AdvoCare is a supplement company that markets a variety of products devoted to weight loss, wellness, and exercise performance. The supplements are said to be based on “the latest scientific knowledge” and contain “ingredients that are present in effective amounts and work synergistically for superior results.” In this review, I want to look specifically at the AdvoCare Spark Energy Drink Mix, which is said to “enhance mental energy and focus,” and provide “long lasting energy,” among other things. I’ll dissect the product by its ingredients and show you the relevant research on those ingredients and any research I can find on the Spark Energy Drink itself. Hopefully, this will help you evaluate whether this supplement is right for you or not.
What Is AdvoCare?
Advocare, also called AdvoCare LLC and AdvoCare International, is the company that markets the Spark Energy Drink. AdvoCare was started in 1993, according to the Better Business Bureau. According to the AdvoCare website, the company is located at 2801 Summit Avenue, Plano, TX 75074-7453.
The website lists a contact number of (800) 542-4800 for distributers. The BBB lists (972) 665-5800 as a company contact number as well. As of 1/17/14, the BBB gives AdvoCare a rating of A+. See the BBB listing for additional information.
I contacted AdvoCare about the name of the company. They told me that AdvoCare is a reference to the values of the company’s founder, Charlie Ragus, who wanted to be an “advocate who cared.”
Spark Energy Drink Research
I searched the AdvoCare website to see if there had been any published studies on the Spark Energy Drink itself showing that it increases energy or mental focus levels in humans. The website makes no reference to any such studies.
I then searched the National Library of Medicine for “AdvoCare” and found a 2012 study titled Acute effects of a caffeine-taurine energy drink on repeated sprint performance of American college football players. In this investigation, AdvoCare Spark Energy Drink was given to 20 college football players who then participated in sprint tests (they performed 6 sprints with 10 seconds rest between sprints). One week, the men received the Spark drink and did the sprint test, and the next week they received a placebo and did the sprint test. At the end of the study, the Spark Energy Drink did not result in any significant changes in in these college football players.
Other than this study, I’m not aware of any other investigations involving the Spark Energy Drink. If anyone knows of research I missed, please let me know and I will update this section of my review.
Let’s now look at the ingredients in Spark Energy Drink. By doing this, we can shed light on the research and what the drink’s active ingredient/ingredients might be.
Spark Energy Drink Mix Ingredients
From a pdf file I found on the AdvoCare website, I discovered that the Spark Energy Drink contains the following ingredients per serving (a serving is one pouch =0.53 oz =15 g):
|Amount per serving||% DV|
|Vitamin A (beta carotene)||1000 IU||20%|
|Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)||180 mg||300%|
|Vitamin E (d alpha tocopheryl acetate)||30 IU||100%|
|Niacin (niacinamide)||60 mg||300%|
|Vitamin B6||15 mg||750%|
|Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)||45 mcg||750%|
|Pantothenic acid||50 mg||500%|
|Copper (copper glycinate)||200 mcg||10%|
|Chromium (chromium citrate)||24 mcg||20%|
|Citrus flavonids||50 mg||N/A|
|L Carnitine||10 mg||N/A|
DV =Daily Value.
N/A= No % DV established.
% DV is based on eating 2000 calories per day.
Other ingredients also listed include maltodextrin, citric acid, beet root extract (for color), natural flavor, sucralose and silicon dioxide.
This is a lot of ingredients; however, I don’t believe that the vitamins and minerals provide any energy, help in focusing, or weight loss in basically healthy people. I believe the AdvoCare company, for the most part, agrees with me because on both the website and the pdf document for the product, they indicate that the “key ingredients” in the Spark Energy Drink are:
- B-vitamin complex (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and pantothenic acid),
- GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)
In other words, these 11 ingredients put the “spark” in Spark Energy Drink. Since they are said to be the most important, I will only look at the relevant research on these ingredients.
