If you’re looking for something to help you power through a late-night study session or tough workout, you may be interested in energy drinks.
These drinks can be a little confusing for vegans, however, as many contain unfamiliar ingredients that may or may not be vegan-friendly.
So are energy drinks vegan? As a vegan registered dietitian, I’ll discuss what vegans need to know about energy drinks, what ingredients to watch out for, and how to safely consume energy drinks to fight fatigue.
Are energy drinks vegan?
It depends. Many energy drinks are vegan, but you’ll need to check the ingredients list for each beverage to be safe. Some ingredients fall in a gray area, which we’ll discuss later on. The best way to check whether an energy drink is vegan is to look for a “certified vegan” label or to contact the brand directly.
You can also look the item up in an app such as Fig, which will tell you whether an item is vegan, not vegan, or might be vegan.
Common energy drink ingredients
Ingredients used in energy drinks will vary depending on the brand and product, but we’ll go over the most common ones below and discuss whether they’re vegan-friendly or not.
These are some common vegan-friendly ingredients used in energy drinks:
- Water/carbonated water
- Green tea extract
- Artificial sweeteners
- Adaptogens (ashwagandha, cordyceps, etc.)
- Stevia/stevia extract
- Citric acid
- Artificial colors
- Electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium)
You may be surprised to learn that taurine is indeed vegan-friendly. While it was originally isolated from ox bile1, today it’s produced synthetically in a lab.
Look for these ingredients when scanning the nutrition facts label on an energy drink:
- Honey (not vegan)
- Natural flavors (possibly not vegan)
- Cane sugar/sugar (possibly not vegan)
Honey is an animal product and is not vegan-friendly. The term “natural flavors” is vague and can include animal-based flavorings.
Animal-based natural flavors are unlikely to be used in most energy drinks since these products typically have sweet or fruity flavors. Still, there’s always some level of uncertainty unless the product is specifically labeled vegan.
Sugar is another potentially gray area. In the United States, white sugar (cane sugar) is often filtered through animal bone char to remove impurities and give it an attractive white color. Unless it’s organic, white sugar should be assumed to be processed in this way.
A bit of a gray area for some energy drinks is the inclusion of artificial colors and artificial sweeteners. To gain FDA approval as a food additive, it’s required that these ingredients be tested on animals to prove that they’re safe for consumption.
Some vegans may wish to avoid artificial colors and sweeteners for this reason. However, it’s important to note that once an artificial ingredient has been FDA-approved, animal testing is no longer required. This means that consuming products with artificial colors or sweeteners does not support animal testing, and many vegans find these ingredients acceptable.
Animal testing is likely a concern for Red Bull energy drinks, however, which you can read more about in my blog post Is Red Bull Vegan? Animal Testing, Natural Colors, & More.
List of vegan-friendly energy drinks
- Celsius, Celsius Stevia, and Celsius On-The-Go
- Alani Nu
- OCA Plant-Based Energy Drink
- Ethan’s Clean Energy Drink Powder Mixes and Clean Energy Shots and Immune Boost Shots (Daily Detox shots are not vegan as they contain honey)
- Accelerator Active Energy
- Zevia Zero Sugar Energy Drink
- Ghost Energy Sugar-Free Energy Drink
Consuming energy drinks safely
If you choose to consume energy drinks, be aware of their caffeine content. The FDA2 recommends limiting your caffeine consumption to no more than 400 milligrams every day to prevent unpleasant side effects that can occur with high caffeine intakes, such as:
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Trouble focusing
- Worsened anxiety (if already prone to anxiety)
Pay attention to other sources of caffeine in your diet as well, as caffeine can add up quickly. Things like regular coffee, black or green tea, yerba mate, some sodas, and chocolate all contain caffeine.
Energy drinks can also be high in glucuronolactone, a natural compound claimed to improve athletic performance, mood, and energy levels. There isn’t much research supporting these claims, but that hasn’t stopped energy drink brands from including glucuronolactone in their products.
There hasn’t been a lot of research done on the health effects of glucuronolactone as an energy drink ingredient, but there are concerns based on animal studies3 that high amounts of glucuronolactone may alter levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, indicating a potential risk of neuron damage and unusual changes in behavior.
For most people, two energy drinks a day provides more glucuronolactone4 than the recommended limit. While the risks of drinking too much glucuronolactone aren’t clear, it’s likely best to limit your consumption to one energy drink or less per day when also considering their caffeine content.
Whether a particular energy drink is vegan or not ultimately depends on what ingredients are used in that product and whether it’s currently connected to animal testing. Many energy drinks on the market today are vegan-friendly, but you’ll need to check the ingredients list, the product packaging, or the brand’s website to be sure.
Some brands specifically state whether their energy drinks are vegan-friendly, which is helpful.
Energy drinks that contain honey aren’t vegan. Those that contain natural flavors or sugar may not be vegan either, but this depends on whether the natural flavors are obtained from animal sources and whether the sugar was purified using animal bone char.
Even for vegan energy drinks, it’s best to consume these in moderation. Limiting yourself to one energy drink a day or less can prevent excessive caffeine and glucuronolactone consumption.
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- American Chemical Society. Taurine. ACS website. Accessed 12/20/23.
- United States Food & Drug Administration. Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much? FDA website. Accessed 12/20/23.
- Boyina R, Dodoala S. Evaluation of the Neurobehavioural Toxic Effects of Taurine, Glucuronolactone, and Gluconolactone Used in Energy Drinks in Young Rats. Turk J Pharm Sci. 2020;17(6):659-666. doi:10.4274/tjps.galenos.2019.33602
- Rubio C, Cámara M, Giner RM, et al. Caffeine, D-glucuronolactone and Taurine Content in Energy Drinks: Exposure and Risk Assessment. Nutrients. 2022;14(23):5103. Published 2022 Dec 1. doi:10.3390/nu14235103