Not a great deal is known on taurine, although it is a substance which is becoming more researched and understood due to its high usage and popularity in energy drinks. It seems to be a good pre-exercise supplement, helping to combat fatigue and improve workout capacities.
Energy drinks containing caffeine and other ingredients, including taurine, have been increasingly adopted as a way of improving focus and often performance since the initial introduction of RedBull (Reissig, Strain & Griffiths, 2009). Given this rise in popularity, many studies have tested the ergogenic effects of this drink on alertness, mood and performance.
We already know that caffeine is shown to have an effect on performance and is one of the most commonly used performance enhancements on the market. However, when performance is compared after a RedBull vs caffeine on its own, there is a difference in results.
Indeed, Geiss et al (1994) found that RedBull was more effective than caffeine (160mg) and carbohydrates (54g) for improving time to exhaustion after 60 minutes of submaximal cycling in 10 endurance athletes. This discovery is interesting as RedBull contains both caffeine and carbohydrates, which may suggest that other ingredients within the drink will be the cause of the improvement.
Taurine is a sulphur containing amino acids which are abundant within skeletal muscle, and in high concentrations within excitable tissues such as neurons, however, it is not fully understood (Huxtable, 1992). It has been reported to have a variety of functions, such as osmoregulation (control of water and salt concentrations), modulation of neuronal impulsiveness, anti-oxidation and control of Ca2+ homeostasis, therefore protecting muscle function by controlling muscle fibre contractility (Huxtable, 1992).
Taurine also has other roles such as plasma membrane stabilisation, neurotransmission (neuron activator) and detoxification (Miyazaki et al., 2004). Taurine has other roles in the body and has been shown to increase the mechanical threshold for skeletal muscle fibre contraction (De Luca et al, 1996), meaning muscle fibres can take a greater stress put through them or work for longer under that stress.
This is related to the modification of the excitation-contraction coupling process, which in turn alters the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ handling, thus allowing the re-synthesis of energy in the muscles (Schaffer, Ballard & Azuma, 1994). All of this together means that it will stimulate the body to work harder.
In humans, many of the studies done looking at the administration of taurine have been through the commercially available drink RedBull, which contains other ingredients, consequently, it’s difficult to look singularly at taurine as a supplement (Ward, Bridge, McNaughton & Sparks, 2016). However, studies that are currently being undertaken based on the research in rat models (as their genetic responses are similar to our own) to determine the actual effectiveness in humans.
Based on preliminary findings in these, the results are looking promising with an additional, cumulative aid being shown from taurine and caffeine. This means that taurine and caffeine have different actual mechanisms to alter fatigue parameters, so they can be combined for a greater effect (along with other supplements) or can be used instead of caffeine in individuals who are either caffeine tolerant or low responders.
Anecdotally, I have seen many people benefit from the use of taurine as a supplement, and whether this is a true or placebo effect, results remain to be seen. However, as an inexpensive addition to no known side effects, it can potentially have a huge benefit to your performance both in the gym and in competition, both repeated sprint and endurance.