Monster Energy hit US markets in 2002 and helped establish the energy drink stereotype: “energy drinks are dangerous concoctions with high amounts of caffeine and sugar”. It’s hard to deny this stereotype is still applicable, however, there are a growing number of caffeinated beverages which don’t fit this mold. What happens when one of the energy drink companies responsible for the Energy Drink Boom comes out with one of these not-quite-an-energy-drink alternatives?
I declared myself a biochemistry/chemistry major in 2003 – right at the beginning of the Energy Drink Boom. Fascinated by these drinks and all the fears surrounding their use, I’ve applied my education (and basically all my free time) toward understanding the science behind energy drinks and their ingredients. After 10+ years in this field, I believe parents have a right to be concerned about energy drinks, but that concern needs the right context to do anybody any good. How concerned should we be about the safety of Caffe Monster Energy Coffee?
The world of energy drinks is vast, and there isn’t enough time to give every drink the full “Energy Drink of the Month” deep dive review. In my attempt to guide my fans through this world of energy drinks, I like to share the science behind the various caffeinated beverages I come across in my travels.
Caffeine comes from plain caffeine and from guarana seed extract. There’s 176 mg caffeine per can (88 mg per serving and 2 servings per container). According to Caffeine Informer, Xyience used to be 200 mg per can. Either way, it’s Fatigue Level 3.
This drink contains B-vitamins, and some stereotypical energy drink ingredients including guarana, glucuronolactone, taurine, ginseng root extract, and inositol.
Glucuronolactone might feed one reaction that helps the body generate energy, but glucuronolactone has to go through some small transformations first, and this reaction (the Pentose Phosphate Pathway) isn’t a major reaction, energy wise
Taurine is a taxi cab that helps shuttle water-hating fat molecules to the place they need to be metabolized
Ginseng is supposed to help with stress but a systematic review of almost 500 studies involving Panax Ginseng found the only benefit was for glucose metabolism in animal models
Inositol helps with insomnia…(kind of ironic, right?)
B-Vitamins include 100% of niacin (my favorite vitamin), 250% of B6, 80% of B12, and 500% (why?) of Pantothenic Acid
Niacin is part of over 200 reactions in the body, most of them involving the production of ENERGY.
B6 helps our bodies make those non-essential amino acids and also helps us maintain optimal blood sugar levels.
B5 helps with the metabolism of carbs, fat, and protein, but there’s so much of it in every food group no one needs a B5 supplement (in my opinion)
Preservatives in this drink include potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate, and sodium citrate.
Potassium sorbate – this anti-microbial preservative prevents yeast and mold growth in sodas and other foods. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) rates this as safe. If the CSPI, who has a reputation for fear-mongering and chemophobia, rates this safe, you should definitely feel at ease. [See Panera KNOW-No Project Part IV]
Sodium Benzoate – Did you know that benzoate salts like this one prevent the growth of microorganisms like yeast and mold? Benzoate salts are often used with other preservatives especially at low pH (acidic food). People can ingest up to 5mg per kg of body weight of benzoic acid and its salts according to European Commission – Scientific Committee on Food.
Sodium Citrate and Citric Acid – both are abundant naturally in citrus fruits and are used in beverages to help control the pH.
Fruit and vegetable juice is used for color, but this drink has artificial sweeteners Ace-K and Sucralose. But there are only 2 grams of carbs (from the juice, most likely) and zero Calories, zero grams of sugar.
What drink should I review next?
You can find more about the science behind energy drink ingredients here at GreenEyedGuide.com and within my book, “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks- How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely” on Amazon (and now on Audible!!!).
Here’s a recap of the quick reviews posted this month for the “Science of Energy Drinks” series on the GreenEyedGuide Instagram and Facebook pages: Bai Sparkling Antioxidant Infusion, Cocaine Energy, and Monster Ultra Violet.
What if you could delay caffeine delivery and make it last longer? This month we review the newest addition to the “energy-drink-in-disguise” brand that continues to defy energy drink stereotypes. We discuss key ingredients, how it compares to other caffeinated beverages of the same strength, and when to consume it per Level of Fatigue.
The Energy Drink of the Month for March 2017 is AvitaeXR.
There are three flavors available, and all of them are refreshing and delightful, in my personal opinion. These flavors are Orange, Lemon Lime, and Mixed Berry. They all have the same caffeine content, the same key ingredients, and the same number of Calories and grams of Sugar.
Key Ingredients and Benefits
The ‘Xtended Release’ beads of caffeine – ZUMXR Proprietary Energy Blend
This energy blend is what makes up those tiny little beads you see floating around in the clear can of AvitaeXR. These beads contain caffeine but since the caffeine is tucked inside the little ball, it delays the delivery of caffeine to your system.
Attention Science Nerds and Chemistry Buffs: How this delayed delivery works is worth a separate post (coming soon). If you’re a science nerd like me, we can geek out together over the magic of delaying (not preventing) digestion in the complex gradient of digestive juices and pH levels in the GI tract.
For the rest of the Avitae line, the source of caffeine is green coffee beans. It’s safe to assume the ‘natural caffeine’ in this product comes from the same source.
Carbonated Water – makes the beverage crisp and refreshing; Notably, carbonation slightly irritates the stomach, which slightly improves delivery of caffeine through the stomach lining
Citric Acid – helps combat the bitterness of caffeine
Sodium Citrate – the sodium salt of citric acid; Used for flavor and as a preservative; has a sour-salty taste
Pectin – gives a little more mouthfeel (liquid thickness/heaviness)
It’s unusual to find an energy-drink-in-disguise so clean, ingredient-wise, and yet so powerful, caffeine-wise. Avitae has 250 mg caffeine per can, which is about the same as a can of Rockstar Energy (240 mg)!!! However, it’s crucial to note that with AvitaeXR you are only getting 125 mg of caffeine at a time: 125 mg free floating caffeine immediately in the liquid; 125 mg later once your body finally breaks open those little beads. This makes AvitaeXR almost more powerful than Rockstar because of its ability to last.
When to Consume = Fatigue Level 4
***Because this energy drink has an extended release of caffeine, you’ll want to avoid drinking this one if you plan on sleeping in the next 6 hours.***
During the GreenEyedGuide Caffeine Challenge (Day 6), we talked about how Fatigue Level 4 is for Energy Emergencies! This is Level 4 out of 5, and Level 5 is the point where no caffeine can save you. [watch the whole YouTube video]
For Fatigue Level 4, the caffeinated beverage you choose should have the following characteristics:
Carbonated or concentrated (energy shots)
Over 200 mg caffeine per serving (400 mg is the daily max for adults)
Does not have to be sugar-free
To learn more about how carbonation and juice play a role in a drink’s potency, visit the 5 Levels of Fatigue page. The 5 Levels of Fatigue system helps people reap the benefits of caffeine while avoiding addiction, dependence, tolerance, and toxicity,
If you are entering an Energy Emergency and want something STRONG without having to settle for something super sugary and artificial, AvitaeXR is the solution.
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.