When it comes to demands on our time, attention, and energy, the list can seem daunting and unending. Even with elaborate productivity frameworks and finely tuned recovery practices, there are moments when you need an extra boost to make it over the finish line. That's why many athletes and professionals utilize energy bars or, for a lower-calorie option, energy drinks. If you were around during the early days when energy drinks were nearly synonymous with high sugar, artificial substances, and obscene caffeine content, you might be wondering—why energy drinks?
A lot has changed since they first went mainstream. In fact, many energy drinks have ditched the harmful formulations of the past and opted for good ingredients with a safe amount of caffeine. Some even provide long-term health benefits. It can be overwhelming to sift through all the marketing hype and "proprietary" formulations to find a powerful energy drink with the best and cleanest ingredients. The good news is that we've waded through nearly a hundred options to present you with the best energy drinks to maximize your performance.
The health and safety of ACTIVE's readers are of the utmost importance to us. To ensure your well-being when consuming energy drinks, the ACTIVE.com editorial team prioritizes products independently tested by a third party. We've also consulted with a team of nutritionists and dieticians to ensure the products we feature are of the highest standard. This helps us create the most accurate, authentic review content for our readers. More importantly, fitness may be our job, but it is also our passion. Therefore, we strive to bring you products we trust and would personally use.
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It's important to point out a few things to ensure you get the most out of whichever energy drink you choose. When it comes to optimal energy management, your body's greatest weapons are a macro-appropriate (balanced proteins, fats, and carbs for your body type), nutrient-dense diet for adequate recovery, quality, and duration. Getting some body movement in there can also help. Many energy drink horror stories result from people who do not have these pillars in place.
Tiredness, foggy thinking, and low energy can indicate a deficiency. Think of these symptoms as the warning lights on the dash of your car. Many people encounter problems when they use energy drinks to override these indicators without doing anything to rectify the root issue. With or without energy drinks, this can result in a cascading effect of bad news for your body. On the flip side, energy drinks amplify and supercharge your body to operate at peak performance when they are partnered with a healthy lifestyle. Think of it as nitrous for your body's finely tuned, gunk-free engine.
It's best to ignore the marketing and carefully inspect the ingredients list instead. Double-check that they are not using harmful artificial sweeteners like aspartame for low-calorie choices. There are countless zero-calorie, naturally derived sweeteners on the market. As far as quality, making sure the ingredients are sourced well and assembled in a top facility is very important.
Regarding formulations, try to avoid drinks that tout “proprietary blends.” If their blend were that life-changing, the company would have spent the extra money to get a patent. Most companies use this to hide the fact that they are underdosing ingredients. Most supplements have a minimum threshold to derive their benefits (minimum effective dose). Low-priced energy drinks are one of the greatest offenders of employing this tactic.
When do you need an energy drink? Is it before the start of your workout or midway through a grueling series of meetings? Each person has specific needs which will determine which energy drink would be the best for them.
Understanding what you need energy for will ensure you don't consume more than is needed. For example, if you need to stay alert and focused during back-to-back work shifts, you don't need to add an energy drink to enhance athletic performance. When looking for the best energy drink for you, ensure the ingredients align with your goals. This step alone will help you weed out half of the energy drinks on the market.
Optimal levels of caffeine can vary between people. For some, their sweet spot may be a daily allowance of 400mg of caffeine, while others could become jittery at just 100mg. Why is this important? With caffeine, the principle of diminishing returns applies. More does not mean better. In fact, utilizing more than is necessary can create problems in other areas. When looking for the best energy drink, the least amount of caffeine required for maximal efficiency and performance wins.
Testing your sensitivity to caffeine is simple and doesn't require being specific to the exact milligram. Experimenting with different amounts within healthy ranges and documenting your body's response should be sufficient.
While the right energy drinks are highly effective in helping us operate at peak levels, ensuring the version we choose complements other aspects of your lifestyle is important. If you enjoy drinking a steady stream of coffee or tea throughout the day, you may want to utilize an energy drink lower in caffeine. For athletes that need energy primarily for their workouts, utilizing a pre-workout energy drink would be best.
Prices depend on several factors and tend to fluctuate over time, so we've kept our affordability rating scale simple so you can easily see how products compare:
$ = under $1 per serving $$ = $1-2 per serving $$$ = over $2 per serving
Regarding dietary supplements you take frequently or even daily, options are important. And while your protein powder or pre-workout doesn't have to taste good to be effective, having several flavors to choose from can make it easier to stick with your fitness and health goals.
A solid formulation designed to accompany you on any activity or workout, Cellucor's C4 tops our list as the best overall energy drink. As a company, Cellucor has had a very long, well-reviewed track record in the pre-workout energy drink space. With a hefty 200 milligrams of caffeine (equivalent to four cups of coffee), its real power comes from synergizing it with the benefits of other ingredients like niacinamide, B-12, and N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine, which supports your mind's ability to deal with stress.
With Cellucor's background in exercise science and athletics, C4 has an ivy league approach to incorporating caffeine energy with ingredients to enhance workout performance. For example, beta-alanine has been shown to delay fatigue resulting in increased, prolonged performance.
Although we're usually not fans of proprietary blends, in this case, the company has gone the extra mile in patenting them. We're also particular fans of this pre-mixed version. Cellucor's original product only came in powdered form, which was a nightmare to mix up if you didn't have a clean shaker cup handy. Regarding convenience and ingredients, it's hard to argue that C4 is not one of the best overall energy drinks on the market.
Energy drinks are traditionally seen as a pre-workout ritual. However, many athletes have started experimenting with reserving part of their energy drinks midway through their sessions. In fact, studies suggest a correlation between ingredients found in energy drinks and their effects on reducing muscle damage when taken throughout endurance workouts.
