For the energy drink enthusiasts (addicts?) out there, I’ll jump straight to the good news: There are now a few decent energy drinks on the market, including one that I would even say is actually good for us.
But here’s the thing – if you’re turning to energy drinks on the regular to help power through your day, it’s time to evaluate what else you’re doing – or not doing – that’s leaving you drained.
Sleep, of course, is a big factor. Same with diet – not getting enough calories – especially enough protein – can leave us feeling less than optimal. And hydration is a stealth yet powerful culprit, as even low-level dehydration can leave us feeling sluggish. Aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces of fluid, plus another 16-24 ounces for every pound of sweat lost during exercise. For more on optimizing hydration, check out this article, How Much Water Do You Really Need?
As a caffeine frame of reference, one cup of coffee typically has 100 mg caffeine; a cup of green tea has approximately 25 mg caffeine. Most major health organizations recommend an upper limit of 300-400 mg caffeine daily.
My top two picks are Hustle Matcha Energy and Caffe Latte ICONIC Protein:
Hustle Matcha Energy has the look and feel of a traditional energy drink, yet the ingredients are anything but ordinary. With a clean, streamlined ingredient list of sparkling water, matcha, green tea, lemon and lime extract and sweetened with stevia, each can has just five calories, zero sugar, and 120 mg caffeine. But even more importantly, this energy drink packs in the multiple health benefits of matcha. Check out this article for 7 reasons to start drinking matcha, including the fact that it’s rich in antioxidants and gives us sustained energy without crashing or jitters.
ICONIC’s Caffe Latte Protein Drink isn’t a carbonated soft drink, but it’s still every bit of an ‘energy drink’ in its own right. With 180 mg caffeine per 11.5-ounce bottle, along with 20 grams of protein, zero sugar, and the added benefit of electrolytes, the natural ingredient list includes grass fed milk, coffee powder, monkfruit & stevia.
If you’re looking for more of the ‘traditional’ energy drinks, my next-best picks are those with zero calories or sugar that are specifically sweetened with natural zero-calorie plant-based sweeteners and with just a moderate caffeine content: Hi-Ball Energy (160 mg caffeine; ingredients include carbonated water, caffeine, guarana, ginseng, B vitamins), Clean Energy Zero Calorie (160 mg caffeine; ingredients include carbonated water, erythritol, yerba mate extract, blackberry, hibiscus and mint extract, sweetened with stevia), and Zevia Zero Calorie Energy (120 mg caffeine; ingredients include carbonated water, caffeine, sweetened with stevia).
After these five drinks above, there really aren’t many options that I would recommend – and there are plenty that I would say to specifically steer clear of, even the zero-sugar varieties. Rockstar Energy Zero Sugar (300 mg caffeine), Reign (300 mg caffeine), Celsius Heat (300 mg caffeine), C4 Energy Zero Sugar (200 mg caffeine), Celsius Live Fit (200 mg caffeine), Monster Lo-Carb (140 mg caffeine) and Red Bull Sugar Free (114 mg caffeine) are all just blends of multiple stimulants like caffeine, guarana, and/or ginseng, along with B vitamins – and all of these are artificially sweetened with sucralose or acesulfame potassium.
The bottom line: If you’ve been reaching for the same old energy drink for years, try out some of the newer, more natural energy drinks instead. And if you find that you’re relying on energy drinks to get through your day, it’s time to take stock of other areas of your lifestyle that can be improved.
For more information on better-for-you energy drinks, check out the related episode on my podcast, FUELED Wellness + Nutrition.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com, and sign up for Eat Fit Wellness Bites weekly newsletter, here.