community Medicine and the Departments of Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. He specializes in pediatric sports medicine and orthopedics. 

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What supplements do you need? Probably none.