Low on energy and need a boost? You may want to think twice before reaching for that energy drink. Beverages like Monster and Red Bull may put a pep in your step, but they're not the healthiest option. Why?
First off, the energy-boosting ingredients in these drinks aren't natural, but processed and artificial, Sam Presicci, RD, LD, CPT, lead registered dietitian at the Austin, Texas-based meal delivery company Snap Kitchen, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Secondly, if you've ever tried to decipher the ingredient list on one of those cans, you'll have noticed that these beverages often contain a ton of sugar and other chemical additives — all of which your body just doesn't need, says Presicci.
Energy drinks may be bad news for your ticker, too. They can lead to heart palpitations, blood pressure changes and jitteriness, according to a May 2019 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, which found that these effects are unrelated to the caffeine content. Unsettlingly, the study authors said the exact culprit is still unknown, and more research needs to be done.
With so much uncertainty, it may be best to swap out your go-to amp-up drink for a natural source of energy instead — one that's likely tastier, too. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind the next time you're in need of a pick-me-up.
The Drink: Red Bull
Active Ingredient: Caffeine
The Swap: Coffee or matcha
Coffee and matcha, plain and unsweetened, offer caffeine without added synthetic B vitamins or sugar, both of which are found in Red Bull, says Presicci.
"Matcha and coffee contain naturally occurring caffeine, so they'll give you the buzz you're looking for, plus antioxidants, without any extra additives or fillers," she says.
To jazz up your java without adding excess sugar or calories, add a splash of milk, sprinkle of stevia or dash of cinnamon.
The Drink: Monster Energy
Active Ingredient: Taurine
The Swap: Milk (really!)
The amino acid taurine is often listed among the ingredients in energy drinks, including the line of Monster beverages.
"Taurine has several functions in the body, like regulating minerals and immune system health," says Presicci. But despite some clever marketing, the molecule is not often lauded for its energy-boosting properties.
The molecule has been linked to other health benefits, though. It may help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, which can lower your risk for heart disease, according to a review published January 2014 in Amino Acids. And it may also improve athletic performance, per a February 2013 study in the same journal, although more research is needed in this area.
But Presicci notes that the taurine in energy drinks is highly processed, and discourages people from seeking the amino in these beverages — especially because it's so easy to find in your daily diet. Good sources include meat, fish and dairy products, like cow's milk.
The Drink: 5-Hour Energy
Active Ingredient: B vitamins
The Swap: Green juice
Like taurine, B vitamins are often found in energy-boosting beverages, like 5-Hour Energy, but there's the same rub: "The B vitamins found in most energy drinks are synthetic, meaning they're not naturally occurring and instead are manufactured in a lab," says Presicci.
So, why is this an issue? Synthetic vitamins aren't as easily absorbed by your body, she explains, which means you're likely not getting the full benefits that B-complex provides.
Instead, opt for a green juice. "Just make sure you choose a low-sugar option that contains mostly veggies, with the addition of lemon or green apple for flavor," says Presicci.
The Drink: Rock Star
Active Ingredient: Ginseng
The Swap: Ginseng tea
Rather than getting your ginseng along with a host of preservatives and other additives, including sugar and synthetic B vitamins found in the Rockstar line of drinks, reach for the herb in its purest form: ginseng tea.
"In ginseng tea, you get the potential benefits of ginseng, like stress relief and disease-fighting antioxidants, without the hit of other not-so-nourishing ingredients," explains Presicci.
Keep in mind, though, that while ginseng is said to boost energy levels, there's little to no scientific evidence proving this or any other health benefits, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
The Drink: GURU
Active Ingredient: Guarana
The Swap: Steaz green tea drinks
Guarana contains antioxidants and aids in better blood flow throughout the body, which can make you feel more alert, says Maggie Michalczyk, RD, a Chicago-based registered dietitian and recipe developer.
The Steaz brand of beverages contain green tea, yerba matte and guarana extract for an energy kick without many of the other unnecessary ingredients found in energy drinks like GURU.
"I especially like Steaz's unsweetened and lightly sweetened products because they contain less sugar than an average energy drink, and no artificial sugar," says Michalczyk.
The Drink: 5-Hour Energy's 5-Hour Tea
Active Ingredient: Green Tea
The Swap: Kuli Kuli Moringa Energy Shot
While 5-Hour Energy's tea is sugar-free and has only 4 calories, it's still not a great option for when you're about to crash and need a mental helper.
"Despite the packaging that makes the drink look like a wellness product, it uses artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners and preservatives," says Kelly Jones, RD, CSSD, LDN, a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist in the Philadelphia area.
Kuli Kuli, on the other hand, uses only natural ingredients, including nutrient-rich moringa leaves in addition to the green tea extract.
- Snap Kitchen: "Meet the Brains Behind the Food"
- Journal of the American Heart Association: "Impact of High Volume Energy Drink Consumption on Electrocardiographic and Blood Pressure Parameters: A Randomized Trial"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beverages, coffee, brewed, prepared with tap water"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beverages, Energy drink, AMP"
- Amino Acids: "Taurine and atherosclerosis."
- Amino Acids: "The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners."
- National Center or Complementary and Integrative Health: "Asian Ginseng"
- Once Upon a Pumpkin: "Meet Maggie"
- Kelly Jones Nutrition