Feeling sleep-deprived and grumpy? Energy drinks will deliver a quick increase in alertness and wakefulness while providing the extra fuel to get on with your day. There are different types of energy drinks, each with a different purpose. The main considerations are taste, ingredient, and the effects. We have highlighted the things to look for when buying a product, as well safety concerns.
We found three basic categories of products: ready-to-drink beverages, powders, and energy supplements for use during exercise. We included a sampling of all three. With each one, we identified its primary use and the ingredients they contain. Of course, the final decision comes down to taste. We have given our take on what we thought of each one’s flavour.
5 of the Best Energy Drinks in the UK
- 20% juice from concentrate
- Energy boost from caffeine, taurine, ginseng, and B vitamins
- High carbohydrate content
- Can-size options available
- Fruity taste
- Description mentions 50% juice concentrate
- Can mess with sleep patterns
- Can cause sweating
- Comes in 5 flavours
- 36 g of carbohydrate per 500 ml serving
- Low calorie
- High in sodium for aiding workouts
- Contains aspartame
- Can be way too sweet for some
- Can be gritty after mixing
- Contains caffeine, green tea extract, guarana, taurine, ginseng and B vitamins
- Blend of blueberry, pomegranate and acai flavours
- 14 g of carbohydrates per 100 ml serving
- Increases alertness
- Contains sugar
- High in calories
- Can be gritty after mixing
- Variety pack of 10 different products
- Instructions for optimal nutrition and hydration based on your activity
- Includes a water bottle
- Full nutrition for up to 4 hours of endurance events
- More than 50% of the items have caffeine; can be too much for some
- 21 flavours to choose from
- Includes amino acids and vitamin C
- Sugar free formulation
- Low calorie
- Can cause stomach upsets
- Reviews state, that the made in USA version is better
What are Energy Drinks?
The purpose of energy drinks is to increase your stamina and fight fatigue.
Some beverages do it directly with stimulants such as caffeine. These ingredients put your body into an active fight-or-flight mode. You will notice an increase in your heart and breathing rates. You will be more mentally alert and respond quicker.
Other products deliver quick energy usually in the form of simple sugars. Your body can absorb these quickly so that you can benefit from the added fuel.
What Do These Beverages Contain?
The contents vary with the energy drink and its overall purpose. The reason you want to know this is because it is an important consideration while choosing the right one for you. Each type of beverage contains a different profile of ingredients geared towards the intended outcome. You will find many similarities across the spectrum within each kind.
Caffeine is the primary ingredient in drinks that delivers quick energy. Caffeine works by blocking the action of a brain chemical that makes you feel sleepy. Instead of feeling tired, you will feel alert, explains the European Food Safety Authority. Your body will also respond by releasing more epinephrine. That is the hormone that comes into play in the fight-or-flight response.
The effects of caffeine are one reason that athletes may consume it to increase their endurance and performance, or even fat burn. It acts quickly, usually within 45 minutes. Its effects will gradually wear off in about 4 to 6 hours. Many energy drinks will contain the equivalent of a cup of coffee or more.
This video by IOC Diploma Sports Nutrition discusses the role of caffeine on athletic performance.
Taurine is another ingredient you will often see especially in products that contain caffeine. It is an amino acid, which are the building blocks of proteins. Some research has suggested that its use with caffeine will boost performance, but the evidence is mixed. However, one study by the Universidade do Extremo Sul Catarinense in Brazil identified another benefit.
The researchers found that taurine supplementation may reduce muscle damage and thus, soreness after exercise in experiments done with young men. Our take on it, is that, sensitivity to these ingredients varies with the individual.
Many energy drinks rely on the health benefits of B complex vitamins. These nutrients support a host of body functions including cell growth and metabolism. They may provide a temporary boost in alertness when taken in conjunction with the other ingredients. These vitamins are water-soluble which means your body doesn’t store them.
Your body will expel anything higher than the reference intake. If you see RDA percentages of more than 100%, it’s just marketing. There is little scientific evidence to suggest any real health benefits through vitamins in energy drinks. In fact, megadoses of some vitamins may even be harmful.
Sugar and Sweeteners
While most products contain little if any fat, they often contain sugar—and lots of it. Sugars contain carbohydrates which are easy for your body to metabolise quickly. It fits in well with the purpose of these beverages. However, it will increase the calorie count considerably. It’s an important consideration if you are drinking them as a caffeine substitute.
Again, consider the serving size and the actual amount which you are consuming. It may differ little from drinking soda for some products. Some beverages will use artificial sweeteners to reduce the calorie count, but that may affect the taste. It’s one of the tradeoffs you may see with these items.
You should pay attention to these other ingredients of your energy drink, especially in herbal supplements. That is where we enter a grey area regarding the actual benefits and potential interactions. Ginseng is a common addition to these beverages. While some evidence suggests it may increase alertness, there is also a risk of harmful side effects such as low blood sugar.
It’s essential that you read the label of the product carefully and note all the ingredients. If you are on medication or have a pre-existing condition, consult your doctor before taking an energy supplement. It’s better to be safe than risk the effects of harmful interactions.
Are They Safe to Drink?
Now we are left with the question of safety. We will consider it on several fronts to help you decide if these beverages are right for you. Caffeine is generally considered safe to consume as long as you keep your intake under 300 mg per day. That raises the question of serving size. Many of the ready-to-drink products we reviewed listed 100 ml as one portion.
That means that a 500-ml can contains five servings—and five times the amount of caffeine. Therefore, it’s essential to pay attention to the numbers. Some people may be sensitive to the effects of caffeine. It can cause jitters and insomnia in some individuals. Generally, pregnant women and children should avoid consuming caffeine.
Part of the problem comes from the amount consumed. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that high consumption can cause headaches and behavioural issues in adolescents. And these beverages are not safe to consume with alcohol.
It also depends on the type of product. Ready-to-drink beverages are a far cry from drinks or powders that improve athletic performance. Many people consume canned products as a substitute for coffee. Powders serve a similar purpose in a different form. Performance products provide a quick source of energy and electrolytes to improve endurance.
The bottom line is that these products are safe to drink in moderation if you are not overly sensitive to any of the ingredients. They provide a quick source of energy to get a jumpstart on your day. And for athletes, they can improve performance and stamina.
Conclusion: Which Energy Drink Do You Recommend I Buy?
Our review of energy drinks identified different types of products that serve specific purposes. For the athlete, there are choices that will deliver quick energy for better performance and endurance. For the consumer, there are both ready-to-drink beverages and powders for a more economical option.
Taste was our most important consideration. While the canned beverages tasted good, we preferred a product that was less sweet. Our favourite among the bunch is the Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy Diet Supplement. We liked the fact that it provided more than just an energy boost with added nutrients in a great tasting drink.
We were also swayed by the calorie count of these products which made our pick a clear winner. The fact that it is an economical choice as a powder sealed the deal.
Your pick for an energy drink depends on what factors are important to you, whether it’s a caffeine buzz or nutritional support. Our selections give you a taste of what options are available.