Some athletes swear by the wing-giving boost of energy drinks. If you’re one of them, here are six easy-to-find selections (I got mine at Supplement Superstores, GNC and the Vitamin Shoppe) and what you can expect after indulging. To keep my testing methods simple and fair, I ate breakfast, had one energy drink about an hour later, then journaled my findings as soon as my hand stopped shaking.
AMP Energy Zero Watermelon
You’d expect a drink with “zero” in its name to have no calories, but this one actually had 10. (No biggie, you’ll burn that off after a minute of jumping rope.) The flavor was light and crisp, almost like it was made by soaking a few watermelon Jolly Ranchers in club soda. AMP Energy Zero Watermelon has 157 milligrams of caffeine, so I felt a decent energy buzz that lasted around an hour. Sweetened with sucralose and Ace-k, the drink has zero sugar — ah, maybe that’s where the “zero” comes into play — and B vitamins. Bottom line: This beverage was drinkable, low calorie, high energy, but not the top choice in terms of nutritional value.
Bang Power Punch
Having tried two rather subtle energy drinks in previous days, I’m pretty sure I had an out of body experience with this one. It contains 300 milligrams of caffeine, which, to put things in perspective, is equivalent to four to seven cups of coffee. The details are fuzzy, but I think I cleaned my home, walked my dog 42 times and climbed halfway up a skyscraper like Spider-Man. My buzz lasted quite a while, with the only downside being a rather noticeable crash and headache once it wore off. In addition to B vitamins, amino acids and something called Super Creatine, this drink is sugar-free and sweetened with sucralose and Ace-k. It has no calories or carbs, and tastes exactly like fizzy fruit punch, with no hint of the powerful ingredients behind the flavor.
I’d be lying if I said the “Burns Body Fat” statement on the can didn’t appeal to me. I considered buying an entire case to test the theory out, but I’m glad I didn’t, as the taste left a lot to be desired. Most of the Celsius flavors are non-carbonated, and this one fell flat. I actually found it difficult to get through at times. As I soldiered ahead, though, I began to feel the 200 milligrams of caffeine kick in. It wasn’t going to turn me into a superhero like Bang, but it also wasn’t going to be an energy disappointment like V8 Energy (see below). I can manage this! The drink comes with the usual energy supplements like B vitamins, taurine, guarana and green tea leaf extract. Celsius contains no sugar, no high-fructose corn syrup, no aspartame, no artificial colors or flavors — and its even vegan.
Guayaki Yerba Mate Sparkling Classic Gold
The flavor made my taste buds a bit sad, but that’s because I’m not a fan of ginger ale, which this drink reminded me of. (I definitely recommend drinking it cold.) I did, however, like the bubbliness. The amount of caffeine in this drink clocked in at 120 milligrams, which was just enough to get me through a rough patch in my day without attacking my central nervous system. I didn’t run any marathons after I drank it, but it kept me going for an hour or two before mildly wearing off. This is probably the healthiest energy drink I encountered during my test. It’s organic and uses 92 percent fair-trade ingredients. The 12-ounce can clocks in at about 98 calories.
Monster Energy Ultra Sunrise
Monster’s Ultra line is what got me into energy drinks, and this is the flavor that hooked me. Ultra Sunrise tastes like orange soda, but without the calorie guilt. In fact, it has no calories. It’s bubbly and smooth going down, with 151 milligrams of caffeine — 11 more than the other Ultra products from Monster. The drink kicks in quick and lingers, and I didn’t notice any hangover or crash afterward. It’s sugar-free and sweetened primarily with erythritol, which is a natural zero-calorie sweetener. Other ingredients include taurine, panax ginseng, guarana, B vitamins and more. It’s also low carb for those who, like me, gain 10 pounds just by looking at bread.
V8 Energy’s Blackberry Cranberry
Despite being packed with a full serving of fruit and vegetables, there’s no hint of it in the taste. Nor was there a big energy boost after consumption — it has only 80 milligrams of caffeine — but to say it didn’t wake me up at all would be untrue. I felt a mild jolt that lasted about 30 minutes. Let’s just say I wouldn’t take it before a workout, but perhaps as a substitute to a morning cup of coffee. One cup, that is. Probably due in part to the minimal boost I received, I suffered no crash later. That’s a plus in my book. There are no added sugars or dyes, but the drink is sweetened with sucralose. It’s packed with B vitamins as well as various juice concentrates. For an energy drink, it’s actually pretty healthy.
And there you have it. This experiment allowed me to rocket into outer space on a couple of occasions, but I managed to survive and even found some quality alternatives to my usual energy drink vice. On a serious note, be sure to imbibe at your own risk. Especially Bang. You might want to take out a life-insurance policy just in case the rush wears off while you’re halfway into orbit.
Heather Ervin is the associate editor of Terrain magazine.