We all get it–that mid-afternoon slump. It can be tempting to reach for an energy drink for that little boost that can get you through the rest of the day. But most energy drinks are full of sugar and processed ingredients that can quickly leave you feeling worse than before.
Luckily, there is an increasing number of healthier energy drinks with less sugar and less junk that provide an easier, more sustained energy boost. In this guide we’ll go over the factors you should look for when choosing a healthy energy drink. At the end we’ve also got a list of our 10 favorites to get you started on your search.
How to Choose a Healthy Energy Drink – Buying Guide
Even though there are healthy energy drinks out there, you still have to know how to dig through the junk. Keep these things in mind when considering your options.
Energy Boosting Ingredients to Look For (In Moderation)
Certain ingredients are known to boost energy levels, but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, so it’s best to know what a healthy amount looks like.
To Keep You Awake: Look for Around 100-150 mg of Caffeine
There are a few ingredients commonly found in energy drinks that will help you perk up and keep going. Although it may not always be an ingredient list item, caffeine is in nearly every energy drink.
It is found most often in the form of coffee, tea, or guarana. Caffeine can help to boost energy levels, but too much can also lead to jitters, heart palpitations, or headaches. To be safe, stick to less than 400 milligrams per day–as reference, an average cup of coffee contains 120 milligrams.
Extra Boosters: Amino Acids and Vitamins
Aside from the usual caffeine, a lot of energy drinks also employ other ingredients like amino acids and vitamins to enhance energy or even just add health benefits.
An increasingly common ingredient is taurine. Taurine is an amino acid that has been shown to work together with caffeine to boost mental performance. Another popular amino acid L-arginine expands blood vessels and allows more oxygen to circulate through your body.
B vitamins are essential in helping your body to break down food and turn it into energy, so you’ll likely find these tucked into energy drinks as well. But more does not mean better, and you really don’t need 300% of your daily requirement in one drink.
The same can be said about other vitamins like vitamin C, an important antioxidant and immune system booster, and vitamin D, which adds to strength and energy levels. While energy drinks can act as a source for vitamins in a pinch, it’s always better to get them from whole foods when possible.
Keep Sugars Low to Avoid a Crash
It almost goes without saying, but the first thing you should check for in any energy drink is the sugar content. Sugar is normally a key component in energy drinks due to the sudden spike in energy it can give you.
This energy, however, is very short lived and will inevitably lead to a “crash,” which is another reason to avoid it on top of all of the solid research showing the relationship between too much sugar and diseases like diabetes, fatty liver, and tooth decay. You get the drill.
But you don’t want to be adding too many artificial sweeteners either, and a little sugar isn’t going to kill you. A good rule of thumb is to look for a drink with less than 10 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving.
Avoid Synthetic Ingredients
In order to cut down on sugars and increase caffeine and vitamin counts, a lot of energy drinks are packed with synthetic ingredients. And while they may be hard to avoid given the nature of energy drinks, try to do your best to steer clear of ingredients that are unfamiliar and sound like something made in a lab. This includes artificial flavors and colors.
Instead, look for drinks that derive their flavor and benefits from plant extracts and recognizable ingredients.
Top 10 Best Healthy Energy Drinks to Buy Online
Now that you know what to look for, here are our 10 favorite healthy energy drinks, in case you need a little inspiration.
10. Uptime Energy, Sugar Free (12 Pack)
Steady, Even Energy in a Resealable Bottle
This carbonated energy drink has a refreshing citrus flavor and claims to promote clarity and focus. With their formula, there’s no quick spike or sudden crash, just an even, steady release of energy. Plus, it comes in a re-sealable bottle.
However, this drink also includes artificial preservatives and derives all of its flavor from the ever elusive “natural flavors” ingredient, which does detract from its healthiness.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (142 mg), taurine, ginseng|
|Ingredients||Filtered carbonated water, natural flavors, citric acid, potassium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sucralose|
9. Mati Natural Healthy Energy Drink (12 Pack)
Sweetened with Only Fruit Juices
This energy drink is flavored and sweetened with real fruit juice and gets its caffeine from guayusa leaves, which provide an even, level energy boost.
However, reviewers note that because it doesn’t have any added sweeteners and only contains 40 calories worth of fruit juices, the flavors can be a little hit or miss.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (115 mg)|
|Ingredients||Carbonated water, brewed guayusa, apple juice concentrate, orange juice concentrate, lime juice concentrate, natural flavors|
8. Hiball Energy Grapefruit Sparkling Energy Water, Grapefruit (8 Count)
Like Caffeinated La Croix
If you love La Croix, you’ll love this energy drink. Completely unsweetened with a light flavor, this drink is great for slow sipping throughout the afternoon. Most of its ingredients are organic, and it provides a steady stream of energy.
However, at about $3 per can, it is on the expensive side for energy drinks, and those who aren’t super serious flavored sparkling water enthusiasts might not find it worth it.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (160 mg), ginseng, B vitamins|
|Ingredients||Carbonated purified water, natural flavor, organic caffeine, organic guarana extract, organic panax ginseng extract, B vitamins|
7. Sambazon Amazon Energy Drink (12 Pack)
This antioxidant-rich acai energy drink is made fully from organic, fair-trade ingredients. It is extremely flavorful and provides a non-jittery spike of energy.
