Pure Energy: A Critical Look At Energy Drinks

Pure Energy: A Critical Look At Energy Drinks
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The gaming industry is growing by leaps and bounds every year, and as more and more people enter the gaming community, more and more companies are trying to find a way to capitalize on the exploding demographic. Furniture companies start producing gaming chairs, electronics manufacturers add high-definition gaming to their feature lists – I’ve even seen local apartment complexes advertising gamer-friendly DSL on signs outside their property. With brands like Mountain Dew already sharing a strong association with gamer culture, it makes sense that the energy drink industry would target our hobby in a big way. Game harder, faster, and longer with the help of various sugars and herbs in a tiny tin can – but which tiny tin can is the best? I took a look at thirteen of the more popular brands in my area to determine which energy drink packs the most kick without making you sick to your stomach.

Now there are a few big names you might miss from my list. Bawls, for instance, was just not available in my immediate area, and if I can’t drive down to the corner store to pick it up on a whim I’ m not going to assume everyone else can. Mountain Dew Game Fuel is absent as well, as the stores in my area are no longer stocking it and it never really fit the energy drink profile in the first place. I chose items that contained at least two or three of the following:

Common Energy Drink Ingredients

Caffeine: Ah yes, good old caffeine. A stimulant drug and a mild diuretic, which explains why I’ve been in the bathroom so much during this project. The world’s most widely used psychoactive substance.

Taurine: 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, an organic acid which is a common component of – yum – bile! Taurine has been shown to alleviate muscle fatigue in rats, increasing exercise capacity. Taurine is an important part of a cat’s diet, as felines cannot create it on their own. It is a requirement in U.S. cat foods. Now you know!

Ginseng: Ginseng is a plant, the roots of which are widely consumed in North America and Asia as adaptogens, aphrodisiacs, stimulants, as well as for the treatment of type II diabetes and male sexual dysfunction. After drinking all of these energy drinks, I am surely the most potent man in town, with the ardor to back it up. Woot!

Guarana: The seeds of the guarana plant is what we’re talking about here, which contain about three times the caffeine of a coffee bean. In Brazil, guarana-based soft drinks commonly outsell popular cola drinks. Studies have shown that guarana has the effect of increasing memory retention and physical endurance in rats, with human studies showing that lower doses can increase memory, alertness, and mood.

Ginkgo: Ginkgo is a plant once thought to be long extinct – a living fossil, as the only records of the plant before being discovered growing in the Zhejiang province in Eastern China were from fossils dating back over 270 million years ago. The effects of ginkgo are in a constant state of flux, as scientists fight back and forth over study results. Blood flow and memory improvement seem to be the most prevalent suggested effects, though the amounts included in energy drinks are so negligible as to not really matter.

L Carnitine: A quaternary ammonium compound which helps with fat consumption and disposal in the body. Synthesized in the liver and kidneys, carnitine is also found in many of our foods – meats, beans, vegetables, fruits, and grains – we get this stuff everywhere.

Inositol: A nutrient that aids in regulating the central nervous system, which sounds absolutely delicious.

The Energy Drink Horde

What follows is a listing of the drinks I partook of, their manufacturers, and a few facts about their history where applicable, along with descriptions and grades given in two categories – flavor and buzz. I consumed a full can of each product, with several hours in between each drink in order to separate the effects. Of course this is not a scientifically sound test – this is strictly my opinion, but after drinking thirteen different cans of energy drinks over the course of a long weekend I am convinced that my opinion is completely awesome and I could – if needed – run completely through the living room wall into the neighboring apartment.

edredbull.jpgRed Bull

Produced by Red Bull North America, Inc.
Red Bull was created in Thailand in the 1970’s, under the name ‘Krating Daeng’. In 1982 an Austrian entrepreneur named Dietrich Mateschitz discovered that the drink cured him of his jet lag, and between 1984 and 1987 reformulated the beverage along with the original manufacturer, founding Red Bull alongside partner Chaleo Yoovidhya. Today Red Bull is the most successful energy drink in the world.
Ingredients: Taurine, Caffeine, Inositol
Color: Closely resembles apple juice or possibly urine.
Scent: Very sweet, flowery scent.
Taste: It tastes like it wants desperately to be cloyingly sweet and then decides against it at the very last moment, turning slightly sour and bitter while leaving a sort of flowery aftertaste behind. This is what I imagine roses would taste like if they didn’t taste like plants. I used to think people mixed this with vodka to make the vodka taste better, though now I’m not so sure it isn’t the other way around.
3 of 10.
Buzz: Directly after drinking I felt a few little tingles, though honestly that could have just been excitement over starting this grand project. After another ten minutes, still feeling slightly tingly. A half hour after drinking the tingly is still around. Don’t exactly feel full of energy, but definitely a bit more relaxed.
5 of 10