Celsius' energy drink is a clear front runner when it comes to ingredients that are most effective for this. Its focus on ingredients that delay fatigue and increase recovery speed is essential for intra-workout use. Celsius is our choice for mid-workout to keep your body hydrated, enhance recovery, and serve as a buffer between your workouts and muscle cannibalization.
Energy drinks can be very effective in optimizing our mental performance as well. Whether to power through a late-night road trip or prepare for a presentation at work, an energy drink needs an ideal balance of ingredients to give you rock-solid focus and mental clarity. It's less about caffeine and more about the supplemental components that enhance your body's mental capacity.
FOCUSAid by LifeAid has one of the highest concentrations of brain-boosting ingredients we have found. Designed specifically to boost energy and mental performance, FOCUSAid's formulation takes a brain-first approach, earning it the best energy drink for focus. The main ingredient Gaba is a neurochemical that aids in stress management, focus, and concentration. The addition of Alpha-GPC aids brain functions tightly correlated to learning and memory. It's not the lowest calorie option on the list, but if your main needs are of the mental, deep-learning variety, this focus-boosting energy drink is worth considering.
Energy drinks can be an incredible boost when taken before an intense workout. It's not just about the energy either. With the right ingredients, pre-workout energy drinks can help put your body in an ideal position for maximum effort and shortened recovery times. If your goal is muscle growth, some formulations contain supplements that aid in preserving muscle tissue and improving muscle synthesis.
For this roundup, we've crowned Optimum Nutrition's Amino Energy Plus Electrolytes as the best pre-workout energy drink. The high dosage of amino acids aids energy production and can serve as a reserve system for your muscles, decreasing some of the catabolic effects of exercise. It's got a solid amount of electrolytes which help with muscle function. These factors make it our choice for the best pre-workout energy drink.
Natural energy is more about what you leave out than what you put in. That's why when it came to our recommendation, we went with a company built from the ground up to be “natural” first. Proper Wild's plant-based energy shots are free of gluten, soy, GMO, and dairy. If they stopped there, it would already outpace most of the other products we looked into. However, Proper Wild went the extra mile to ensure each energy shot also leaves out any preservatives, is completely vegan and is even Stevia-free.
We appreciated their clean, natural ingredient list. Our decision was also informed by how the company sourced its caffeine (organic green tea) and paired it with a high concentration of L-Theanine, which can prolong elevated focus, manage stress, and improve sleep. Even more good news? Each energy shot contains all the L-Theanine you need to get its full benefit. If you're looking for a clean pre-workout that won't upset your stomach, this 2.5-ounce energy shot gives you a powerful boost without loading up on a 12-ounce beverage.
A good number of experienced users still prefer the ability to customize their dosages according to their needs. When it comes to flexibility and budget, an energy drink powder is going to be the best option. Besides normal considerations, our choice factored in mixability and sweetness. The last thing you want is a mouth full of grit on your final sip. You also don't want your drink to be too sweet because you upped the dosage.
Pure Boost Clean Energy is our choice for the best powder energy drink. Each serving is packaged in an easy tear, quick mix packet. This alone makes it a joy to use. Nothing is worse than getting a wide scoop of energy powder into a narrow-mouthed water bottle on a windy day. It's a small feature that increases its convenience. Users rave about how quickly it dissolves in water after a few shakes. It's not just about the quick energy, either. This clean energy drink mix contains the highest amount of antioxidants that we’ve seen from an energy drink—reducing your risk of long-term illness and disease. With vitamins such as B12, its health benefits only add to the energy it can provide.
After going viral on social media for its delicious zero-calorie flavors, our research uncovered many more benefits to Hiball Sparkling Energy Water than just its taste. In fact, there are a lot of research-based reasons why it's our choice for the best low-calorie energy drink. While other companies take shortcuts with artificial sweeteners, Hiball comes by their zero-calorie formulation using all-natural, often organic ingredients. Another benefit is their choice not to use taurine (a common but controversial ingredient) in their products.
Hiball's energy drink has one of the cleanest formulations on the market, boasting zero sugar and zero calories, as well as being keto-friendly, vegan, and low glycemic. In place of fillers, Hiball contains a host of quality vitamins and nutrients like b-complex, panax ginseng, niacinamide, and vitamin B12, which are well researched. Especially for those on a caloric deficit, Hiball Sparkling Energy Water may prove to be a great option. You won’t grow bored with Hiball’s flavors, either—Amazon currently offers four highly rated flavor options, but Hiball comes in up to seven flavors to keep your options fresh.
The best energy drinks for focus rely on a moderate amount of caffeine paired with proven ingredients to enhance mental clarity and productivity. Choosing a product that's low in sugar and calories is important. Extra sugar in the presence of high levels of caffeine can result in what many refer to as a crash shortly after taking it. For this reason, we selected LifeAid's FOCUSAid as the best energy drink for focus. Rather than relying solely on caffeine (it only has 100 milligrams per serving), it uses ingredients like B-complex vitamins to enhance and convert what we consume into increased energy and focus.
Nothing can be more frustrating than feeling tired when we need to be alert, energized, and focused. Energy drinks are one of the most effective ways to get an extra boost. However, if you find these drinks becoming less and less effective the more you use them, it could indicate they are being used improperly. Make sure that rather than using energy drinks to fill the gaps and underlying deficiencies, that you are using them to enhance your diet and recovery.
Our research has determined Proper Wild's plant-based energy shot to be one of the cleanest formulations on the market. With its traceable, science-backed ingredients, this energy shot also provides long-term benefits from prolonged use. Another great option is Celsius, which uses natural flavors and sweeteners. Both of these energy drinks are moderate in their use of caffeine. When it comes to the healthiest energy drinks, it's important to ensure ingredients are from organic sources with little to no artificial preservatives or ingredients.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.