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Energy Supplements: Substances that Affect Energy Metabolism

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • B vitamins, like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, thiamine, niacin
  • Creatine, carnitine, and amino acids like tyrosine, phenylalanine, taurine

Many energy supplements are derived from the nutrients, proteins, fats, and amino acids that are already in our bodies or that we get from food. And they do work -- in a sense. “Research has clearly shown that these compounds support the energy metabolism process,” says Shao. They affect how the body processes the nutrients we eat and converts them into energy.

But while these compounds have a role in the body’s metabolism, will taking them as supplements actually boost an average person’s energy? That depends.

If you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, you likely get enough of these vitamins and amino acids from food, and probably don’t need supplements, says Coates. “If you’re not medically deficient in substances like CoQ10 or carnitine, there’s virtually no evidence that taking more will enhance your energy.”

But people who are deficient in CoQ10, carnitine, and B vitamins may benefit from the supplements, says David Leopold, MD, director of Integrative Medical Education at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. “And deficiency is much more common than we think,” he notes.

Who is likely to be deficient? Athletes who push themselves hard might be depleted in these nutrients, says Shao. Plus, people who have poor diets or take regular medications, such as acid blockers, anti-inflammatory painkillers, or antibiotics, says Leopold.

Paul R. Thomas, EdD, RD -- a scientific consultant at the Office of Dietary Supplements -- says that creatine does have the potential to increase energy output under particular circumstances. For instance, a sprinter running a 100-yard dash might benefit from it. 

But the effects are that specific. In fact, creatine might actually decrease athletic performance in longer-term physical activity, and it carries some risk. Leopold says that creatine can interfere with sweating, thus contributing to dehydration, muscle strain, and cramps.

Bottom line: Will these supplements boost energy? If you are deficient in these nutrients or are an elite athlete, you might benefit from some of these supplements.

Energy Supplements: Calories

Many of us have a skewed impression of what calories are -- we see them as villains who lurk in food and make our pants too tight. But calories are the measurement of the energy potential in any food we eat. 

So the third category of energy supplements consists of calories, usually carbohydrates (like sugars), which our bodies can easily break down and absorb as energy. They’re in energy drinks, energy bars, energy gels -- and even so-called enhanced waters. In addition, these are usually high-glycemic index carbohydrates, quickly entering into the bloodstream, spiking blood glucose and causing a reactive insulin surge. The result? Over the long-term, these responses may cause an increase in inflammation and pain, and other adverse effects.

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