Produced by Redux Beverages
The energy drink Cocaine was introduced in 2006, marketed as “The Legal Alternative To Cocaine.” This went over well with the FDA, who pulled the drink from shelves in May of 2007. In June, Redux Beverages redistributed the drink as No Name, with a blank label that drinkers could write their own name on. Now in early 2008 the product has returned to the shelves under its original name.
Ingredients: Taurine, Caffeine, Inositol, L-Carnitine, Pain
Color: Candy Red…nearly a deep orange
Scent: Weak flowery scene with a hint of cherry.
Taste: OUCH. This is the sweet of Red Bull followed by what I can only explain is a hot pepper-like burn. Ow ow ow. For just a moment you taste a cloying sweetness, followed by a chemical fire in your mouth. Like hot peppers or something. How can this can not say something about peppers? Damn this burns. I hate you people. Oh god. Finished the whole thing, feel like I am going to die.
2 of 10
Buzz: Hard to tell, since my throat is burning. Drank some water to ease the pain. Man. Certainly more awake than I was after the first mouthful. Little tingly now 10 minutes in, but the burn is still there. Oh boy is the burn still there. Like a mouthful of tabasco. While I cannot recommend this drink for flavor, it will certainly kick the living crap out of your sleepiness.
9 of 10

ter Booster

Rooster Booster is mainly found at Quiktrip and Road Ranger stores across the US. I don’t know about Road Ranger, but it can be found at the soda fountain in most Quiktrip stores, as well as in icee form.
Ingredients: Taurine, Inositol, Caffeine
Color: Ruby red with a hint of caramel color
Scent: It smells a lot like strawberry Cool-Aid
Taste: With tastes like a bubbly, melted Freeze Pop of the cherry variety, with just a slight bit of sour bitterness. Very sweet. Thankfully not burny whatsoever.
7 of 10
Buzz: Weaksauce. Barely a tingle from this stuff. Not sure where they get off calling this an energy drink, other than sharing some of the common ingredients.
1 of 10


Produced by Crunk LLC.
It’s rapper Lil Jon’s own energy drink! Pretty sure he made it all by himself too. Brilliant herbologist, that Lil Jon is.
Ingredients: Caffeine, Inositol, L-Carnitine, Horny Goat Weed, Ginkgo, Ginseng, Skull Cap, White Willow Bark, Ashwaganda Root, Milk Thistle Seed. They just threw everything in there.
Color: A cloudy sort of brownish red.
Scent: Smells like Minute Maid fruit punch, you know, the kind you get in the carton.
Taste: Taste like Minute Maid fruit punch gone bad, with a bit of an emphasis on pineapple…and the sort of enriched after taste you get when eating baby food. Bitter and sour aftertaste. Overall a kind of sweet and sour yuck.
4 of 10
Buzz: You’d think with all of these ingredients I’d be flying around the room right now, but not much going on in my body right now except for a slight hungry. After awhile I feel a tiny surge, but nothing more than a slight disturbance in the force.
2 of 10.

edmonster.jpgMonster Energy

Produced by the Monster Beverage Company
Monster first came on the scene in 2002, and was one of the first energy drinks to come in the 16 ounce can – twice the size of a Red Bull.
Ingredients: Taurine, Ginseng, L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Inositol, Guarana
Color: Deep amber.
Scent: Flower petals and bubblegum.
Taste: Oddly enough, flower petals and bubblegum. Like a slightly sour Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit. I like it. Nummylicious.
9 of 10.
Buzz: Oooo, now there’s a nice little tingly going on. Not quite as potent as the Cocaine, but the taste combined with the buzz makes Monster the total package thus far.
7 of 10.

