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In this article we take a look at a popular energy drink and sometimes pre workout ingredient taurine.
Why is it added to some supplements and is it an effective nutrient for exercise performance?
Let’s find out…
What is Taurine?
Taurine is an organic acid otherwise known as 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid.
Similar in structure to an amino acid, it’s is found in various animal meats, as well as dairy brewer’s yeast and seaweed. The nutrient is technically a sulfonic acid that just so happens to carry an amino group.
Your body can make its own taurine.
As a conditionally essential acid, it is synthesized in the brain and liver by either cysteine or methionine when you don’t get enough from food. The only time that you can’t make it is when you are ill or chronically stressed – that’s where the ‘conditionally’ bit comes from.
The average person gets around 200 mg of taurine per day from a standard diet, but much lower in a vegan diet. In energy drinks however, levels can be as high as 2,000 mg per drink.
It is used commonly in these kind of beverages and occasionally in pre workout supplements too. This is because it is claimed to boost athletic performance and cardiac health.
Taurine doesn’t come from bull semen
Its name comes from the Latin word taurus which of course means bull. The first sources of this compound were isolated from the stomach and testes of the animal back in the 1800’s.
Although bull semen does contain an amount of taurine, it hasn’t found it’s way into your sports supplement.
It is now synthesized in a laboratory as a way of making it as clean and bioactive as possible, as well as vegetarian friendly.
It is now made by combining two organic compounds called aziridine and sulfurous acid.
Why is Taurine in Your Energy Drink?
Many people believe that taurine is a stimulant, much like caffeine. But it isn’t.
In fact it’s the opposite, as the ingredient is added to energy drinks as a nervous system depressant.
When you ingest the bullish compound it suppress the neurotransmitter receptors responsible for triggering excitary effects in your brain. In other words, it helps to calm you down.
In fact, taurine is very similar in effect to the well known central nervous system suppressant gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) – a neural messenger responsible for calming.
Taurine may show the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and directly affect your brain. This would help it to reduce anxiety and boost mental clarity, and has been shown to do so in some animal studies .
The smart caffeine effects of pre workout supplements
High-quality pre workout supplements contain two kinds of ingredients – those that ramp up exercise performance by enhancing energy production, and those that boost focus and calmness while reducing jitters and energy crashes.
If you’ve ever had too much caffeine you’ll understand how it can make you feel – anxious and unfocused.
The combination of stimulant with a calming agent is referred to as smart caffeine and often combines caffeine and L-theanine – two compounds that work brilliantly together.
It is likely that taurine is added to energy drinks in an attempt to reduce the symptoms of anxiety brought on by higher doses of caffeine.
There’s much less evidence that it works though.
Taurine Doesn’t Boost Cardiovascular Endurance
Although there is a small number of studies that show modest benefits of taurine supplementation on endurance and stamina they all involve only limited number of participants.
Some are also directly sponsored by energy drink manufacturers as well, making their results far less reliable.
There are also many studies that demonstrate minimal or no benefit whatsoever.
For example, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that although drinking an energy drink prior to a workout was becoming increasingly popular, it had no effect on time-to-exhaustion or perceived exertion at high intensity .
And another found that while manufacturers claim that taurine can boost the metabolic response to exercise, it had no effect on a timed run test at 80% of maximal intensity .
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), studies showing that taurine has a positive effect on exercise performance were all confounded by the use of caffeine as a pre workout ‘stack’ .
In other words, tauring wasn’t responsible for any benefits – the caffeine was.
Caffeine is the most effective pre workout ingredient for high-intensity exercise, so this doesn’t make these tests reliable when it comes to taurine effectiveness.
Taurine is such an understudied and unreliable ingredient for athletic performance that the ISSN suggest that additional research is needed before we know truly whether it actually has any value at all.
Key Point: The only studies showing that taurine boosts athletic performance are combined with caffeine. On its own it has little benefit.
Taurine Is Unlikely to Decrease Muscle Damage
Another common selling point made by manufacturers of taurine energy drinks and pre workouts is that they decrease the amount of micro-damage that occurs through vigorous exercise.
Again, the studies that suggest the compound can prevent exercise-induced muscle damage use extremely small sample sizes. In one case, as few as 11 participants .
Why is this an issue?
In statistics, larger sample sizes are more reliable because they provide a greater approximation of the general population. Small samples such as 11 are bad because they run the risk of being less general and more skewed to a particular type of person.
Other studies show that even supra-doses (3,000 mg) of the compound don’t significantly reduce muscle damage or inflammation caused by exercise . Nor did it improve physical performance or perceived difficulty of exercise either.
Another study showed that even in extreme strength training protocols, taurine did not significantly reduce muscle damage or cellular stress .
Key Point: Taurine doesn’t appear to boost recovery by reducing muscle damage.
When it comes to energy drinks and pre workout, taurine isn’t your best choice.
While manufacturers promises that the compound boosts exercise performance, the research doesn’t back up the claims.
If you are after a cognitive booster that helps you focus and maintain motivation there are much better alternatives available.
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- Kong, WX et al. Effects of taurine on rat behaviors in three anxiety models. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006; 83(2): 271-6
- Candown, DG et al. Effect of sugar-free Red Bull energy drink on high-intensity run time-to-exhaustion in young adults. J Strength Cond Res. 2009; 23(4): 1271-5
- Pettitt, RW et al. Do the noncaffeine ingredients of energy drinks affect metabolic responses to heavy exercise? J Strength Cond Res. 2013; 27(7): 1994-9
- Campbell, B et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks. JISSN. 2013; 10:1
- Zhang, M et al. Role of taurine supplementation to prevent exercise-induced oxidative stress in healthy young men. Amino Acids. 2004; 26(2): 203-7
- Martinez Galan, BS et al. Effects of taurine on markers of muscle damage, inflammatory response and physical performance in triathletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017
- da Silva, LA et al. Effects of taurine supplementation following eccentric exercise in young adults. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014; 39(1): 101-4