The Best and Worst Energy Drinks—Ranked
Additional reporting by Kiersten Hickman
Can an energy drink really be healthy? While there’s wide speculation on energy drinks being healthy or unhealthy, there are in fact a few healthy energy drinks out there that aren’t waist-widening beverages that cause jitters and make your heart pound. A new crop of energizing sips are sparkling waters with natural fruit flavors or tea-based beverages fueled with B vitamins and brain-boosting adaptogens, like L-theanine. They’re also canned without added sugars and zero artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors. Some use cold-pressed vegetable and fruit juices for color and extra nutrients.
But how can you ensure that what you’re drinking is going to give you the boost you need? To help you find the unhealthy and healthy energy drinks on the market, we tapped Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, nutrition expert and co-founder of Neuro Coffee, as well as Hillary Cecere, RDN and registered dietitian for Eat Clean Bro.
How to find healthy energy drinks
When shopping the aisles for an energy drink, Roussell says to look for one that “Ideally has zero [sugar], but definitely less than 10 grams per 8-ounce serving. If you’re going higher than that, I would only use it prior to exercise.”
When it comes to energy drinks fortified with vitamins and antioxidants, Roussell says they’re not going to make much of a difference in giving you energy. However, B vitamins are essential for converting food into energy. “B vitamins are put in a lot of energy drinks because they are needed for our body to break down and use the energy found in the foods we eat. But more B vitamins doesn’t make your body do this better, and it isn’t something that you can feel,” Roussell explains.
Some energy drinks also infuse certain antioxidants, minerals, and adaptogens to reduce muscle soreness, improve cognitive function, and promote calm. But Roussell reminds us that the benefits of these health boosters are limited. “Most energy drinks are under-dosed and contain levels of ingredients that are so low, you won’t benefit from their effect,” he says.
In terms of how much caffeine you can enjoy daily, it’s best to limit your intake to no more than 400 milligrams. “Everyone should be cognizant of the amount of caffeine that they’re consuming, as everyone has a different level of sensitivity to it,” Roussell says.
So to help eliminate the guesswork at the grocery, we rounded up the unhealthy and healthy energy drinks on the market to help you make smarter choices for your caffeine boost. Our ranking is based on calories and sugar content. However, if some don’t have either, we then based on the carb content.
First, the worst.
The Worst Energy Drinks
While Monster Energy may not be the worst of the worst energy drinks, it’s still hurting more than it’s helping your energy for the day. The sugar content is high for this drink.
“These drinks are not only high in calories but they are empty calories,” says Cecere. You would probably be better off eating a snack that will give you all-day energy.
Worst: Red Bull
While Red Bull tends to be the quintessential energy drink of choice, it’s not so great in terms of your health. For a small 8-ounce can, the sugar content is quite high.
“The worst energy drinks are the ones that are high in sugar, artificial colors, and caffeine,” says Cecere. If you’re looking for a quick caffeine fix that doesn’t rack in the sugar, you may be better off with a shot of espresso, which has 51.3 milligrams of caffeine in it (compared to Red Bull with 75 milligrams).
If you’re looking to cut back on the sugar, Rockstar energy shouldn’t be your top pick. In fact, this drink has almost 59 grams of sugar per 16-ounce can, which Cecere notes you should “stay away” from sugar that high.
According to Healthline, high amounts of caffeine and sugar will not only cause increased blood pressure and heart rate, but the inevitable crashes will put your body under stress and release a “roller-coaster” of hormones.
Worst: Full Throttle
Another drink that is super high in carbs and sugar, and officially the worst energy drink of them all with 220 calories and 58 grams of sugar per can is Full Throttle. Why drink these empty calories when you can easily be enjoying real, healthy carbs instead? Plus, if you’re looking for an afternoon energy boost, you can always get the caffeine from what Cecere calls “natural energy drinks” like unsweetened brewed coffee, espresso, black tea, and green tea—all with little to no calories!
The Best Energy Drinks
Best: Just Chill Beverages
You’re more productive when you’re calm and focused and not jittery. Just Chill’s secret: L-theanine, the amino acid in green tea, that’s been proven to help reduce stress and promote relaxation. L-theanine is also known as a nootropic that helps enhance cognitive function and concentration.
Just Chill’s beverages also have B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium infused to help ease anxiousness and relieve muscle tension. Because a can has 17 grams of sugar, we recommend enjoying this drink sparingly or splitting it with a friend.