edamp.jpgAMP Tall Boy

Produced by Pepsi
AMP is a Mountain Dew based energy drink created in 2001 to compete with Red Bull. It uses a base Mountain Dew flavor with added energy drink ingredients.
Ingredients: Guarana, Caffeine, Taurine, Ginseng
Color: Neon Yellow with a hint of green. Radioactive looking.
Scent: Very, very faint scent of sweet citrus.
Taste: A lot like Mountain Dew, actually…though more concentrated and with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Being a huge fan of Mountain Dew, I definitely prefer the real thing to this version.
6 of 10
Buzz: Fair to middling. Kinda used to this stuff by now, so it doesn’t hold the kick it once may have.
5 of 10.


Produced by High Performance Beverage
NOS was created in 2006 and bottled to look like a nitrous oxide cartridge. High Performance Beverage was recently purchased by Coca-Cola.
Ingredients: Taurine, L-Carnitine, Caffeine, Ginseng
Color: A cloudy yellow, sort of like a highly diluted orange juice.
Scent: Strong citrus scent…mainly grapefruit, with a hint of orange.
Taste: Ooo, this is kind of nice. Tastes like a tart citrus punch mixed with Sprite. Not too sweet, and just sour enough to begin to make your lips pucker. Very pleasant!
8 of 10.
Buzz: More refreshing than anything else. I feel somewhat invigorated and my head feels a bit more clear. Not so much a buzz as a general sharpening of my senses.
6 of 10

edredjak.jpgRed Jak

Produced by Big Red LTD.
I’m not finding too much information about Red Jak other than it was recently relaunched in a brand-new, much more stylized can.
Ingredients: Taurine, Ginseng, Inositol, L-Carnitine, Caffeine
Color: Pinkish Orange, if that makes any sense.
Scent: Just the hint of a sweet, flowery smell.
Taste: It’s rather odd. It has a flowery, sweet aftertaste sort of like Red Bull, but the actual taste while the drink is in your mouth is just a burst of slightly sour sweet without any real direction. I know it’s trying to be some sort of fruit, but it’s not making it.
3 of 10
Buzz: I’m pretty tired when I cracked open the Red Jak, but it has enough of a kick to keep me going another two and a half hours, which is an excellent boost in my book.
8 of 10

edsavage.jpgSavage Energy

Produced by Caroline Beverage Corp.
Savage Energy comes in a black plastic bottle, giving it a unique shelf presence that immediately caught my eye. It’s by the same company that makes Cheerwine, so you know it has to be good!
Ingredients: Taurine, Caffeine, Ginseng, Inositol
Color: Savage is a pale gold, sort of like a nice whiskey.
Scent: Fruity Bubblegum smell…like a bubblegum flavored lollipop.
Flavor: Mmmmmm. It tastes like a bubblegum lollipop too, with just a hint of undefinable citrus flavor. This stuff tastes awesome. Has me licking my lips after every swallow. I could drink this all day long.
10 of 10
Buzz: Unfortunately I have noticed that the better these drinks taste, the less effect they have buzz-wise, and Savage is the poster child for this observation. Tastes amazing, barely has any effect on me otherwise.
1 of 10

ednofear.jpgSobe No Fear

Produced by South Beach Beverage Company
The energy drink of the clothing brand!
Ingredients: Taurine, Inositol, Ginseng, Guarana, L-Carnitine, Caffeine
Color: Dark orange, almost brownish.
Scent: Indeterminate fruity smell.
Taste: No Fear tastes like a really weak Guava juice. Slightly tropical. It is pretty much a Sobe fruit juice drink with a little bit of carbonation added. Not too fond of the taste.
2 of 10
Buzz: No Fear does have a nice little kick to it, despite how bad it tastes. Almost makes you wonder if these energy drinks rely on shock to your palate to get your energy up rather than all these fancy ingredients.
7 of 10

