How well do those energy drinks work?
16 oz./220 calories
Touts: Vitamins B-3, B-6, and B-12, taurine, ginseng, carnitine, guarana, caffeine.
Warns: Of nothing.
Tastes: Tart and vaguely fruity. Like Alka-Seltzer in Kool-Aid.
Effects: I guzzle a can on the way to take an 8-year-old boy to play in the park. I quickly realize that 16 ounces of anything fizzy is a lot to ask a moving stomach to digest. Other than bloat, I discern no effect, as I'm run ragged in no time. I do play Hoop Fever at the nearest arcade and score a ridiculous 74 points, besting the day's previous mark by 29 points.
Verdict: My concentration and shooting groove were great. As for energy, well, there wasn't much. Sicher predicts that in a few years, only drinks from the larger beverage companies (Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Hansen's) will emerge from the current glut. It'll be a shame if that's the case, considering the mediocre offerings from Pepsi and Coke.
8.3 oz./110 calories
Touts: Vitamins B-3, B-5, B-6, and B-12, taurine.
Claims: The farm. "Improves performance, especially during times of increased stress or strain, increases concentration and improves reaction time, stimulates the metabolism."
Warns: "Avoid while playing potentially harmful contact sports." No, I made that up.
Tastes: Sweet, fizzy, acrid. "Like corn syrup that burns" is one friend's accurate assessment.
Effects: Endows me with some verve that, per usual, dissipates when I start the push-ups. There's no endurance in these cans. To test the claim of "increased stress" I play Boggle while watching Family Guy and emerge with wildly varying scores. My stomach feels sour and a headache brews.
Verdict: Beats a trip to the emergency room, but I'm surprised this little can holds half the domestic market, considering how blah it is. The taste, while distinct, isn't exactly pleasant, and the energy it provides is fleeting.
16 oz./200 calories
Touts: Vitamins B-3, B-6, B-12, and C, taurine, ginseng, inositol, caffeine, L-carnitine.
Warns: "Consume responsibly—limit 3 cans per day. Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine."
Tastes: Like subdued Mountain Dew, with a now-familiar vitaminy edge.
Effects: I see this everywhere, so I assume it's popular—but it has almost no noticeable effect on me. When I do push-ups, my body protests early, as when it's asked to run on too much sugar. In playing pickup basketball, I melt quickly. The thought hits me that perhaps I've acquired a resistance to vitamins and sugar water. On the other hand, the Boggle scores are among the best of any drink tested.
Verdict: A moderate disappointment, considering the bitchin' claw marks on the can. I can't figure out why I seem immune to this, and two other drinks called Energy Pro and Hansen's—all the spawn of Hansen's, the second-largest U.S. energy-drink manufacturer. I recently met an Iraq war veteran (who knows from stimulants) who buys this stuff by the case. Me, I can't see it, although a fair flavor and a lack of ill effects make it a borderline drink.
16 oz./260 calories
Touts: Vitamins B-6, B-12, and C, folic acid, selenium, zinc, taurine, inositol, ginseng, guarana, creatine, grape seed extract, L-carnitine, L-arginine, caffeine.
Claims: "Super energy supplement."
Warns: "Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine."
Tastes: Sweet, mildly fizzy, with a hint of grapefruit.
Effects: It does offer some extra kick first thing in the morning: My arms move faster even when drying myself off after a shower. When I type, my fingers move quickly and with precision. My heart seems to pound too hard during push-ups. I feel alert but distractible. Boggle scores are high; Hoop Fever scores disappointingly mediocre.
Verdict: What I'd reach for if falling asleep at the wheel. Not ideal if you need focus or fine motor skills.
Sam Eifling is an itinerant freelance writer and editor.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.