Best: Tea Riot
What sets Tea Riot apart from the other healthy energy drinks on this list is the addition of cold-pressed juices. Whether you choose the Turmeric Shine or the Greens Lift, you’re getting fresh-brewed tea with a side of vegetable and fruit juices, including kale, spinach, ginger, and carrot. Tea Riot has about 50 to 75 milligrams of caffeine—the equivalent of what’s in a shot of espresso. From black pekoe and white peony to sencha green tea to hibiscus flower and matcha, these energizing sips also infuse a dose of health-boosting polyphenols.
Best: V8+ Energy
While V8 is best known for its vegetable juice, this energy drink delivers 80 milligrams of caffeine and a slew of nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, iron, and B vitamins. Green tea extract is the natural caffeine source, while its reconstituted vegetable juice blend, which has the juices from sweet potatoes, purple carrots, and carrots, provide a dose of vitamins and minerals. Try ’em out in Peach Mango, Orange Pineapple, Diet Strawberry Lemonade, and Diet Cranberry Raspberry.
Best: Clean Cause Sparkling Energy Water
With only 30 calories per can and 4 grams of sugar, Clean Cause’s sparkling energy waters supply caffeine from green coffee bean extract with a hint of sweetness from organic fruit juice and natural flavors. And what’s even better is that with each can purchased, 50 percent of profits support individuals in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction—a cause close to Clean Cause’s founder Wes Hurt. Cecere says this is “a good option for someone avoiding caffeine.”
Best: Celsius Naturals
Guarana seed extract from the Amazon rainforest is the main source of caffeine in Celsius Naturals’ healthy energy drinks. Ginger root spices things up by revving up your metabolism and supporting thermogenesis—the process in which your body produces heat—so your body burns more fat and calories. The sparkling drink also has chromium, which will help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep cravings at bay.
Best: Bai Bubbles Sparkling Antioxidant Infusion
If you combine your seltzer obsession with your love for fruit juice, you get Bai’s sparkling energy drinks. Taste-tempting flavors include black cherry, blood orange, grapefruit, blackberry lime, pineapple, watermelon lime, and coconut lime. One can serves up 45 milligrams of caffeine (the equivalent of one cup of green tea) with just 1 gram of sugar and 5 calories. It’s so refreshing that it also makes a great mixer for low-sugar cocktails.
Best: MatchaBar Hustle Unsweetened
When you need a 3 p.m. pick-me-up, MatchaBar’s Hustle has a delicious blend of ceremonial grade matcha, green tea extract, and lemon and lime extracts. At 120 milligrams of caffeine—that’s more than what’s in a cup of coffee—you’ll feel buzzed to get through every meeting, email, and assignment for the rest of your day. And if you’re worried about feeling jittery, the L-theanine in the green tea extract has a soothing effect to keep you calm and focused.
Best: RUNA Energy Drinks
RUNA is brewed with organic guayusa tea, which, according to Cecere, are tea leaves that are a naturally occurring source of caffeine from South America. RUNA’s healthy energy drinks pack up to 150 milligrams of caffeine in one 12-ounce can. Cecere says that guayusa “may be less stimulating than synthetic caffeine” but it has “antioxidant properties.” Thanks to the organic pear juice concentrate, you get a hint of fruity sweetness without the blood-sugar-spiking white stuff. Choose from unsweetened Mint Strawberry, Watermelon, Lime, Blood Orange, Pineapple, Mango, Berry, and Pomegranate.
Best: Hiball Sparkling Energy Water
Hiball’s sparkling energy waters have only six ingredients: carbonated water, natural flavor, caffeine, ginseng, guarana extract, and B vitamins. Yes, there’s absolutely no sugar. And at zero calories and just one gram of carbs, keto diet followers will be able to enjoy this fizzy drink guilt-free, too. The bubbly bev is also fortified with B vitamins to help reduce fatigue and weakness.
“I think it’s a good choice if you are having an energy drink, but beware that with 160 milligrams of caffeine and herbs, there is always a chance of an adverse reaction,” says Cecere. “I do think it’s great that the caffeine is not synthetic caffeine.”
Best: Zevia Energy
Whether you need a boost to power you through your spin class or a little lift to help you get through a major deadline at work, Zevia’s natural energy drink boasts 120 milligrams of caffeine. With zero calories and sugar, there’s no better way to get the kick you need. It comes with refreshing flavors such as Grapefruit, Raspberry Lime, Mango Ginger, and Kola—for those who want to wean off of their soda addiction.
“I think the Kola flavor could be used as an alternative to soda,” says Cecere. “I like that it does not [have] artificial colors”