Feeling drained by your lunch break? Yeah, me too.
Before you go straight for the coffee, consider a more potent beverage, the energy drink. They’re tasty, refreshing, full of caffeine, and are specifically designed to sustain high levels of productivity and performance, whether physical or mental.
Our researchers reviewed the best energy drinks on the market, plus dug in-depth on the research into how they work to keep you energized and focused throughout the day.
Last updated: December 30, 2022
Energy drinks considered: 32
Hours of research: 44
Experts reviewed: 10
Scientific papers referenced: 18
1. Proper Wild
Proper Wild is a powerful, plant-based energy shot that provides long-lasting energy and focus without the jitters or crash.
100% plant-based, no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no added sugars and only 25 calories – Proper Wild’s Clean All Day Energy Shots are backed by science, only use clean ingredients and really work.
Every shot contains 180 mg of organic caffeine from green tea leaves and 120 mg of L-Theanine. That’s 2x more caffeine than a cup of coffee and 15x more L-Theanine than a cup of Green Tea. It’s this combination and correct ratio of Organic Caffeine and L-Theanine that provides focus and energy for hours with the jitters or crash.
By far the best tasting energy shot on the market, hands down.
They come in three flavors – Peach Mango, Blackberry and Ginger, but you can also try their variety pack to see what’s your favorite.
Alpha XR’s overall energy drink category winner.
2. VPX Bang Energy Drink
VPX Bang is a potent energy drink blend that utilizes the power of creatine.
Sugar free and calorie free, Bang isn’t your typical high sugar energy drink. Sweetened with sucralose and loaded with caffeine, BCAAs, CoQ10, and other brain boosting ingredients, it gives you a surge of energy and spikes your focus better than most of its competitors.
Best tasting sugar-free energy drink on the market, hands down.
It also contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin and magnesium for a healthy energizing vitamin supply.
Containing 300mg of caffeine per can makes it one of the highest caffeine content per can drinks on the market, great for those who like strong caffeine doses without all the sugar and sweeteners.
Comes in tasty flavors like Sour Heads, Champagne, Blue Raz, Starfruit, Lemon Drop, and Power Punch for a nice variety.
Tired of ultra-sugary cough-syrup-flavored energy drinks? CELCIUS has the answer: a light, seltzer-like sparkling energy drink, with 200 mg of caffeine alongside guarana and green tea extract. For either an afternoon pick-me-up or a fat oxidation accelerator, it’s the perfect re-imagining of the energy drink.
4. 5-Hour Energy
Like Red Bull, this supplement spawned an entire category of energy products, the single-shot liquid energy supplement. With almost 200 milligrams of caffeine, 5-Hour Energy provides a hefty jolt of the stimulant to get you going.
As for the name, five hours is actually a pretty good bet for its duration—the rate at which your body removes caffeine from your bloodstream is about five hours per half-dose, meaning that half the caffeine you take in has been removed and excreted within five hours of taking a dose.
This varies a bit from person to person; women who are on birth control are known to have a much longer elimination timeframe. For them, this might turn into “12-hour energy,” so be careful!
5-Hour Energy also provides a massive dose of B-vitamins, some in amounts that might be too high if you already get a lot of B-vitamins in your diet.
Powder-form single-use energy drink mixes became popular a few years ago, and Zipfizz is one of the best-selling energy supplements in that category. It comes in single-use tubes which contain a powder. Dump it into your water bottle and you have a ready-made energy drink.
Zipfizz contains 100 mg of caffeine in the form of green tea extract and provides a well-rounded blend of vitamins and minerals—it’s almost like drinking a daily multivitamin.
6. Nos High Performance Energy Drink
Nos energy drinks are named after the super fuel that powers some of the fastest cars on the world.
It’s a high performance energy drink, so you don’t want to take this anytime you feel like going to sleep in the next few hours. Nos will keep you up and awake, helping you stay aware and focused on whatever task is at hand.
It’s known as one of the best tasting energy drinks on the market, with a unique flavor unlike any of its competitors. Contains 260 mg of caffeine per can, higher than the caffeine content in a Red Bull, Rockstar, or Monster.
7. Red Bull
Red Bull is practically the grand-daddy of all energy drinks. The wildly popular formulation is available all across the world. Its energy recipe is based around a combination of sugar, caffeine, taurine, and B-vitamins.
Each 8.4 fluid ounce can provides 80 milligrams of caffeine—just slightly less than what’s in an average cup of coffee. Taurine, an amino acid that’s plentiful in your nervous system, is supposed to help your nerves grow and stay healthy.
The B vitamins included in Red Bull encompass B3, B5, B6, and B12. These are provided with the hopes of enhancing energy production and efficiency at the cellular level in your body, and are responsible for the mild tingling feeling that you might get when you drink several B vitamin-containing energy drinks.
8. Rockstar Sugar Free
The tall can and flashy styling of Rockstar Sugar Free communicates its nature: it’s more of a drink than a supplement.