The B Complex Vitamins
Spark Energy Drink Mix contains various amounts of the B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and pantothenic acid. The B vitamins help us turn food into energy. They also help us store energy (in the form of carbs and fat). Many energy drinks contain B vitamins (especially B6 and B12) but there just isn’t any good proof that they improve energy levels in healthy people—such as the way caffeine would.
Likewise, I’m not aware of any good proof that B vitamins help people lose weight. Vitamin B12, in particular, has a big reputation in some circles that it helps weight loss. I’ve looked into this but can’t find any good proof that it does. Do read my review on vitamin B12 and weight loss for more information on this topic.
Taurine is a type of amino acid that we make naturally. While it might play several roles in the body, taurine is also something found in many energy drinks because of research showing that it might help mental performance. For example, in a 2001 study of 36 people titled The effects of red bull energy drink on human performance and mood, researchers noted that Red Bull (the energy drink that appears to get most of the attention in energy drink studies) significantly improved memory, reaction time, and concentration in 36 people.
While studies like this are encouraging and appear to justify the use of taurine in supplements, it is interesting to note that most of the studies showing that “taurine works” actually combine it with caffeine. In addition, there is also research noting that it is the caffeine in the mixture that provides the benefits—not taurine.
For example, in this 2008 review of energy drink studies from 1997-2006 titled, The effects of energy drinks on cognitive performance, it was concluded that caffeine was likely the “secret sauce” in energy drinks, rather than taurine or other exotic ingredients.
This result was substantiated by a 2012 review of energy drinks titled Do energy drinks contain active components other than caffeine? These researchers conclude that caffeine—and caffeine alone—is the main active ingredient in energy drinks responsible for effects such as improved focus and physical performance.
In a 2004 study titled Cognitive and physiological effects of an “energy drink”: an evaluation of the whole drink and of glucose, caffeine and herbal flavouring fractions, researchers actually looked at some type of “soft drink” that contained herbal extracts. So while this investigation didn’t specifically look at taurine, they did conclude that caffeine, along with sugar, improved mental performance and memory.
Some people take energy drinks in the hope that it helps them have better workouts. However, according to this small 2012 study titled, Acute ingestion of sugar-free red bull energy drink has no effect on upper body strength and muscular endurance in resistance trained men, neither the energy drink nor caffeine improved strength in college men.
In a study that was basically a test tube investigation titled, Does a physiological concentration of taurine increase acute muscle power output, time to fatigue, and recovery in isolated mouse soleus (slow) muscle with or without the presence of caffeine?, investigators exposed isolated mouse muscle fibers to either taurine alone or caffeine plus taurine. Researchers noted that taruine—by itself—did not produce any increase in power, time to exhaustion, or muscle recovery. On the other hand, the taurine plus caffeine mixture did. While this was not a human study, this investigation further points to caffeine as the main active ingredient in energy drinks.
Tyrosine is also a type of amino acid that most of us make in the body. Tyrosine also helps us make thyroid hormone (thyroxine), so it might also be found in supplements marketed for hypothyroidism.
With that in mind I searched the National Library of Medicine for:
- Tyrosine thyroid
- Tyrosine thyroxin
to see if any studies were conducted to determine if tyrosine increased thyroid hormone production. Unfortunately, I saw no human studies on this issue.
As far as exercise, a 2014 study titled, Failure of Oral Tyrosine Supplementation to Improve Exercise Performance in the Heat noted that tyrosine supplementation did not help exercise performance in 7 men who cycled in hot temperatures.
The amount of tyrosine used in this study was 150 mg per kilogram. In people terms, a 180-pound person (82 kg) would have used 150 x 82 = 12,300 mg of tyrosine. This is a lot more than the 500 mg in a serving of Spark Energy Drink.
Ironically, these same researchers noted in 2011 that tyrosine helped exercise performance in the heat, in their study titled, Oral tyrosine supplementation improves exercise capacity in the heat. The amount of tyrosine used in this study was the same as the 2014 investigation—150 mg per kg of body weight—far more than is in Spark Energy Drink.
