Skip to Content

A Can of Bull

Do Energy Drinks Really Provide a Source of Energy?


Merle K. Heidemann (rr)
College of Natural Science, Emeritus
Michigan State University
Gerald Urquhart
Lyman Briggs School of Science
Michigan State University


This case study is designed to teach students at various levels about large biomolecules, nutrition, and product analysis. Students conduct a biochemical analysis of several popular energy drinks on the market, which many students purchase at fairly high prices, and determine whether these products nutritionally match their marketing claims. The case can be used as a review of basic biochemistry and nutrition for upper level students in physiology, biochemistry, or nutrition courses, or to introduce this information in introductory level courses in these disciplines.


  • Describe and categorize chemically the components of various popular “energy drinks.”
  • Determine the physiological role of these components in the human body.
  • Explain scientifically how the marketing claims for these drinks are supported (or not).
  • Determine under what conditions each of the “energy drinks” might be useful to the consumer.
  • Write an analysis of energy drinks for a popular magazine.


Energy drink; metabolism; food energy; glycolysis; stimulant; caffeine; substance use; nutrient; calorie; Krebs cycle; oxidative phosphorylation; adenosine triphosphate; ATP; Citrus Blast; Red Bull; Adrenaline Rush; Impulse; advertising; marketing claims

Topical Areas

Scientific argumentation, Science and the media

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Biochemistry  |   Nutrition  |   Physiology  |   Biology (General)  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.


Lili Fox Vélez, Ph.D.
Biomedical Writing Track / Professional Writing Program
Towson University
Towson, MD
I’ve used this case with my Rhetoric and Science students to illustrate the differences between the persuasive power of advertising and the kinds of arguments made with scientific data. These students had been drilled about appropriate uses of data, although not all of them had taken college level courses in chemistry.

This evening, I noticed the following article about lawsuits against the Coca-Cola Corporation over its marketing of VitaminWater as a “healthy alternative” to sodas; thought you might find it an interesting addition to the case:

Kathryn Cross
Broadmoor High School
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
I have used this lesson with biology 2 students as a way to make connections with the real world.

Jennifer Osmond
Northeast Kings Education Centre
Canning, Nova Scotia, Canada
This is an excellent case study! Have you (or any other teachers) created a marking guide/rubric for the final assessment? It would be great to have that included with the case as well. Thanks for sharing such a great educational resource!

Abbigail Damron
Science Department
Wills Point High School
Wills Point
I assigned this article to my Pre-AP Biology students as our first case study reading about halfway through our first unit (Biomolecules). It really allowed the students to research and learn first-hand about the sources of "energy" from these popular energy drinks and why our administration has banned them from on-campus vending machines. In addition, my students seemed to be empowered in the ability to dispel multiple myths about the use of energy drinks for health reasons and idea of sugar highs.