Before you go straight for the coffee, consider a more potent beverage, the energy drink. They’re tasty, refreshing, full of caffeine, and will get you more wired than any double expresso shot drink you can think of.
First, we’ll review the 10 best energy drinks on the market. Then, we’ll dive deeper into how they work to help you feel energized and focused.
1. Performance Lab Energy
We know this is a little different – an energy ‘pill’, as opposed to a drink! But Performance Lab Energy is a better alternative than any drink. It’s a capsule-based dietary supplement that is designed to boost your energy levels at a cellular level.
The main ingredient in Performance Lab Energy is Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR), a non-stimulatory ingredient that has been shown to reduce fatigue, reduce muscle damage, and improve anaerobic running capacity. Making it a fantastic ingredient for a pre-workout or energy supplement. Very similar to caffeine without the stimulation of the nervous system.
Energy also contains Coenzyme Q10 which is a compound similar to a vitamin which is used by the body to transfer energy. Supplementing with CoQ10 can help to increase ATP production which leads to more energy.
There is also PQQ which is an antioxidant that can help improve cell health. A healthy cell can help to transfer energy more efficiently. Overall, Energy does exactly what it says it does. It boosts your energy.
It’s a super clean formula, being GMO, soy, gluten and synthetic additive-free, as well as being suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
2. VPX Bang Energy Drink
VPX Bang is a potent energy drink blend that utilizes the power of creatine.
Sugar free and calorie free, Bang isn’t your typical high sugar energy drink. Sweetened with sucraloseand loaded with caffeine, BCAAs, CoQ10, and other brain boosting ingredients, it gives you a surge of energy and spikes your focus better than most of its competitors.
Best tasting sugar-free energy drink on the market, hands down.
It also contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin and magnesium for a healthy energizing vitamin supply.
Containing 300mg of caffeine per can makes it one of the highest caffeine content per can drinks on the market, great for those who like strong caffeine doses without all the sugar and sweeteners.
Comes in tasty flavors like Sour Heads, Champagne, Blue Raz, Starfruit, Lemon Drop, and Power Punch for a nice variety.
3. X-Mode Energy Shots On Tap
Tired of all the wasted bottles from energy shots? X-Mode has a solution. You get two tiny reusable bottles, plus a large container that has an astounding 100 servings of energy drinks. Its formulation is pretty standard, with 150 mg of caffeine per ounce and the usual vitamins and amino acids, but users love the convenience (not to mention the added benefit of 98 fewer bottles for the same amount of energy drink).
4. 5-Hour Energy
Like Red Bull, this supplement spawned an entire category of energy products, the single-shot liquid energy supplement. With almost 200 milligrams of caffeine, 5-Hour Energy provides a hefty jolt of the stimulant to get you going.
As for the name, five hours is actually a pretty good bet for its duration—the rate at which your body removes caffeine from your bloodstream is about five hours per half-dose, meaning that half the caffeine you take in has been removed and excreted within five hours of taking a dose (1).
This varies a bit from person to person; women who are on birth control are known to have a much longer elimination timeframe. For them, this might turn into “12-hour energy,” so be careful!
5-Hour Energy also provides a massive dose of B-vitamins, some in amounts that might be risky if you already get a lot of B-vitamins in your diet. Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is provided at a dose of 30 milligrams.
The US Food and Nutrition board sets an upper limit of 35 milligrams per day; doses above this can result in flushing, tingling, or itching (2). Because of this, it is not recommended that you take more than one five-hour energy during the day, nor should you combine it with other energy drinks or supplements that provide B-vitamins.
5. Nos High Performance Energy Drink
Coming in at #4, Nos energy drinks are named after the super fuel that powers some of the fastest cars on the world.
It’s a high performance energy drink, so you don’t want to take this anytime you feel like going to sleep in the next few hours. Nos will keep you up and awake, helping you stay aware and focused on whatever task is at hand.
It’s known as one of the best tasting energy drinks on the market, with a unique flavor unlike any of its competitors.
Contains 260 mg of caffeine per can, higher than the caffeine content in a Red Bull, Rockstar, or Monster.
Also offered in a variety of a few flavors including citrus, grape, and loaded cherry.
6. Red Bull
Red Bull is practically the grand-daddy of all energy drinks. The wildly popular formulation is available all across the world. Its energy recipe is based around a combination of sugar, caffeine, taurine, and B-vitamins.
Each 8.4 fluid ounce can provides 80 milligrams of caffeine—just slightly less than what’s in an average cup of coffee.
Taurine, an amino acid that’s plentiful in your nervous system, is supposed to help your nerves grow and stay healthy.
The B vitamins included in Red Bull encompass B3, B5, B6, and B12. These are provided with the hopes of enhancing energy production and efficiency at the cellular level in your body, and are responsible for the mild tingling feeling that you might get when you drink several B vitamin-containing energy drinks.
Red Bull also comes in a sugar-free version, which substitutes aspartame in place of sugar. Real sugar can be burned by your body for energy, but if you’re not doing a physically engaging activity, like working out or hiking, the sugar is going to do you more harm than good.
In this case, the sugar-free version of Red Bull is the better choice—assuming you’re okay with artificial sweeteners.
Powder-form single-use energy drink mixes became popular a few years ago, and Zipfizz is one of the best-selling energy supplements in that category. It comes in single-use tubes which contain a powder. Dump it into your water bottle and you have a ready-made energy drink.