edfullthrottle.jpgFull Throttle

by Coca-Cola

Full Throttle was created in 2004 by Coca-Cola, and is one of the easiest to find energy drinks, available in 78% of convenience stores across the US as of 2005.
Ingredients: Taurine, Ginseng, Caffeine
Color: Cloudy yellow, like diluted orange juice.
Scent: O.o This smells like a margarita. Almost exactly like a margarita.
Taste: Strange. I have tasted this before but I cannot quite place it. It really tastes like a virgin margarita to me, which is completely delicious. I like. A lot.
9 of 10
Buzz: Dammit. Once again the taste versus buzz theory stands. Hardly any buzz whatsoever. Sadness!
1 of 10

edlost.jpg…Lost Perfect

Produced by Lost Beverage Company
Lost is based off of Monster Energy, as the two smaller beverage companies are both owned by the larger Hansen Beverage Company.
Ingredients: Ginkgo, Ginseng, Caffeine, Guarana, L-Carnitine
Color: Clear amber…looks a lot like a glass of beer.
Scent: Oh, this is another one of those bubblegum lollipop smelling drinks!
Taste: Definitely bubblegum lollipop, with a strong burst of artificial fruit flavor at the end. A slight artificial aftertaste.
7 of 10
Buzz: While Lost is modeled after Monster, it seems to lack the kick of its fellow drink, with only a mild buzz kicking in shortly after drinking it.
3 of 10

edrockstar.jpgRockstar Energy Drink

Produced by Rockstar Inc.
Rockstar was created in 2001 by Russ Weiner, the son of national radio talk show host and complete nutball, Michael Savage. In Canada there are alcoholic versions – “Rockstar + Vodka”, and “Rockstar + Vodka/Pomegranate”. Sadly, this is not Canada.
Ingredients: Taurine, Ginkgo Biloba, Caffeine, Guarana, Inositol, L-Carnitine, Ginseng
Color: Clear amber, like beer or apple juice.
Scent: Sweet fruit scent.
Flavor: Rockstar combines the flowery taste of Red Bull with the fruity bubblegum taste of several of the other varieties for a flavor somewhere in between. It left me craving more sweetness., though not too bad.
6 of 10
Buzz: A nice, mild buzz from this one. Didn’t have me bouncing off of the walls, but I certainly wasn’t ready for nappytime.
5 of 10

The Verdict
The end result all depends on what you are looking for. If you are going purely on taste, you probably shouldn’t be shopping for energy drinks, though if for some reason you are you can’t beat the taste of Savage Energy in my book, garnering the only perfect score in the category. For the biggest jolt, the agonizing pain of Cocaine wins out hand-down, scoring a nine. If you are searching for something that packs a nice kick and doesn’t taste like death, however, Monster Energy is the all-round winner, with an average of eight between the two categories. Congratulations!

The Aftermath
So how do I honestly feel after having spent the weekend drinking nothing but energy drinks out of cans? Despite the nutrients and claimed benefits of the various ingredients commonly used in their manaufacture, there is nothing really healthy about relying on artificial energy to push yourself. The times I did crash over the weekend I crashed *hard*, as if my body finally realized what I was trying to do and wanted nothing to do with it. Our physiology is deisgned with built-in safeguards that tell us when we are hungry, or thirsty, or tired – and bypassing that on a regular basis is not a great idea. I know you want to get in as much gaming as possible, but the games will still be there when you wake up. Energy drinks are great for a once in a while boost, but if you rely on them to get you through your day, you might be living wrong. That’s just my two cents.


  • Some good research there, though surely you perhaps should have spaced each energy drink out with a day to “recover” so you could be sure that they weren’t messing with each other?. This article reminded me of the Extinct Beverage reviews on Lance and Eskimo…

  • You reminded me how much I miss the Sprite-based ‘Refresh’ energy drink, and how godawful their replacement ‘Mother’ is.

  • Donar- Oh yes..I missed ‘Refresh’ as well..Why on why did coke pull it and give us Mother? I want to know who tasted the drink and thought it was NICE!? Kinda like Hornii which is just as bad.

  • That Hornii is just plain stupid name…. there is nothing smart in the marketing.
    I think they are going broke anyway, they do not answer their phone when I rang to complain about the drink.

  • You must of been buzzing something hard after a mix like that… you do know there are healthy alternatives on the market… and you can get them delivered directly to your door… just a thought for a future story… that way you can compare sugar-laden kind against the healthy alternatives.

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