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Published Sep. 20, 2021

Everyone dreads the late afternoon energy crash. Whether it happens at the office, after a morning handling parenting responsibilities, or right after an intense workout, the body is saying, “let’s just rest now.” At the same time, your brain is telling you there are hundreds of other tasks to be completed before your head hits the pillow.

People deal with that midday fatigue in a myriad of ways, including drinking hot or iced coffee, tea, or even swallowing caffeine or other energy pills. One of the most popular ways to instantly zap fatigue is with an energy drink that can snap the body and mind back to attention.

A 2021 study concluded that 85 percent of people in the U.S. consume at least one kind of caffeinated beverage a day, including coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks). Energy drinks account for 31 percent of packaged beverage sales in convenience stores across the country.

Energy drink devotees tend to stay loyal to their favorite brands and flavors. Still, some of the best energy drinks on the market today are from lesser-known brands that pack just as much caffeine punch per ounce and offer distinct flavors.

How We Picked the Best Energy Drinks

Methodology

As a writer and runner, energy drinks my occasional shot in the arm on the days when brain fog and sluggishness are getting the best of me. Both of these endeavors are mentally and physically draining. A long, hard training run makes sitting down at a desk to concentrate for an extended period extremely difficult. A lengthy writing session and multiple deadlines will bring me to mental exhaustion, uninterested in lacing up my sneakers, and hit the road even for a mile. Unfortunately, these responsibilities don’t go away just because I’m tired.

In case of emergency, I break glass, or more accurately, open the glass doors at a convenience store and reach for an energy drink. I’ve sampled hundreds—and rarely encounter a flavor I won’t try at least once—so I consider myself a sommelier of sorts. I know which brands taste the best, which pack the most punch, and which to avoid because they launch me into orbit before sending me crashing back down to Earth.  

Energy drink devotees such as myself tend to stay loyal to brands and flavors. Still, some of the best energy drinks on the market today are lesser-known names that pack just as much caffeine punch per ounce and offer distinct flavors that don’t sound like nicknames for video game characters.

In an effort to be more inclusive, we tried to avoid adding the industry leaders to our list. Everyone recognizes the Red Bull, Monster, and Rock Star brands, but our collection of the best energy drinks adds lesser-known options for people of different lifestyles and sensibilities.

The following brands include a company started by a famous dad and his daughter, two college buddies who stumbled upon a “fully alive” tea leaf on a trip through the Amazon, an energy drink brand that believes in sustainability, and a company that values nutrition over chemicals.

Best Overall Energy Drink: G.O.A.T Fuel

Low-Cal, High-Energy

Created by NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, this drink provides Increased endurance thanks to magically medicinal mushrooms. Goat Fuel

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Why It Made The Cut:  A blend of green tea, ginger, and cordyceps mushrooms, G.O.A.T. Fuel also contains amino acids, essential vitamins, electrolytes, and natural caffeine.

Specs:

  • Package weight: 4.47 Kilograms
  • Package type: Can
  • Cans in package: 12, 12-ounce  cans

Pros:

  • Unusual flavors like gummy bear and pink candy
  • Variety pack to sample all flavors
  • Inexpensive
  • Family-owned

Cons:

  • Popular flavors sell out quickly
  • Limited retailers

Athletes pay special attention to what goes into their bodies, especially a Hall of Fame football player like Jerry Rice, who played for almost two decades in the N.F.L., maintaining a peak level of performance year after year. It makes sense that the G.O.A.T.—or greatest of all time—would put just as much effort into the products bearing his name.

Cordyceps mushrooms are a genus of parasitic fungi which grow on the larvae of insects. While that description doesn’t make the mushrooms sound very appealing, their health benefits are enormous. This type of mushroom has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine to help fight sickness, fatigue, kidney disease, and low sex drive.

G.O.A.T. makes an excellent pre-workout drink thanks to the caffeinated green tea with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which helps boost metabolism and reduce inflammation. Branch chain amino acids (B.C.A.A.s) aid with longer workouts and a quicker recovery time.

New G.O.A.T. Fuel products are released periodically, with four new flavors dropping every season. The brand is a family affair. Jaqui Rice, Jerry’s daughter, is a co-founder and C.E.O. of the company.

