Like most college students, there aren’t enough hours for me to finish everything I need to in a day. Occasionally, I’ll reach for a cup of coffee or an energy drink to get me through the night or keep me awake in the morning. Over the last few years I’ve noticed the explosion in both the number and variety of energy drinks claiming to keep you awake and alert longer.
I wanted to see which ones worked better, so I chose seven different drinks to test out over a seven day period. The drinks were rated based on taste, buzz, crash, their ingredients and the overall experience (a “five” for crash means no crash at all; a “one” means I literally passed out).
Energy drinks can have dozens of ingredients in their “energy blend.” They are generally chemicals derived from various herbs or plants, such as the gingko or guarana plant. Some of them may do the same thing as caffeine, while others can enhance its effects. Most of the ingredients are generally safe in the doses in a single can, though some can be harmful if consumed in high doses. Here are just a few of the common ones:
[redbull]Caffeine is found in a number of plants, where it is used as a pesticide to paralyze or kill certain insects. In humans, it acts as a stimulant that can ward off drowsiness. Once absorbed by the body, it travels to the brain where it blocks the chemical adenosine from reaching its receptors. Adenosine is increased by certain cells in the brain under stress and acts to protect the brain by suppressing neural activities. Essentially, when your brain is tired, adenosine tells it to slow down so it does not hurt itself. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors so your brain can keep working when it’s tired. It is also a diuretic, so drinking high amounts of caffeine can lead to dehydration. Also, high amounts can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Two hundred to 300 milligrams a day is generally considered safe.
B vitamins perform a number of functions in the body. Among other things, B6 and B12 increase metabolism. They are often ingredients in energy supplements in high amounts, but they are rarely effective. Most people get their required amounts in other foods and excess B vitamins are generally urinated out of the body. B vitamins are water-soluble, so your body needs to use water to process it.
The berries of the guarana plant contain about twice the amount of caffeine than coffee beans. This is basically just another source of caffeine.
Taurine is an amino acid that has a number of uses in your body. Some studies show that increased amounts can lead to better athletic performance, though it is not linked to increased energy. It is found in a number of foods, including meat and fish. Three thousand milligrams a day as a supplement is considered safe and any excess is flushed out by the kidneys.
Some studies suggest that ginseng may help the body adapt to stress. There is little evidence that it has any effects on energy or performance, though it has long been used in traditional medicine to increase libido and sexual performance.
Inositol is already synthesized by your body. There really is no need to supplement it. Some studies report some health benefits, such as possibly helping to fight depression, but none of them related to energy.
Glucronolactone is a naturally occurring compound that results from your body breaking down foods for energy. Consuming it will have few effects, but some studies show it can help fight fatigue.
Day 1: Venom- Black Mamba
Black Mamba’s effects came on relatively quickly and it did not taste horribly bad. The buzz lasted for a few hours and lead into a short crash. It had most of the common energy-enhancers, but not more than the recommended doses.
[quotequote]Day 2: 5-hour energy shot
My first reaction after reading the nutritional label was that consuming 8,330 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin B12 was probably not a good thing. Again, your body will just flush out excess amounts of these vitamins, so it’s really pointless to get more than you need. This thing tasted horrible. It’s a good thing this was just a tiny shot. The Web site says there should be no crash, however, I personally crashed pretty badly within three hours and actually fell asleep during my biology lecture. I did not like this one at all, even though the buzz was pretty strong.
Day 3: Rockstar- Original
This one came highly recommended to me by a few of my friends, so I decided to include it. It tasted like you expect an energy drink to – like carbonated cough syrup. The buzz came gradually and wore off gradually. This drink is will work if you had a horrible night of sleep and just needed to make it through a morning class. It’s not recommended for ton of energy, though.
Day 4: NOS
NOS tasted great: a little like carbonated orange juice. No cough syrup or medicine taste at all, no aftertaste, nothing unpleasant. The buzz came on pretty quickly with no crash later on. It didn’t have too many energy-related ingredients, but it did the trick anyway.
Day 5: Xyience Xenergy – Cranjazz
This is the only zero calorie energy drink I tested out. I could really taste the artificial sweetener; it had a diet-pop aftertaste. It was loaded with more useless B vitamins than energy boosting ingredients. I felt the buzz after a while, but it didn’t last at all and I crashed pretty bad after. At a dollar more than all of the other drinks, I’ll stick to the cheaper alternatives.
[QUOTE2]Day 6: Monster Java – Russian
I was skeptical about how good cold coffee could taste mixed with an energy drink, and I was pleasantly surprised. It tasted more like an iced coffee. I couldn’t even tell that it was Monster at all. With no ridiculous mega-dose of vitamins and a fair amount of energy boosting ingredients, Monster Java gave me a moderate buzz with a only tiny crash later on. I just might replace my morning coffee with some of this.
Day 7: Monster – Green
Being that it is one of Sparty’s best selling items, I decided to give this one a shot. The taste wasn’t all that bad. The rest was the same as the Monster Java. I did crash a little more after this drink than the Java. I think it might be because there’s less caffeine because it’s not made with coffee. All in all, it’s a decent drink for your money.
Mixing with alcohol
[bawl]A growing trend in nightclubs and bars is mixing energy drinks with alcohol. One of the more popular drinks is the Jager bomb. The Jager bomb is generally made by mixing half a can of Redbull with a shot of Jagermeister and taking the whole thing like a shot. The drinks are popular because the energy drink counter acts the drowsiness from the alcohol, allowing you to stay out longer.
The bad news is, that doesn’t mean it prevents the other effects of the alcohol. It actually makes you absorb the alcohol faster and makes it harder to tell how drunk you are.
The Bottom Line
While my opinion is not absolute, after week being hopped on caffeine and vitamins, I chose NOS as the best energy alternative. It seemed to give just the right amount of energy without the crash and tasted great. Others may have different experiences with these drinks, and I’d encourage anyone to try a few different drinks (no more than two in a day) and see which ones work best for them.