Which energy boosters will actually get you through the afternoon?

We tried them all so you don't have to

Trying all the energy boosters

(Photograph: Natasha V; Food Styling: Linsey Bell)

Sure, you could go for a coffee, but aren’t you curious about those other high-energy pick-me-ups cluttering the shelves? We tried them all to see which offered the clearest—and most pleasant—afternoon boost.

Amp energy drink

Amp Energy Drink

In addition to a super dose of caffeine, Amp also contains guarana seed, ginseng root, taurine and B vitamins, all of which “may enhance energy and alertness.” While I didn’t exactly feel amped, the syrupy sweet soda tasted better than most energy drinks I’ve tried and provides a slight increase in energy. Bonus: no jitters. Active ingredient: caffeine (158 mg). $3.19 for a 473 millilitre can.

Energy: lightning boltlightning boltlightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy facehappy facehappy face

Maca + ginseng

Maca & Ginseng pills

The endless list of powers attributed to the Peruvian maca root (it’s pronounced mah-cah) includes increased libido, decreased stress and enhanced memory. While you can add powdered maca to smoothies for a caffeine-free burst of energy, I took mine in pill form. I felt a subtle boost and, more notably, a disturbingly sharp increase in mental focus. No sign of increased libido. Active ingredient: maca (500 mg). $14.99 for 90 pills.

Energy: lightning boltlightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy facehappy facehappy facehappy facehappy face (It’s a pill!)

5-Hour energy drink

5-hour energy shot

If you’ve ever done a shot of melted Popsicle, flavoured with cough medicine and infused with as much caffeine as 18 double-doubles, you know what it’s like to shoot a 5-Hour Energy Drink. It’s dosed with all the energy drink staples—taurine, niacin and B vitamins—but sweetened with sucralose (because who needs a sugar crash?). If you’re looking to stay awake for five hours, this will definitely do it. But be prepared to feel mildly scattered—and a little bit hot. Active ingredient: everything. $3.99 for 57 millilitres.

Energy: lightning boltlightning boltlightning boltlightning boltlightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy face

Rockstar energy gum

Rockstar Energy Gum

Worth knowing: “Iced Mint” flavour tastes uncannily like white Tic Tac. As for its effects, consider Rockstar energy gum a chewable—and less embarrassing—alternative to its energy drink namesake. All of the benefits of its Rockstar papa, none of the ridicule. Active ingredient: caffeine (80 mg). $3.38 for 12 pieces.

Energy: lightning boltlightning boltlightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy facehappy facehappy face

Awake chocolate bar

Awake chocolate bar

You should know this won’t be the most delicious chocolate bar you’ll ever eat. But it is chocolate, so it’s got that going for it. The cocoa bean on its own contains a tiny bit of caffeine (about 0.23 g/100 g), so expect a rush akin to adding a few packets of sugar to your coffee. This is a solid alternative to coffee for the caffeine addict—it only loses points for taste. Active ingredient: caffeine (100 mg). $2.49 for a 44 gram bar.

Energy: lightning boltlightning boltlightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy facehappy facehappy facehappy face

Yerba mate

Yerba mate tea

Yerba mate (mah-tay) is a South American plant with a bitter, coffee-like aroma. It tastes similar to green tea when steeped and is known to increase energy and provide mental clarity. But if you’re looking for something less intense than coffee, this is not it. It leaves you feeling just as jittery as a venti coffee, but also exceptionally wired. Like, whoa. Active ingredient: nature (but really caffeine). $3.50 for 50 grams of loose tea.

Energy: lightning boltlightning boltlightning boltlightning boltlightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy face


Wheatgrass shot

It tastes like a mouthful of grass. Literally, if you’ve ever eaten grass, then you know what wheatgrass tastes like. People often use wheatgrass to detox, but it’s also known to boost energy, partly because it’s so high in protein. You can buy a shot of the juiced grass at most juice bars. Or just get some wheatgrass and a Magic Bullet and set up a station at your desk. It won’t be weird at all. Active ingredient: wheatgrass (100%). $3.50 for 30 grams.

Energy: lightning bolt

Enjoyment: happy face