4 Healthiest Energy Drinks, According to a Nutritionist

The best canned option out there is a true classic.

August 16, 2022

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In a mid-afternoon slump? Didn’t get enough sleep? Many people look to energy drinks for a little oomph when their body is lagging. And while grocery store shelves are overflowing with energy drinks, but most aren’t healthy. Instead of reaching for any old can, here are the best drinks to give you a boost of energy when you really need it.

Why Most Energy Drinks Are Unhealthy

As a registered dietitian, I am all about food and drink in moderation — except when it comes to energy drinks. Most energy drinks are sold as dietary supplements, not beverages, and as such they aren’t well regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). This means the information listed under the “supplemental facts” aren’t necessarily accurate.

Most are energy drinks are laden with added sugar and injected with stimulants like caffeine, guarana (an stimulant much stronger than caffeine), and even B-vitamins (purported to help “get the energy” from your macros). It may seem like there’s nothing wrong with these ingredients, but in large amounts they can wreak havoc on your body leading to symptoms like increased heart rate, sleep disturbances, and upset stomach.

You may also find herbal supplements thrown into the mix, and many of these supplements interact with health conditions or medications you may be on. You may opt for the sugar-free energy drink, but the truth is that added sugar is what gives you an actual spurt of energy. Many also have very flashy packaging and you can pick them up pretty much anywhere — even your local gas station. Social media has also popularized several less than healthy brands, especially on TikTok. So what’s a person to do if they want a boost of energy?

First, Caffeine Is Not Energy

An important thing to remember is caffeine or stimulants like guarana are not energy. Your body gets energy from calories, which come from food. Carbohydrates, like sugar, provide the quickest form of energy.

Certainly people rely on a cup of coffee for its stimulant effect, which is okay as long as it is done safely. Caffeine is a substance that is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA, which recommends no more than 400 milligrams (3-4 cups of regular coffee) per day. More could result in dangerous side effects.

If you’re still determined to gain a stimulating boost and some real energy throughout the day, there are healthier choices that take your wellbeing into account. These options include a form of carbs for a true energy boost and a safe amount of caffeine for that stimulating effect that most folks are looking for.

Healthiest Energy Drink Choices

There are certainly ways you can get that boost of energy without going overboard. Here are four better-for-you options

Tea: Black and green teas provide safe doses of caffeine along with some health benefits from the antioxidants flavonoids they contain. Although caffeine contents vary, the average cup of black tea provides about 40 milligrams (compared to 100 to 120 milligrams in a cup of coffee). Enjoy your tea with a splash of milk or a teaspoon of agave, honey, or even granulated sugar.

Coffee: It’s all about a safe dose of caffeine, so be weary of those double espresso shots. A plain cup of coffee has, on average, between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. Add a splash of skim milk, creamer, or a teaspoon of sugar for that boost of energy.

Red Bull: Red Bull is an energy drink that is regulated by the FDA, which means what’s on the label is actually in the beverage you’re drinking. One 8.4 fluid ounce can of the original provides 80 milligrams of caffeine, sugar, B-vitamins and taurine for 110 calories, which is pretty reasonable. As with any food or beverage, consume in moderation, especially since Red Bull does contain taurine, which studies suggest can improve mental performance when combined with caffeine, but more research is needed and findings remain controversial.

Bolt24: This energy drink is made by Gatorade and also regulated by the FDA. It provides vitamins A and C and electrolytes from watermelon and sea salt. Per 16.9 fluid ounce bottle it provides 45 calories, 11 grams total carbs, and 9 grams of sugar with no protein or fat. You’ll find a combo of added sugar and stevia leaf extract, so you’ll get some added sugar for energy and Stevia for sweetness. It contains no artificial sweeteners.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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