Energy—who doesn’t want more of it? It ignites our day, helps us chase young children around, and gets us through those afternoon slumps. We know the best route to energy is eight hours of sleep, exercise, and a good diet. Easy enough, right? Sure, if you’re superhuman. For the mere mortals out there juggling the demands of today’s hectic world, a jump-start can be a lifesaver.
It’s tempting to turn to the quick boosts provided by caffeine in coffee or energy drinks like Red Bull. You know they work and they work fast. But they come at a price. “They bring you up quickly, but they also bring you down quickly,” says Ashley Koff, author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged (Hay House, 2011). “There’s a big difference between energy and good energy,” she says.
Natural energy shots hitting the market make it easy to forego the joe and bull and find quick pick-me-ups via natural energy shots. These tiny powerhouses offer the same convenience as their conventional cousins but deliver energy with vitamins, botanicals, and superfruits.
Good Vs. Bad Energy
Conventional energy shots amp you up with high doses of caffeine and taurine, an amino acid. They get their good looks and taste from sugar or artificial sweeteners and dyes. “These kinds of shots can put someone into further energy debt by masking their fatigue,” says Laurie Steelsmith, ND, author of the forthcoming Great Sex Naturally (Hay House, July, 2012). “ I often tell my patients that using caffeine when you’re tired is like borrowing from a bank account that has no money in it.”
Some manufacturers put upwards of 1,000 mgs of taurine in their energy shots. “You can feel mentally exhausted after the brain-stimulating effects of taurine wear off. Without more research, I would be wary of energy drinks with high doses,” Steelsmith says. Taurine-laced drinks are banned in some countries including France, Denmark, and Norway.
Natural energy shots, though, can give you a healthy boost. Some do have low doses of caffeine or taurine, but experts agree that’s not a problem if the dose is low and other healthy ingredients create a balancing tonic.
To create balancing shot blends, botanicals often top ingredient lists. “Herbs such as adaptogens help nourish the body and slowly build energy,” Steelsmith says. You’ll also find adrenal tonic herbs that can restore vital energy by acting on the adrenal glands, which is analogous to nourishing the Qi (life force in Chinese medicine)—the source of all the Qi in the body, according to Steelsmith.
Vitamins, superfruits, greens, and teas also give these healthy shots their energy-promoting benefits.
Ready to shop for shots? Brush up on these ingredients to choose your best boost:
Adaptogens: This class of herbs includes ashwagandha, rhodiola, schizandra, and ginseng and works by helping the body adapt to stress. These herbs contain active ingredients that don’t stimulate like caffeine, yet they are able to increase physical and mental efficiency, Steelsmith says. Research has shown they can improve athletic performance.
B vitamins: These powerhouse vitamins help the body turn carbohydrates into energy. There are several caveats when taking these, according to Koff: B vitamins work synergistically, so make sure a product contains a blend of Bs and drink with water to help these water-soluble vitamins work maximally.
Green tea: Green tea contains a low dose of caffeine along and a slew of healthy compounds. “The flavonoids in green tea are top-notch antioxidants that are cancer preventive, anti-viral, and immune boosting,” Steelsmith says.
Honey: The fructose in honey appears to work in a timed-release fashion, delivering energy from carbohydrates with less of a spike than other sugars.
Guarana: A rain forest plant with seeds that contain more caffeine than coffee beans. “How guarana affects someone is very individual. For one person 100 mgs can be too much, for others, 500 is OK,” Koff says. If you’re new to guarana, start with a low dose.
Ribose: This simple sugar produced in the body is used to manufacture energy. Initial studies demonstrate supplementation with ribose might improve cardiovascular performance.
Superfruits: Noni, açai, blueberry, and pomegranate are a few of the superfruits that can provide quick energy from fructose and help support cellular health. “Calories give the body energy and nutrient-dense superfruits are a great way to do this in an energy shot,” Koff says.
Yerba maté: This South American botanical contains low levels of caffeine and is packed with nutrients including B and C vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. Initial research demonstrates that maté’s complex ingredient interactions may give it a ‘cocktail’ approach to energy.
TIP: Try taking a handful of nuts or piece of protein when you take an energy shot to balance the fructose and get a longer-lasting benefit, says Koff.
Our Product Picks
LIVING ESSENTIALS 5-Hour Energy These light and portable shots will keep you bright and alert with energizing B vitamins and amino acids. With zero sugar or herbal stimulants, and just four calories, the results are longer lasting than coffee. Shown here in Berry flavor.
CELSIUS Sparkling Cola Better than a sugary soda, this cola is powered by green tea with EGCG, ginger, B vitamins, vitamin C, and chromium, all of which work together to enhance energy while burning calories at the same time.
EBOOST Natural Energy Shot No sugar. No artificial flavors. Free of caffeine and chemicals that can stress adrenal glands and result in a crash and burn. Just the good stuff, like green tea, vitamins, and energizing nutrients.
TWINLAB Energy Fuel blends green tea, guarana, and yerba maté extracts to boost energy levels and help keep you going whether you’re at work, the gym, or just trying to keep up with your kids.
NATURE’S ANSWER Natural Green Tea Energy in Mixed Berry is formulated with yerba maté, organic green tea, B vitamins, and rhodiola to refresh and energize in minutes. Contains no artificial sweeteners, colors, or flavors.