Best Energy Drink for Workouts: NOCCO BCAA Sugar-Free Energy Drink

Continuous Energy

Carbonated and sugar-free, NOCCO is a low-calorie vegan energy drink that hits the mark for health-conscious athletes. NOCCO

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Why It Made The Cut: Developed by the No Carbs Company (NOCCO), NOCCO BCAA Sugar-Free Energy Drinks are ideal for pre or post-workout, containing 50 percent of the daily value of biotin, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12. 

Specs:

  • Package weight: 4.47 Kilograms
  • Package type: Can
  • Package type: Can

Pros:

  • 12 calories per can
  • 0 percent fat, carbs, and sugar
  • Seven flavors
  • Caffeine-free option
  • Sustainability-focused

Cons:

  • Frequent issues with variety pack delivery
  • Sweetened with sucralose

The NOCCO BCAA beverage is specially designed to give athletes energy for their workouts and then help them recover afterwards. The drink contains BCAAs, three essential amino acids that can’t be produced by the human body. (They’re present in meat, dairy, legumes, and other foods.) Just one can of NOCCO provides these essential BCAAs plus four different vitamins, including biotin and vitamin B12, which help support energy, a healthy metabolism, and overall well-being.

In addition, NOCCO BCAA contains 180 milligrams of caffeine, equal to about two cups of coffee, perfect for a pre-workout boost of sustainable energy or a morning alternative to get the body revved up.

Best of all, the Swedish company values sustainability and giving back. NOCCO is constantly looking for ways to reduce its environmental impact through its product packaging, transportation, and storage and supports various charitable organizations such as Battle Cancer.

Best Energy Shot: Fire Bird Plant-Based Energy Juice Shot

Chef-Created

A clean and natural energy source, Fire Bird Plant-Based Energy Shots are made from fruits, roots, and spices—not confusing chemicals. Fire Bird

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Why It Made The Cut: Perfect for people who don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet, Fire Bird Energy is made from ingredients you might find in your own kitchen, and will never cause the dreaded post-drink crash like some other energy shots on the market.

Specs:

  • Package dimensions:  9.72 x 9.33 x 2.28 inches
  • Package weight: 2.87 pounds
  • Shots per pack: 12
  • Serving: 2.5 fl. oz

Pros:

  • Easy to transport
  • Gluten-free
  • Sampler packs
  • Subscription option for additional savings
  • No mystery ingredients
  • No added sugar

Cons:

  • Limited flavors
  • Slightly spicy taste

Many of us consume energy drinks and shots to get through the day, but often don’t know precisely what’s contained in our favorite beverages. Fire Bird is an energy shot that prides itself on using only natural ingredients. The company promotes the fact that each bottle contains a nutrition label and not a supplement label like most other energy shots.

Created by Chef Joel Simpler, Fire Bird is a plant-based energy shot full of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and immunity-boosting ingredients. The coffee beans provide a quick jolt of energy, while the guarana extract provides a slow-release energy boost. The original flavor includes cayenne pepper to encourage the metabolism to kick in, and all of the three flavors contain ginger to help aid digestion.

At just 2.5 fluid ounces per shot, the portable energy boost is perfect for tossing into a purse, gym bag, or computer bag and doesn’t require drinking down a large can or bottle to get a kick of caffeine.

Best Organic Energy Drink: RUNA Organic Clean Energy Drink

Natural Caffeine

A shot of caffeine in bold, all-natural flavors. RUNA

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Why It Made The Cut:  Created by two college buddies after a life-changing trip to the Amazon rainforest, RUNA Organic Clean Energy Drink is produced from the brewed guayusa leaf. The resulting beverage is a unique balance of polyphenols and the amino acid L-Theanine that provides sustained energy and mental clarity.

Specs:

  • Size: 16, 12, and 8.4 ounces
  • Package Type: Can
  • Package Contents: 12 or 24 cans

Pros:

  • Variety of flavors and serving sizes
  • Only 10 calories
  • USDA Organic
  • More caffeine than two espressos
  • Non-caffeine option

Cons:

  • Slightly higher price point
  • Recently reformulated flavors to add stevia
  • Not available in stores

Guayusa (pronounced gwhy-you-sa) leaves, a good source of natural caffeine, are found almost exclusively in the Amazonian forests of Ecuador. RUNA sources the holly-like guayusa leaf exclusively from families who grow the plant in sustainable, biodiverse forest gardens.