However, it is largely sweetened with erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol and may cause digestive discomfort in people who are sensitive (though less so than other sugar alcohols).
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (110 mg)|
|Ingredients||Sparkling filtered water, organic erythritol, organic acai juice, organic cane syrup, citric acid, malic acid, sea salt, other organic juices, extracts, and flavors|
6. Zevia Zero Calorie Energy Drink, Raspberry Lime (12 Pack)
Zero Sugar, Zero Calories
This energy drink is sweetened with stevia leaf extract and is calorie- and sugar-free. While it doesn’t give you the rush that sugar provides, it does offer an even boost of energy.
While most people can’t differentiate the taste of stevia with sweeteners from other sources, for those who can, just note that the sweetness from the stevia is quite strong in this drink.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (120 mg)|
|Ingredients||Carbonated water, citric acid, stevia leaf extract, caffeine, natural flavors|
5. V8 +Energy, Juice Drink with Green Tea, Peach Mango (24 Pack)
Smaller, Fruit and Vegetable Juice-Based Energy
This energy drink from vegetable juice maker V8 is unsurprisingly full of natural fruit and vegetable juices, and all of its sugars come from whole food sources.
At just 8 ounces, these cans are a bit smaller than your average energy drink, which could be good for those who like a little less caffeine or don’t want to drink too much. Plus, each can is less than $0.70 each, making it the best deal for your wallet.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (80 mg), B vitamins|
|Ingredients||Water, vegetable juice, fruit juice, mango puree, natural flavoring, citric acid, green tea extract, vitamin c, sucralose, B vitamins|
4. MatchaBar Hustle Energy Drink (12 Pack)
Matcha-Based, Buzz-Free Energy
This energy drink is almost as natural as you can get. Its caffeine comes from ceremonial grade matcha which provides a quick pick-me-up without any buzzing or jitters, and its sweetness comes from monk fruit.
However, it is quite strongly matcha flavored, so if you don’t know what it tastes like or don’t really like it–and that doesn’t count creamy, sweetened matcha lattes–it might be best to find it at the store to try first before dropping $3 per can on a whole case.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (120 mg)|
|Ingredients||Water, ceremonial grade matcha, lactic acid, chlorophyllin, monk fruit, green tea extract, lemon extract, lime extract|
3. RUNA Organic Clean Energy Drink (12 Pack)
Jitter-Free Energy with a Touch of Real Sugar
For those looking to steer clear from artificial sweeteners and potentially jittery coffee-based caffeine, this could be the drink for you. Made with real, organic sugar and caffeine from guayusa, this drink provides an easy but noticeable energy spike.
However, as it doesn’t rely on artificial sweeteners, the sugar content is a bit on the high side, so if you’re watching your sugars, this might not be the best drink for you.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (150 mg)|
|Ingredients||Brewed organic guayusa, organic cane sugar, citric acid, organic mango flavor, natural flavor, ascorbic acid|
2. Celsius Raspberry Acai Green Tea Non-Carbonated Fitness Drink (12 Pack)
High Caffeine without the Side Effects
This non-fizzy energy drink is great for those who find themselves in need of a lot of help in the energy department. Formulated to be used as a pre-workout drink, it packs a huge 200 milligrams of caffeine per can.
Its caffeine boost has none of the adverse side effects that often come with high doses of caffeine. However, 200 milligrams is still a lot and is probably not best for everyone–particularly in the afternoon.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (200 mg), taurine, B vitamins|
|Ingredients||Filtered water, citric acid, natural flavor, vegetable juice, sucralose|
1. Guru Lite Organic Energy Drink (12 Pack)
Absolutely No Artificial Anything
This energy drink is fully organic, has no artificial ingredients, and doesn’t even include any “natural flavors.” It has a pleasant, lightly citrus flavor and provides energy without a crash.
It only contains caffeine from plant sources like green tea and guarana. On top of being organic, it is also certified vegan and non-GMO, so you know that you’re only getting the good stuff.
|Energy Boosters||Caffeine (100 mg)|
|Ingredients||Sparkling water, organic cane syrup, organic lemon juice extract, organic green tea leaf extract, organic flavors, citric acid, organic extracts|
When Is the Best Time to Have an Energy Drink?
When it comes to maximizing your energy drink, timing is important. Too early and you could crash before you need the rush, too late and you could be wired all night. Generally speaking, you begin to feel the effects of the caffeine and sugar about 10 minutes after having your drink, but don’t feel the peak until about the 30-minute mark.
If your drink has sugar, you may feel a bit of a sugar crash after an hour or so. After 5-6 hours, about half of the caffeine has left your system, so drinking an energy drink less than 6 hours before bed may leave you unable to sleep.
Something else to consider is that caffeine can negatively interact with your body’s cortisol levels to increase feelings of stress. Your cortisol levels peak just after waking up, at midday, and in the early evening, so try to have your energy drink after one of those peaks instead of before.
So there you have it–a quick guide to choosing the right healthy energy drink for you. Just remember that everyone’s body is different and what works for one person might not work for the next. Keep what we talked about in mind, be patient, and slowly try different formulas out–you’re sure to find something that works.
While relying on energy drinks may not be ideal, it’s reassuring to know that the one you drink isn’t outright bad for you.
By Jacqueline Oshiro
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