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Energy Drinks: What are the differences?

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

Energy drinks are everywhere. They’re in the aisles of your local shop, waking you up before your 9am lecture, helping you get the most out of your workout, keeping your eyes open for an all nighter revision session- even helping you keep up with your friends in the club! Although energy drinks often receive bad press in the media, they’re one of the fastest growing sectors of the beverage industry- and it’s not hard to see why… Energy drinks are marketed to wake you up and improve your concentration; a quick pick-me-up that tastes great and works for any occasion.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen a huge demand for more variety within energy drinks; the term itself is quite broad and it’s best to differentiate the different types of energy drinks available on the market. The market has shifted to create more complex energy drinks, with specific functionality; studying, working, online gaming, festivals, or just general physical activity? There’s a drink for that.

We’ve seen the classic caffeinated energy drinks, providing an instant energy boost and enhancing physical performance. We also want to look at plant based functional energy drinks, for more health conscious consumers, and the more recent rise of nootropic energy drinks- designed to sharpen focus and improve cognitive performance.


Traditional energy drinks

Let’s start off by going back in time, travelling back to 1904… The very first energy drinks began as an offshoot of the typical soft drinks industry; Coca-Cola and Pepsi were actually originally marketed as “energy boosting” drinks! Travelling forward in time now, to the 1980’s, when the market for traditional caffeinated energy drinks really got going. Now, to modern day, when these drinks have only grown in popularity- and it’s rare that you’ll enter a store without seeing one.

If we say Red Bull or Monster, those names are sure to ring a bell, right? These kinds of energy drinks usually contain sugars, caffeine, and some contain an amino acid taurine, with a huge focus on giving you that instant energy boost. We know that caffeine increases awareness, enhances physical performance, and stimulates brain function; when these sugars break down and travel through the bloodstream they give that instant rush (or energy).

Over time, we’ve seen health kicks popping up more and more, with consumers looking for healthier alternatives. The biggest solution to this was sugar free options; most energy drinks began offering an alternative sugar free version, swapping sugar for various sweeteners. As a part of these health kicks, there have been movements to reduce the taurine content in these drinks; in some cases it can be extremely high.

Sure, a drink with a high caffeine content and (often) high sugar content can be a great way to get instant energy; however, once the caffeine wears off, you can be prepared for a big crash. We don’t need to list off the negative effects of sugar, it’s been burned into our brains from dentists, parents, teachers, almost from everyone! This is a big reason why we’ve seen a rise in natural functional energy drinks, using healthier ingredients with a design to provide functional benefits that last all day long.


Natural energy drinks

So, how is natural plant-based functional energy (like Crave) made? Plant extracts that are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals are combined with the energy boosting power of (deep breath) natural maca, caffeine, spirulina, kombucha, green tea, yerba mate and guarana! This new generation of beverages is on the rise, partly due to consumers wanting to decrease their intake of artificial ingredients and taste something real.

These energy drinks often contain function-boosting ingredients like BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids), various vitamins, and plant extracts. These ingredients work together to give brain power and benefit the immune system, something that you won’t get in regular caffeinated energy drinks! Functional energy drinks each have their unique combination of these enhancements, with some effects lasting the entire day!

An added bonus to these drinks is their environmental impact; these natural ingredients are usually organically sourced, with many companies making sure they’re farmed sustainably and ecologically. Most customers are willing to pay a higher price for quality ingredients from ethical sources and environmentally friendly packaging.


Nootropic energy drinks

Nootropic energy drinks are new in town and they’re kind of a hybrid between traditional and natural energy drinks. Usually made with a mix of natural caffeine, amino acids (like L-theanine), and natural sources of vitamins and minerals, they’re specifically used to improve cognitive function and add a dose of extra energy. Apparently, nootropics have been embraced by the e-sport and gaming community as a way of enhancing focus and mental clarity.

Just like traditional energy drinks, there is a high amount of caffeine in nootropic drinks; however, they also have extra supplements to boost neural activity- see how these drinks are kind of a hybrid? The risk with these drinks is the lack of research on the chemicals used; not much is known about their effectiveness as brain stimulants and their long term effects. These are becoming more and more popular, particularly with younger generations.

We can see the energy drink market is branching out- but it’s certainly not disappearing. This just shows the multitude of options available to you, so you’re sure to find a brand you love! So, whether you’re after that instant energy boost, or you’d prefer something a little more natural, there’s an energy drink for you.

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