The word “runa,” which comes from the indigenous Kichwa people who grow these tea leaves, translates as “fully alive.” Each of the three flavors—black cherry, peach, and tropical passion fruit—tastes a bit like chilled tea or kombucha balanced with natural fruit flavor. RUNA is Fair Trade Certified, meaning that a fair price is paid to the farmers, and all workers are provided a safe working environment. The drink is also Certified USDA Organic, non-GMO, and kosher.

As a bonus, the company offers a buying option of just the loose guayusa leaves for anyone interested in brewing their own beverage at home.

Best Energy Drink to Promote Weight Loss: Celsius Energy Drinks

No Extra Junk

A perfect balance of flavor and energy for an active lifestyle. Celsius

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Why It Made The Cut:  Quickly becoming one of the industry leaders in energy drinks, Celsius beverages contain seven essential vitamins and no artificial flavors, no aspartame, no preservatives, and no high fructose corn syrup. They pack an intense caffeine punch of 200 milligrams in sparkling or non-carbonated options.

Specs:

  • Package: Cans
  • Sizes: 12 and 16 ounces
  • Cans in package: 12

Pros:

  • Variety of flavors
  • Available everywhere
  • Offers a cola option
  • Low price point
  • Certified Vegan
  • Non-GMO

Cons:

  • Contains sucralose
  • Some people will find the number of options confusing

The precisely-blended formula in Celsius is packed with critical vitamins. This popular energy drink helps accelerate metabolism and aid in weight loss by including chromium, which helps control hunger, and ginger, to aid in digestion. The beverage uses a guarana seed extract which contains double the caffeine of the plant’s roots.

Celsius is also next-level when it comes to flavor options and drink varieties for specific activities. There’s Celsius Heat for peak performance during long workouts, Celsius BCAA Energy with electrolytes and caffeine to reduce inflammation, Celsius Sparkling sweetened with Stevia, and even packets of powdered Celsius to mix into water.

Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Energy Drinks

Some thought and label reading should be involved when reaching for that energy drink to get you through an afternoon of Zoom calls or early-morning CrossFit workout. Sure, some of the cans look cool as heck, and some of the flavors sound intriguing, but picking a drink based on color and taste isn’t the best idea. 

Here are some things to take into consideration before trying a new energy drink:

  • Caffeine: The entire point of pounding an energy drink is the caffeine boost into your bloodstream, but too much caffeine can be a bad thing. The recommended daily caffeine intake is no more than 400 milligrams per day. Remember this number before chugging an energy drink, and don’t forget to count all of the caffeine you’ve ingested in other forms during the day, including your morning coffee and workout supplements.
  • Calories: Don’t consume too many liquid calories, even before a workout. Most energy drinks contain about 100-160 calories per serving. 
  • Sugar: Some energy drinks have as much or more sugar as the average can of soda. Be aware of the grams of sugar in the drink if it’s not the sugar-free version. Also, be mindful of serving sizes. Some brands try to mask the amount of sugar in their drinks by claiming one 16 oz. can is more than two servings.
  • Added Nutritional Benefits: Most energy drinks contain additional nutrients that offer health benefits along with a boost of energy. These added supplements include Taurine, Ginseng, L-Carnitine, Guarna, and vitamins B6 and B3.
  • Artificial Colors And Chemicals: If the ingredients in the energy drink are too many and hard to pronounce, it’s probably best to try another option. 

FAQs

Q:

What are the possible side effects of using energy drinks?

Most of the side effects of energy drinks are connected to the caffeine they contain. Side effects of excessive caffeine consumption include increased heart rate, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, dehydration, and insomnia. Fans of energy drinks need to be aware of the amount of caffeine in their favorite beverages and limit the number of drinks they consume each day accordingly.

Q:

What’s the difference between an energy drink and a sports drink?

Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are designed to help athletes rehydrate after athletic activities. Most sports drinks contain a carbohydrate and electrolyte solution. Sports drinks typically don’t include caffeine. An energy drink may include carbohydrates and electrolytes but typically always includes caffeine or guarana.

Q:

Are energy drinks safe for children?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have specific guidelines on kids and caffeine, but pediatric experts believe kids under the age of 12 should avoid caffeine. Children over 12 shouldn’t drink more than 100 milligrams—equal to about two cans of soda—per day.

Final Thoughts

This list highlights the best energy drinks available today, but don’t just take our word for it. Try each brand and flavor yourself to find what gives you the energy you need with a taste you enjoy.

As with any stimulant, moderation is the key. Be sure to stop consuming these drinks or consult a physician if any health issues arise.

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