How does caffeinated water compare to energy drinks in terms of ingredients and safety? What does the latest research say about caffeine and hydration? As a food scientist who’s studied the science behind energy drinks since 2003, I believe caffeinated waters can be a great alternative to the stereotypical energy drink, but there’s a lot more to consider before deciding whether caffeinated waters are right for you.
Caffeinated Waters 101 – Safety, Science, and Preferences
Caffeine and Hydration – What does research tell us?
Start with water. Add flavor. Add vitamins. Add color. Add sweetener. At what point does “water” become something else? Consider a drink with only caffeine, water, and flavor – what do we call this? For this month’s energy drink pick, let’s discuss a beverage contrary to energy drink expectations and the science behind the green coffee beans used to fuel it. Read more →
Expo West is one of my favorite shows because there’s always a plethora of new caffeinated products and health beverages to sample. Enjoy the highlight reel below, and stay tuned to GreenEyedGuide as we review these products in further detail in the coming months.
This is one of those times that reminds me of a South Park episode: when I use the words “clean energy” to describe a healthy alternative to the stereotypical energy drink, my computer starts showing me ads for solar power. As suggested in the South Park episode “Sponsored Content”, ads have evolved. But then so have energy drinks.
The Energy Drink of the Month for April 2016 is Clean Energy On-Demand (CEO).
Currently, Watermelon Coconut is the only flavor available, but this product is brand new as of this post. For an in-depth Q & A with Founder Jason Petrou, including their Steven Covey-eque Mission Statement and a peak into just how difficult it can be to bring a healthy beverage to market, CLICK HERE.
This product contains 70 milligrams of caffeine per bottle, and it says so right on the label. The caffeine comes from organic green coffee beans — Arabica coffee beans that are spared from the roasting that turns them brown and delivers the signature coffee flavor profile. Of course, caffeine is caffeine is caffeine, but that’s specifically the molecule itself. When caffeine is extracted from different sources, different compounds may come along with it – sometimes called conjoiners. This is why a food scientist may find different microscopic compounds mixed in with their caffeine extract if that extract comes from a coffee bean or a coffeeberry.
Thankfully CEO treats one whole bottle as one whole serving (how realistic), but with a screw-cap lid you can moderate your dosage and save some for the next day. This 70 mg dose of caffeine is slightly less than the 80 mg in an 8 oz Red Bull and less than HALF that of a SHORT cup of brewed coffee from Starbucks. (PS – Please note that using “a standard cup of coffee” as an indicator of caffeine content is one of the worst measurement devices on the planet. Those who respect your business will tell you EXACTLY how much caffeine is in their product without hiding behind this euphemistic, deceptive measurement. )
Other ingredients in this product include watermelon juice concentrate, coconut water concentrate, and lime juice. These ingredients and the corresponding sodium and potassium electrolytes are what make this drink so refreshing and hydrating. [For more on hydration, see this article from Food Insight]
There are no artificial colors or flavors in this product, and no added sugar. The watermelon juice provides the sweetness, and vegetable juice is added to enhance the drink’s slight red hue.
The most chemical-sounding ingredients in this product are sodium citrate and malic acid, but even those are very clean and non-scary to the worst case of chemophobia. Sodium citrate is a form of the citric acid that gives lemons their characteristic sourness, and malic acid is naturally found in watermelons and stone fruits. See this amazing infographic from Compound Interest for more details on those natural acids:
Not all energy drinks are created equal, and whether an energy drink is right for you depends not just on your level of fatigue, but on your diet goals and lifestyle choices. For example, some people are more concerned about artificial ingredients than their sugar intake, while others would rather have stevia or artificial sweeteners and a zero-sugar, zero-calorie beverage.
CEO v Similar Energy Drinks
CEO has no artificial colors or flavors, and each bottle contains just 50 Calories and 11 grams of sugar. Even if you drank the whole bottle, the sugar and Calorie impact is still minimal, which makes this energy drink a great healthy swap for some of the strictest diets. Compared to Starbucks Refreshers, which is also made with green coffee beans, this CEO beverage has more juice and caffeine (50%, 70 mg versus 25%, 50 mg). CEO also has less sugar than both Starbucks Refreshers (11 grams versus 13 grams).
Compared to BAI Antioxidant Infusion, which we reviewed February 2016, CEO has more sugar (11 grams versus 2* grams). However, that 2-asterisk-grams doesn’t include the 16 grams of sugar alcohol erythritol per bottle of BAI. CEO doesn’t use any sugar alcohols (or any other sweeteners for that matter). Furthermore, CEO is 50% juice per bottle and is aimed at hydration, while BAI is only 8% juice per bottle and is aimed at providing a dose of coffeeberry antioxidants.
CEO v Similar Hydration Drinks
I, personally, cannot stand the taste of coconut water. If you enjoy coconut water and are interested in other hydration drinks, CEO is worth a try. It bothers me immensely when people group energy drinks into one giant basket. Thus I will not make that mistake here with coconut waters. Instead, I will advise you to compare labels for Calories and sugar content when finding the beverage that works best for your diet goals and lifestyle. First and foremost you should find a sports drink that doesn’t cause you any tummy discomfort or sabotage your whole day, diet-wise. The next step in finding the perfect hydration beverage is to find one you will actually drink! For more on hydration, see this handy guide I prepared for The Scientific Parent.