I’ve seen choline in many memory supplements over the years. This is probably because choline helps make acetylcholine, a neutrotransmitter that helps the central and peripheral nervous systems function properly. I searched the National Library of Medicine for:
- Choline memory
- Choline supplementation memory
While I did see some rat studies of choline helping memory, I did not locate any studies involving choline supplements and memory in humans.
Pretty much every energy drink I have ever seen has contained caffeine. The reasons for this are obvious and so I won’t recount the research here, as I’m sure everybody is already aware of the stimulating effects of caffeine. If you search this site for “caffeine” you will see various studies to which I have already linked. The Advocare Spark Energy Drink Mix contains 120 mg of caffeine per 8-ounch pouch. This is similar to that of an 8-ounce cup of coffee.
GABA is short for Gamma-aminobutyric acid (also called γ-aminobutyric acid). GABA is classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it tends to calm things down. Because of this, it was even called “liquid zanax” on a segment of the Dr. Oz show. While that statement resonates with a lot of people looking for a natural way to relax, I think it’s more complicated than this, given that some evidence suggests that GABA supplements might not be able to enter the brain. In other words, GABA supplements might not work. As such, likening GABA to zanax is an over-simplification.
Truth be told, GABA does many things. The AdvoCare pdf document I found for the Spark supplement states that the “choline and GABA found in AdvoCare Spark Energy Drink Mix are essential for nerve function, muscle control, memory and many other functions.” While this is true, does that mean that taking GABA supplements improves these things in healthy adults?
I searched Google for “GABA supplementation research.” I saw no evidence that GABA helps weight loss. I saw some preliminary evidence that low levels of GABA may play a role in depression, but it’s unclear if GABA supplements help this condition. Also, since the Spark Energy Drink is not marketed for depression, that research isn’t relevant to this review.
Given the lack of proof for GABA supplements and considering what GABA is supposed to do -slow things down – I find it odd that this stuff is in an energy drink because it’s generally at odds with the very idea of having more energy. GABA calms things down, while caffeine speeds things up.
Since caffeine inhibits GABA release, maybe that’s why its included in the supplement?
AdvoCare Advisory Board
On the science page of the AdvoCare website, there is a list of MDs and PhDs who serve on the advisory board of AdvoCare. While it’s nice that they have an advisory board, what this page does not list is any research on AdvoCare products published by any of these individuals.
Spark Energy Drink vs. 5-Hour Energy
It appears that AdvoCare has less caffeine per serving than 5-Hour Energy. A serving of AdvoCare Spark Energy Drink has 120 mg, while, as I mentioned in my review of 5-hour energy, that product has 215 mg per serving. That doesnt mean its any better or worse but I wanted to mention this for those who were curious. There are other differences also, so see my review of 5-Hour Energy for more information.
Spark Energy Drink and Kids
In a New York Times article on Advocare from 2005 titled, A Sports Drink for Children Is Jangling Some Nerves, there were references to Advocare marketing the Spark drink to kids and young athletes. I see no reference to kid marketing on the AdvoCare website as it appears today. There are, however, testimonials from athletes—like Drew Brees and AdvoCare independent distributors—several of whom appear in physically active situations. The subtle message to consumers is that AdvoCare is good for a physically active lifestyle. While it’s tempting for kids to look for a competitive advantage during sports, I can tell you that there is no scientific proof that the Spark Energy Drink improves exercise ability—in kids or adults.
Since I am not aware of any AdvoCare research that specifically used kids, I don’t think it’s appropriate that kids use the product. I feel this way for all energy drinks. Parents need to remember kids are not miniature versions of adults.
Spark Drink and ADHD
After I posted my review, I was alerted that I missed a study that compared Spark Energy Drink to Ritalin (methylphenidate). Online, this investigation is sometimes called the Texas Tech Spark Energy Study. The actual title is A comparison of the Neuropsychological Effects of Methylphenidate (Ritalin) And Nutritional Beverage Versus Placebo on Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
This study took place at the Center for Family Medicine in Amario Texas and looked at how Spark Energy Drink compared to either Ritalin (methylphenidate) or placebo in 72 kids, age 6-17. The study lasted 4 months and took place in 1998.