It’s nearly non-caloric, providing only 20 calories per 16 ounce can. It provides a higher-than average 160 milligrams of caffeine per can, and a normal amount of B vitamins: 200% of your recommended daily intake of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and 400% of your recommended daily intake for riboflavin.
If coffee makes your stomach quiver, or if you like sugar-sweetened energy drinks but want to watch your weight, Rockstar Sugar Free is a good choice.
9. Monster Energy
Through aggressive sponsorship and marketing, Monster Energy has grown from a cult-following energy drink to one of the biggest juggernauts in the genre.
Unlike Red Bull, which comes in small, 8.4oz cans that are easily downed in a few gulps, Monster Energy comes in a larger 16 ounce can, clearly meant for longer sustained consumption. It’s also heavily sugared, and in composition is more similar to a can of soda than an energy drink.
A full can of Monster Energy contains 210 calories, all of which come from sugar. Unless you’re doing something highly active, like a team sports competition or a long hike, this amount of sugar is likely excessive.
10. Amp Energy
Amp Energy is an increasingly popular competitor in the standard-sized energy drink category. It’s got many of the hallmarks of that genre: 16 ounce can and 150 milligrams of caffeine, but it’s flavored more like a traditional soft drink than many other energy drinks.
It has very little in the way of B-vitamins: only 20% of your daily recommended intake, which is ten times lower than that of many of its competitors.
It is also flavored with real sugar, meaning each can packs 220 calories, all of them from sugar. Good news if you’re doing a 50-mile bike ride, but bad news if you are sitting at your desk.
Best energy drink overall: Proper Wild
Proper Wild is sugar-free and gives you a rapid boost in energy with no crash, thanks to pairing caffeine with amino acids and B-complex vitamins. It’s hard to ask much more for an all-purpose energy drink, which makes Proper Wild our top pick.
Best energy drink for workouts: Zipfizz
Zipfizz is perfect for workouts—unlike many of its competitors, it delivers critical electrolytes including sodium potassium, and magnesium, but without loading you up with sugar. Plus, in powder form, it’s easy to mix into a water bottle whenever you need it.
Best low calorie energy drink: CELCIUS
CELCIUS is calorie-free, tastes great, and contains powerful fat burners and energy boosters including guarana, caffeine, and green tea extract. It’s great both for weight loss and weight maintenance.
Best energy drink with B complex vitamins: VPX Bang
VPX Bang contains all of the B-complex vitamins at solid doses, on top of a range of other vitamins and antioxidants. With this energy drink, you won’t be skimping on vital micronutrients.
Best nootropic energy drink: Proper Wild
Looking to boost your cognitive performance instead of your physical performance? Go for Proper Wild—it uses a clever combination of caffeine, theanine, and choline derivatives to boost cognitive performance, increase neurotransmitter levels, and avoid negative side effects like jitters and anxiety.
Best energy drink for women: Zipfizz
Zipfizz comes out on top for women thanks to its sugar-free formulation and its modest caffeine dose (just 100 mg – about the same as a cup of coffee). It’s perfect for women who need an energy boost but want to avoid sugary, caffeine-heavy products.
Who should buy energy drinks?
People who want a physical or mental performance boost. This can be either physical performance or mental performance, so whether you have a tough day at work, a long gym session, or a late night studying, the right energy drink can make a huge difference.
People who need to maintain physical and mental performance in difficult circumstances. Energy drinks also help maintain performance in situations where the environment is less than ideal. A lack of sleep is the biggest one: the extra energy and concentration from an energy drink can prevent or blunt the sluggish reaction times, foggy memory, and decreased cognitive performance that comes along with sleep deprivation.
Whether you want to augment or sustain your performance, physically or mentally, there is an energy drink out there for you. We’ll go in-depth later in this review on what specific ingredients are useful for which types of performance.
How we ranked
When formulating our rankings, we were on the lookout for energy drinks that met several key criteria.
No excessive sugar. Not only is sugar harmful to your long-term health, but a sugar-laden energy drink will inevitably lead to a major sugar crash not too long after your insulin levels spike in response to ingesting a large amount of sugar.
We cut out products that had egregiously high amounts of sugar, and opted for sugar-free versions when possible. Monster Energy’s original formulation, for example, has a whopping 54 grams of sugar in a 16 ounce can.
Notably though, we did not cut out sugar completely from our rankings.
While the perennially well-selling Red Bull has a fairly high amount of sugar (27 grams per can, to be exact), moderately high amounts of sugar like this can be useful for athletic performance.
So, we made sure to retain some high-quality energy drinks that had an appropriate (but not excessive) amount of sugar for a pre-workout performance boost.
Controlled caffeine content. Next up was caffeine. This was a tricky criteria to evaluate, because on one hand, caffeine is one of the most powerful legal performance enhancers known in the nutrition world. On the other hand, too much can leave you jittery, nauseous, and anxiety-ridden.
Moreover, not everyone can handle the same amount of caffeine. Women have it particularly bad, partially because of their lower body mass and partially because some women’s bodies metabolize caffeine much more slowly than others (1).