Zipfizz contains 100 mg of caffeine in the form of green tea extract and provides a well-rounded blend of vitamins and minerals—it’s almost like drinking a daily multivitamin. What really jumps out is the vitamin B12 content— 42,000% of your recommended daily intake!
According to data from the National Institutes of Health, absorption of vitamin B12 is drastically reduced at high doses, so much of this may be wasted (3). However, there is no listed tolerable upper limit for vitamin B12, so it’s still safe, even in a tremendously high dose.
The reason for this is that there are no known adverse effects in humans from taking very high doses of vitamin B12. However, it’s still an open question as to whether a high dose of vitamin B12 is actually going to help you feel more energized. As most energy drinks list on their label, “results may vary.”
8. Rockstar Sugar Free
The tall can and flashy styling of Rockstar Sugar Free communicates its nature: it’s more of a drink than a supplement.
It’s nearly non-caloric, providing only 20 calories per 16 ounce can. It provides a higher-than average 160 milligrams of caffeine per can, and a normal amount of B vitamins: 200% of your recommended daily intake of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and 400% of your recommended daily intake for riboflavin.
On top of this, it includes herbal extracts from a few plants that are supposed to give you an energy boost. These include guarana seed, panax, ginseng root, and milk thistle extracts—fairly common ingredients among liquid energy drinks.
If coffee makes your stomach quiver, or if you like sugar-sweetened energy drinks but want to watch your weight, Rockstar Sugar Free is a good choice.
It’s not the most efficient delivery vehicle if your only goal is to load up on caffeine, vitamins, and herbal energy extracts, but the larger can provides a more steady energy output than downing a single shot energy supplement that’s loaded up with twice as much caffeine and ten times as much B vitamins and herbal extracts.
9. Redline VPX
Redline VPX is another lesser-known energy shot; its main selling point is that in includes small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium—electrolytes which you may lose when you sweat a lot—in addition to caffeine and the usual blend of amino acids.
Additionally, it contains several herbal extracts which are purported to have energy-boosting qualities.
These herbal supplements include yohimbe, toothed clubmoss, yerba mate extract, green tea extract, and 5-HTP. Some of these, like yerba mate (used in an herbal drink throughout South America) have a long tradition of being used as energizing herbal remedies, while others, like toothed clubmoss, are lesser known.
Outside of its herbal ingredients, Redline VPX is similar to many other energy shots. It is flavored with artificial and natural flavors, along with sucralose, an artificial sweetener.
Although it does contain 320 mg of caffeine per bottle, there are more straightforward ways to get caffeine. If you use Redline VPX, it should be for the herbal supplements it contains. Right now, there is little or no research on the effects of almost all of its ingredients, so your results might vary. Green tea extract is one ingredient with good evidence for its efficacy (4), but the rest are shrouded in mystery.
10. Monster Energy
Through aggressive sponsorship and marketing, Monster Energy has grown from a cult-following energy drink to one of the biggest juggernauts in the genre.
Unlike Red Bull, which comes in small, 8.4oz cans that are easily downed in a few gulps, Monster Energy comes in a larger 16 ounce can, clearly meant for longer sustained consumption. It’s also heavily sugared, and in composition is more similar to a can of soda than an energy drink.
A full can of Monster Energy contains 210 calories, all of which come from sugar. Unless you’re doing something highly active, like a team sports competition or a long hike, this amount of sugar is likely excessive.
It contains a moderate 160 milligrams of caffeine, along with 200% of your recommended daily intake of vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12. It contains a few one-off extracts, like ginseng, along with a few amino acids to give your body the building blocks for protein.
Because of these reasons, Monster Energy is probably the best choice only if you are specifically looking for a non-carbonated, caffeinated drink that also provides vitamins, amino acids, and a large amount of simple sugar that you’ll be burning for energy.
11. Amp Energy
Amp Energy is an increasingly popular competitor in the standard-sized energy drink category. It’s got many of the hallmarks of that genre: 16 ounce can and 150 milligrams of caffeine, but it’s flavored more like a traditional soft drink than many other energy drinks.
It has very little in the way of B-vitamins: only 20% of your daily recommended intake, which is ten times lower than that of many of its competitors.
It is also flavored with real sugar, meaning each can packs 220 calories, all of them from sugar. Good news if you’re doing a 50-mile bike ride, but bad news if you are sitting at your desk.
Amp Energy has a few of the usual additional ingredients that accompany large canned energy drinks, like guarana seed extract, ginseng extract, and taurine, but does not go out of its way to advertise them, nor does it list their concentrations.
For these reasons, it finds itself lower on the rankings than similar drinks.
Who should buy energy drinks?
Energy drinks are great for boosting performance. This can be either physical performance or mental performance, so whether you have a tough day at work, a long gym session, or a late night studying, the right energy drink can make a huge difference.
Energy drinks also help maintain performance in situations where the environment is less than ideal. A lack of sleep is the biggest one: the extra energy and concentration from an energy drink can prevent or blunt the sluggish reaction times, foggy memory, and decreased cognitive performance that comes along with sleep deprivation.
Whether you want to augment or sustain your performance, physically or mentally, there is an energy drink out there for you. We’ll go in-depth later in this review on what specific ingredients are useful for which types of performance.