Fact Panel CEO
Apr 2016 Energy Drink of the Month
Behold – yet another “energy drink in disguise” that breaks the energy drink stereotype. I wouldn’t recommend this product unless I was confident in its safety – and I do highly recommend this product. I got the chance to ask CEO about their food safety program and quality testing, and I am satisfied that this is a safe, healthy alternative to the stereotypical energy drink. At 70 mg per bottle, this would make a great swap to those used to the caffeine of a single 8 ounce Red Bull.
You know that scene in Wall-E where he tries to put the spork in the right pile? (Fork? Not quite. Spoon? Not quite. Okay then just set it in the middle.) Wall-E’s struggle in this scene is actually a very real problem for the makers and consumers of caffeinated beverages.
If health writers want to know if products like Mio and Crystal Lite stick packs have increased water consumption, what should count as “water”? When does water stop being water? When parents want to know if minors are drinking fewer energy drinks, do we include the caffeinated waters? It’s not really an energy drink, is it?
At GreenEyedGuide.com, we’ve been highlighting “energy drinks in disguise” for a long time. When Beverage World came out with their list of Beverage Disruptors, I was very happy to see a few familiar faces. These “disruptors” are not just causing classification problems, they’re creating sporks.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A DISRUPTOR?
In the fitness world, we say, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t CHANGE you!” Beverage World’s list of beverage disruptors features “people driving the enormous degree of change that’s reshaping the beverage business.” These people are driving change and breaking stereotypes. If I had GreenEyedGuide jackets to distribute, these people would be in my club for sure.
MEET THE SPORKS
1—Avitae (Norman Snyder)
Food Dive predicted a trend in 2016 of a DECREASE in sugar-sweetened beverages and the INCREASE in tea and water. Food Dive also reported that caffeinated water will impact not just soda consumption, but energy drink consumption as well! Avitae is the ace up one’s sleeve in any “energy drinks are toxic” debate because this product is water and caffeine. It’s certainly closer to water than anything else, but it serves to both hydrate and energize. Oh sure, we can use the incredibly vague term “Functional Beverage” to categorize products like this. But if the function is to provide energy, it is an energy drink. [Avitae was the Energy Drink of the Month for April 2014 and April 2015]
2 – Bai (Ben Weiss)
Take the press’ love for the word “superfruit” and the public’s love for coffee, then sprinkle in the food scientists’ concern for reducing food waste and VOILA! Behold, the coffee fruit, or “coffeeberry” as it’s also known.
Bai poses problems for juice and water categories as well. It’s only a tiny faction (<10%) juice, but it’s more,…well…exciting than water. Guess we’ll call this one another “Functional Beverage”, but what, exactly, is the function? Hydration? Not quite. Delivery of antioxidants. Kinda. Energy. With 78 mg of caffeine per bottle, this is another energy drink in disguise! [Bai was the Energy Drink of the Month for February 2016]
3 — Runa (Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie)
In a world where cell phone carriers constantly slander their competition to improve sales, Runa sells their primary ingredient to their competition! Runa’s mission is to “lift the living standards of the Ecuadorian farmers who harvest the company’s supply of guayusa leaves” (Beverage World Jan 2016). Therefore, the more people who buy the leaves, the better. So even when you buy Runa’s competitors, Runa wins. [Runa was the Energy Drink of the Month for February 2015]
4 – Steaz (Eric Schnell)
Steaz co-founder Eric Schnell is on the Beverage World disruptor’s list for his current entrepreneurial efforts, but it’s worth noting that he first made the Beverage Disruptors list with the production of Steaz. Steaz is soda and tea, hence the clever name. It’s “green-tea soda”, and it’s organic-certified.
Organic green-tea soda. Did you ever think those words together would make sense (or cents)? [Steaz was Energy Drink of the Month for January 2015]
5 – Elite Ops Energy Strips (Ray Welch)
These caffeinated versions of those convenient Listerine dissolvable strips aren’t beverages, so they could not make the Beverage World disruptors list. However I would be amiss if I didn’t include these game-changers in my own list. I haven’t seen anything like these strips, but they are absolutely essential for long drives, sequential flights, and boring lectures. These are what you use when you want the caffeine boost without opening that tell-tale PSST of an energy drink, the long wait for gross-yet-pricy convention center coffee, or the concentrated caffeine delivery of an energy shot. [Elite Ops Energy Strips were Energy Drink (alternative) for September 2015]
Sept 2015 Energy Drink alternative of the Month
I was just starting college when Monster Energy came along. Back then I had twopart time jobs and the determination to get my Biochemistry degree in four years. Nowadays, my energy needs have evolved, just like the needs of so many other energy drink consumers. The modern energy drink consumer is looking for energy drinks with added functionality such as hydration and extra protein, says Mintel research (Beverage World Jan 2016), Fortunately, for caffeine lovers everywhere, the energy drink market is evolving to meet our needs. My challenge to you is to consider these disruptors next time someone implies that (all) energy drinks are the same.