As eyelids grow heavy, posture slumps, and focus wanes, it’s time for a pick-me-up. When we need an energy boost, we tend to reach for a beverage for an instant jolt. For many, the question is: coffee or energy drink?
Let’s start at the top. Caffeine is the primary draw for a cup of joe or any popular energy drink. Caffeine is a fast-acting compound that:
- Staves off fatigue
- Enhances focus
- Increases energy
- Boosts mood
So, which has more caffeine: coffee or energy drinks?
An 8oz cup of black coffee contains 85-120 milligrams of caffeine.
An 8.4oz can of Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine.
The amount of caffeine in coffee and energy drinks is comparable by volume (depending on how strong you brew your coffee). Note that most energy drinks are 12-16oz, which means more caffeine.
While caffeine has many perks, too much can lead to adverse side effects such as
- Increased blood pressure
- Upset stomach
The FDA recommends no more than 400 mg of caffeine in a day for healthy adults.
Which is the better drink to consume to stay up late? The better drink for staying up late is coffee. The caffeine content in coffee tends to be more concentrated than in energy drinks. Also, the added sugar in energy drinks makes them more likely to cause sugar crashes, potentially undoing the initial stimulation.
When it comes to sustained energy from a beverage, plain black coffee is just better.
Since coffee consists mostly of water, it contains very few calories. For example, a shot of espresso contains 2 calories, and an average cup of coffee without cream or sweeteners could contain up to 5 calories.
That said, keep an eye on the nutrition facts for various types of coffee drinks. It doesn’t take much added sugar or additional ingredients to crank up the calorie count.
Energy drinks are pretty calorically dense. Most 16oz cans of top brands (think Monster or Rockstar) typically have north of 200 calories. For anyone concerned with nutrition, it’s worth noting that most of those calories come from sugar.
According to the CDC, 6-7% of a day’s calories for adults in the U.S. comes from sugar-sweetened beverages.
Consuming too much added sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36 grams of sugar (9 teaspoons) in a day and women no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons).
Coffee is naturally sugar-free.
Specialty drinks from coffee shops like Starbucks usually contain added sugar. While you can request the barista go light on the flavored syrups, it’s still harder to track how much sugar you’ll end up drinking. Black coffee is usually the safest option. Too bitter? Try gold coffee sometime.
Granted, if you’d like to add a few teaspoons of sugar and milk or creamer to mellow the taste, it’s good to have more control over the amounts of each. There are plenty of alternative options to sweeten coffee that are healthier than sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Energy drinks are notorious for high amounts of added sugar. Top brands can have up to 80 grams of sugar in a single 16oz can.
Be mindful that sugar-free energy drinks can also pose a problem. Though artificial sweeteners like aspartame aid with limiting sugar intake, they can become addictive and even worsen sugar cravings.
Coffee contains a few nutrients, including:
Coffee consumption has been linked to several health benefits, such as preventing neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Coffee has also been associated with fighting obesity and certain cancers.
While the main components in energy drinks are water, sugar, and caffeine, other ingredients are often added that are associated with positive health effects.
Guaranais a dried paste made from the guarana plant's seeds, which contain caffeine.
Taurine is an amino acid that has been shown to support the cardiovascular system.
B vitamins are perhaps the most significant nutrients in energy drinks.
The 8 B vitamins, aka the B vitamin complex, are included in many energy drinks to help the body process the beverage as efficiently as possible. B vitamins are:
- B1 (thiamin): assists with processing carbs, proteins, and fats; promotes neurotransmitter production
- B2 (riboflavin): aids with metabolism
- B3 (niacin): helps cellular function
- B5 (pantothenic acid): assists with production of coenzymes, fats, and proteins
- B6 (pyridoxine):boosts the immune system and helps with brain development
- B7 (biotin): aids in metabolism and potentially stimulates hair and nail growth
- B9 (folate or folic acid):ensures healthy DNA replication and cell division
- B12 (cyanocobalamin): aids with red blood cell production and neurological function
So, what are the differences between coffee and anenergy drink? The difference between coffee and energy drinks is the ingredients. Coffee is made from ground coffee beans, while energy drinks contain several additives and supplements to make them an efficient energy source.
Energy drinks also contain preservatives–chemicals like citric acid and potassium benzoate, which lengthen their shelf life. These preservatives can also make energy drinks taste better.
Is there a winner?
Though energy drinks aren’t all bad, coffee is the better choice. The potential health benefits and the ability to restrict the number of additives when it comes to coffee outweigh the trace amounts of nutrients and sugar crash usually associated with energy drinks.
- Overview of Health and Diet in America - Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols - NCBI Bookshelf
- Sugar-sweetened Beverage Consumption Among U.S. Adults, 2011-2014
- Get the Facts: Added Sugars | Nutrition | CDC
- How much sugar is too much? | American Heart Association
- Beneficial Role of Coffee and Caffeine in Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Minireview - PMC
- Coffee consumption, obesity and type 2 diabetes: a mini-review | SpringerLink
- Pro-Resolving Effect of Ginsenosides as an Anti-Inflammatory Mechanism of Panax ginseng - PMC
- The potential health benefits of taurine in cardiovascular disease - PMC