The latest crop of energy drinks aim to do more than just wake you up. Some claim to make sex better, others purport to improve brain function, while still more say they're good for the environment.
Can Eleuthero make you smarter? Is a "powershot" a good idea?
"With most of the drinks, they're basically sugar and water with some herbs and caffeine thrown in," says Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian.
To find out what's good for you and what actually tastes good we got expert opinions from Sandon and registered dietitian Keri Gans and assembled a panel of 10 taste-testers looking for an afternoon pick-me-up: an enthusiastic college student and harried journalists on deadline.
A "think drink" (isn't the IQ at the end cute?) that has no caffeine or processed sugar. The beverage maker claims mental focus comes from the Russian roots Rhodiola and Eleuthero and two "brain nutrients" choline and DMAE. It's then sweetened with agave nectar and citrus extracts. The 8.4-ounce can has 80 calories and 20 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: This drink does include a lot of natural ingredients: Sandon says agave nectar is basically "honey from a cactus." Choline is found in eggs and has been shown to benefit people with dementia, but there has been little research on whether it can help people whose memories are intact, she says. Rhodiola root and Eleuthro may help speed up the conversion of food to energy, but the studies are mixed.
THE TESTERS SAY: One taste-tester said the somewhat grapefruit-juice like Brain Toniq had an "absolutely dreadful taste, but another one found it "thirst-quenching."
Playboy Energy Drink
The "ultra-sexy" and "incredibly invigorating" Playboy Energy Drink contains horny goat weed extract (yes it's really an herb), ginseng, guarana and damiana leaf, and lots of sugar. An 8.4-ounce can has 120 calories and 30 grams of sugar. It also comes in sugar-free.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: This drink has too much sugar, Gans says. "All the other ingredients they say have health benefits are in small doses," she says. Horny goat weed is an herb for virility, Sandon says. Does it help? "My guess is no," she says. Gans says that studies suggest that high doses of icariin, which is found in horny goat weed, may be toxic to the kidney and liver. "So one should be careful how much they drink."
THE TESTERS SAY: A few testers compared the drink to candy: cotton candy, liquid Pez, Pixy Stix. Some found it sweet but refreshing.
FUZE Beverage says the PowerShot packs "hours of horsepower" in a 2-ounce bottle, with the same amount of caffeine, B-vitamins and amino acids that are found in an 8-ounce serving of a regular NOS Energy Drink. It contains "elevated levels" of Vitamins B6 and B12. Each shot has 30 calories, no fat and 6 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: With high fructose corn syrup the second ingredient, this drink will probably deliver an energy burst but it will be short lived, Gans says. Better to eat a healthy food for a longer-lasting effect.
THE TESTERS SAY: One tester said this one had to be downed like a shot sipping wasn't a good option for the cough syrup-like liquid.
A "killer combo" of juices, such as pineapple, passion fruit and apple, and "a full load of potent Monster energy blend," according to the label. The 80 stands for the percentage of juice in M-80, which contains caffeine, guarana, taurine, B-vitamins, ginseng and amino acids. An 8-ounce serving has 90 calories and 23 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: B-vitamins are crucial in converting food to energy, Sandon says. But people with a well-balanced diet don't need the extras in an energy drink, she says. "You can get as much B-vitamins that will be better absorbed from a lean piece of steak or a glass of skim milk."
THE TESTERS SAY: Most of the testers said the drink was too sweet. One said the pineapple drink's punch kicked in right away. One simply "liked it!"
Cranergy Energy Juice Drink
A "better for you energy drink," says Ocean Spray, whose new energy drink is sweetened with Splenda and contains green tea extract, juices from concentrate, B-vitamins and vitamin C. Cranergy comes in two flavors Cranberry Lift and Raspberry Cranberry Lift. A 12-ounce serving has 50 calories, no fat and 12-13 grams of sugar, depending on the flavor.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: It's low in calories, and 13 grams of sugar isn't bad, Gans says. But she's concerned that the caffeine is coming from green tea, and will give people false energy. "I never recommend getting energy from a drink," she says. "I recommend getting energy from sleep, exercise and a healthy diet."
THE TESTERS SAY: One tester thought this drink tasted pretty close to regular cranberry cocktail, while another thought it was too watered down.
Rapper and producer Lil Jon is the chief brand adviser and Paul Wall is CRUNK!!!'s newest featured artist. CRUNK!!! (the word means energy and is used to describe something fun) contains high-fructose corn syrup, amino acids, green tea, damiana leaf, guarana, horny goat weed extract and pomegranate juice. The 8.3-ounce can has 120 calories, no fat and 29 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: The drink has 100 mg of caffeine listed in the proprietary blend, which is problematic, Gans says. Sandon says that's typical. "I think somehow people perceive these as health drinks," she says. "But really there's not much in there that is health benefiting."
THE TESTERS SAY: One raved about the drink, "awesome taste!" A couple said it was too sweet, with one saying that it was still lighter than other energy drinks and somewhat refreshing. One said it was cranberry-ish not bad.
An organic energy drink that contains Acai, a berry Sambazon "sustainably" harvests from palm trees in the Amazon River Basin. The drink also contains guarana and Yerba Mate, a plant with "antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and amino acids." An 8-ounce serving has 80 calories, no fat, and 19 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: "They do claim it's all natural, which I like," Gans says. "But it does have evaporated cane juice as its second ingredient. That's sugar." She emphasizes that just because something is organic, doesn't mean it's a better choice. "I would rather someone be concerned with drinking a healthy beverage."
THE TESTERS SAY: This beverage struck many as close to grape soda, but a little watery.
Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee
The new ready-to-drink Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee combine Starbucks coffee, B-vitamins, guarana, proteins from milk and ginseng into a 15-ounce can. The drinks come in coffee, vanilla and mocha flavors. An 8-ounce serving has 110 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: "I'm concerned with the calories," Gans says. "If anyone's drinking this and having the whole container, which most people do, you're having more than 200 calories, which is a lot of calories for a beverage, plus 28 grams of sugar. We shouldn't be drinking our calories unless it's a nutrient-dense beverage like low-fat milk."
THE TESTERS SAY: One tester said it was as sweet as expected and hard to believe that it was good for him. Another compared the taste to Ovaltine.
Bawls Guarana G33KB33R
The beverage maker calls this the first high-caffeine root beer, inspired by fans "who want to let out their inner geek." The name is written in "Leetspeak," a language where techies substitute numbers for letters. G33K B33R has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee and contains high-fructose corn syrup and guarana extract. A 10-ounce bottle has 130 calories, no fat and 36 grams of sugar.
THE DIETITIANS SAY: Gans says the calories and sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, are too high. Guarana also poses some problems, Sandon says. "It's an herbal caffeine," she says. "It's not any different than if you squeezed the caffeine out of a coffee bean."
THE TESTERS SAY: Several testers said this tasted like good old-fashioned root beer, with one saying it was refreshing. One said it was a little off, adding that perhaps he couldn't get over drinking something called Bawls.