Keeping these potential issues in mind, we eliminated energy drinks that had more than 320 mg of caffeine in each can or bottle, and those that had less than 80 mg.
Performance-boosting effects beyond just caffeine. We also cut anything without other proven nootropic or performance-enhancing ingredients. Some low-quality energy drinks lean heavily (and in some cases, almost entirely) on caffeine for their effects, so we dropped these.
Key amino acids and B-vitamins. Speaking of other ingredients, we looked for energy drinks that also featured B-vitamins and specific amino acids that have been linked to better physical performance and cognitive functioning.
No flushing or irritation. At the same time, we made sure that we didn’t include any energy drinks that had excessive doses of niacin, which can cause flushing, redness, and irritation. Including a high dose of niacin is another trick that some energy drink manufacturers rely on to create the perception of more energy.
Cutting edge compounds. Lastly, we rated the remaining energy drinks on how well they integrated other, more cutting-edge compounds for better mental function or mood elevation, such as the neurotransmitter 5-HTP or the herbal supplement yohimbe.
Our remaining top-rated energy drinks take the best advantage of these more experimental ingredients alongside mainstays like caffeine and B-complex vitamins.
Q: What are the effects of energy drinks on your body?
A: The biggest effects of energy drinks can be chalked up to the physiological changes induced by caffeine, sugar, and some B vitamins.
Caffeine: better physical and mental performance. Caffeine will increase your heart rate, boost your reaction time, and improve your performance on both physical and mental tasks. In too high of a dose, though, it can cause nausea, anxiety, jitters, and sleeplessness (though this last “side effect” is often a desirable outcome for some users).
Sugar: fuel for endurance, but potential for a blood sugar crash. Sugar has less of an upside and a bigger downside: unless you are doing a long aerobic workout or high-intensity interval workouts, you won’t benefit a whole lot from an energy drink with sugar. Sugar does not boost mental performance, or help with physical tasks like weight lifting.
Too much sugar can paradoxically cause a crash in blood sugar levels, because in response to an energy drink with a lot of sugar in it, your body excretes a huge amount of insulin into your blood.
As the insulin pulls sugar out of the bloodstream, your blood sugar levels crash, and with it, your mood and energy levels crash too.
B-vitamins: mood elevation and concentration boosts.
B-vitamins can be a potent agents for elevating your mood, and longitudinal research shows that they can boost your concentration as well. However, too much niacin (vitamin B3) can cause flushing, itching, and redness, because it increases blood flow to your skin.
Q: What are the best energy drinks for the gym?
A: If you are hitting the gym, you definitely want an energy drink with a moderate amount of caffeine. If you plan on doing Tabata protocols or other high-intensity interval work, you’ll probably want some sugar, too.
Classic Red Bull is an excellent choice if you want to stick closer to the low end of caffeine content, as it provides 80 mg of caffeine and 27 grams of sugar, just enough to sustain you through a tough interval session without causing a blood sugar crash later in the day.
SK Energy Shot, with green tea extract and several amino acids to provide an additional ergogenic aid, is another great choice if you are looking for a higher caffeine content (210 mg per bottle).
Finally, if you are looking for something you can mix at the gym, the individual-use powder tubes of Zipfizz are another solid option, especially if you are trying to keep the sugar content low.
Q: What energy drinks have the most caffeine?
A: Among our top-ranked energy drinks, the ones with the highest caffeine content are VPX Bang and Redline Xtreme. These have 300 and 320 mg of caffeine per serving, respectively, which is is quite a strong dose of caffeine.
These definitely aren’t the right choice for slim or small people, nor will it work well for those whose caffeine tolerance is fairly low. But, if you have a large body mass, or if you have developed a fairly strong caffeine tolerance, either of these options are a good way to get the performance boosting effects of caffeine in a high dose.
Q: How much caffeine is in 5 Hour Energy?
A: 5 Hour Energy, one of the most popular energy shots on the market, has exactly 200 mg of caffeine per shot. This is a moderately high amount, equivalent to about two solid cups of coffee.
Five hours also happens to be the elimination half-life of caffeine, meaning that after five hours, you’ve still got the equivalent of 100 mg of caffeine in your body.
The relatively long half life of caffeine, combined with the dosage level found in 5 Hour Energy, explains a large part of why the effects of this powerful energy shot likely do last for the advertised five hours.
When it comes to physical performance, it’s hard to argue against energy drinks. An energy drink with a reasonable amount of caffeine can produce a substantial boost in endurance and high-intensity performance.
Too much, though, can spell trouble, so if you are a female, or if you do not weigh very much, opt for a lower dosage of caffeine.
Energy drinks are an effective and safe way to boost your energy levels, increase your alertness, and increase your performance on physical and cognitive tasks.
Evaluate your options carefully, since the range of energy drink products on the market have some notable differences in their ingredients. Choose the right one to fit your needs.
For Alpha XR‘s #1 energy drink recommendation, click here.