Better living through chemistry

What to think before you drink

We know: Health professionals aren’t impressed by energy drinks.

“I don’t see any problem with having a Red Bull instead of a coffee if you’re looking for that wake-up call,” says American Dietetic Assn. spokeswoman Andrea Giancoli. “It’s really the caffeine that’s giving the alertness.”

To which we say: Nonsense.

A scientific sampling of the 150 or so beverages that comprise the booming energy drink market is beyond our purview. However, a few weeks spent sampling these beverages suggests that whatever’s fueling them is more than coffee in disguise.

The most effective one we sampled, ProEndorphin, contains no caffeine (although it used to require a prescription), while Liquid Ice contains the same sugar and caffeine as Red Bull but packs a wallop that made us look for the label about operating machinery.

So what’s the power source? Hard to say. There are ingredients like taurine (an amino acid that aids digestion) and glucuronolactone (a metabolite credited with boosting energy), but no one knows if they actually do anything.

“Most of these drinks are created by flavor chemists,” says John Craven, editor of beverage trade Web site BevNET.com. “None of these have FDA regulations around them, so there really is no scientific evidence.”

However, some folks have their suspicions. France, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have banned Red Bull; in Canada, it carries a warning label.

We’ve never let that stop us before. Here’s V Life Weekend’s take on the best, worst and better living through chemistry.

Best of the Best

($38 for a box of 20 sachets)
Caffeine/sugar: None
And: B vitamins, ginseng, kola nut, taurine
The buzz: Pure and powerful, like Tang with a twang.
Calories: 10 (add water to taste)
Where to buy: LA Urban Fitness

Rip It Citrus X
Sugar Free (99¢ for two)
Caffeine/sugar: 100 mg/none
And:taurine, guarana seed
The buzz: A concentrated bang, with the taste of diet Sunkist soda.
Calories: 0
Where to buy: 99¢ Only Stores

Red Bull (8.3 oz., $2)
Caffeine/sugar: 80 mg/26.75 g
And: taurine, B vitamins, glucuronolactone
The buzz: Medium octane with the flavor of a light, synthetic Italian soda
Calories: 110
Where to buy: everywhere

For the Taste of It

Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda (10 oz., $2)
Caffeine/sugar: Company won’t say/39 g
And: That’s it.
The buzz: Classic stimulants, classic flavor.
Calories: 160
Where to buy: various specialty markets

Matcha Green Tea Blast (27 oz., $5)
Caffeine/sugar: 75 mg/136 g
And: antioxidants, Vitamin D
The buzz: A meal substitute that gives you a fighting chance against a hangover.
Calories: 680
Where to buy: Jamba Juice


Liquid Ice (8.3 oz., $2)
Caffeine/sugar:80 mg /29g
And: taurine, B vitamins, CoQ-10
The buzz: Tastes like a blue Charms Blow Pop with a grapefruit finish and behaves like Salvador Dali in a can.
Calories: 130
Where to buy: convenience stores

Jolt Cola (12 oz., $2)
Caffeine/sugar: 75 mg/27 g
And: That’s it.
The buzz: A Pepsi with less carbonation and enough voltage to make cars seem unnecessary.
Calories: 150
Where to buy: convenience stores

Why Bother

Glaceau Vitamin Water: Energy (20 oz., $1.25)
Caffeine/sugar: 42 mg/8 g
And: guarana, ginseng, B vitamins
The buzz: Watered-down Gatorade.
Calories: 125
Where to buy: Trader Joe’s