Kids were broken up into 3 groups
- Placebo group which received caffeine
- Ritalin group
- Spark Energy Drink group
All treatments were given to the kids 2 hours prior to ADHD testing.
The researchers noted that kids getting Spark Energy Drink scored as well as kids getting Ritalin in 3 out of the 4 ADHD tests that were administered.
It’s important to note that this study did not say the Spark drink was better than Ritalin, but rather that kids scored as well as those getting Ritalin in 3 out of the 4 tests they used.
Looking at this from another angle, the results also mean Ritalin did as well as the Spark drink in 3 out of the 4 tests and that Ritalin was better than Spark in 1 out of the 4 tests also. Still, the results are interesting.
What’s good about this study is that it appears that the researchers controlled for caffeine which may have had an effect. In the summary I saw, the researchers did not say that the caffeine content of the placebo was the same as that in Spark drink, but I’ll assume it was.
The downside of this study was that it does not appear to be published nor peer reviewed. In the summary of the study I have, it only says “Presented at Experimental Biology April 1999.” Studies presented at medical conferences don’t have to be peer reviewed. I searched online and in the National Library of Medicine for the study but could not find it.
Why didn’t the researchers ever attempt to get this study published?
Another downside of the study is that the researchers were not able to determine which ingredient/ingredients in the Spark drink were responsible for its effects. For example, was it taruine? Was it GABA? We can’t tell from this study.
If anyone knows where this study is published please let me know. I’d enjoy reading the full paper and, if needed, updating this section of my review.
Spark Drink Side Effects
I’m not aware of any bad side effects from the Spark Energy Drink and when I goggled “AdvoCare spark energy drink side effects,” I didn’t see a lot of really negative side effects. That doesn’t necessarily mean there are none, and if you have had issues, I hope you will leave a comment so you can help others. Based on the ingredients in the product, here are a few things that I think people should be aware of:
In addition to causing diarrhea, it’s possible that in high doses, choline might cause people to notice a body order that smells like fish. Currently, the upper tolerable limit ―beyond which side effects might be noticed―for choline is set at 3.5 grams per day. A serving of Spark Energy Drink has 500 mg of choline (1/2 gram). Good food sources of choline include milk and eggs. Theoretically, it’s possible that a few servings of the Spark Drink per day plus normal food intake might put people over this limit. I thought I’d mention this in case anyone noticed this odd body odor.
There is conflicting evidence that choline might—or might not—be linked to colon cancer. This is an area where I feel more study is required. Those who take choline supplements should discuss this concern with an oncologist who likely has seen this research.
Some say that caffeine can dehydrate people, due to its diuretic effects; however, I feel this side effect isn’t based in our current understanding of caffeine. While we are all different, in those who are accustomed to caffeine, it doesn’t seem to be dehydrating. Energy drinks in general have been the focus of several news reports such as this New York Times article from 2011.
I uncovered a case report of a taurine energy drink causing anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. Interestingly, this case reported that the woman who experienced this allergic reaction only was sensitive to synthetic taurine and not natural taruine. I don’t believe supplements indicate whether whether taurine is natural or synthetic.
I would be remiss, if I did not mention Energy drinks have also been associated with death in apparently healthy people, as is highlighted in the link I’ve provided. In this instance, a 28-year-old man consumed three cans of an 8-oz energy drink (I don’t know which brand) 5 hours prior to a basketball game. This is not to say that the same would happen with the AdvoCare supplement, but it does highlight the idea that natural does not mean safe for everybody. For the record, I don’t advocate any energy drink before exercise.
Does Spark Energy Drink Work?
Based on what I could discover, I think the active ingredient in AdvoCare Spark Energy Drink mix is the same as it is for most energy drinks―caffeine. As such, I would not be surprised if people felt more energized after using it. The same can be said for any caffeine containing beverage also. For those who are interested and want to read the comments from others who have tried it, here is the AdvoCare Spark Energy Drink on Amazon.