Coffee Vs Energy Drinks – Compared for Health & Energy

We all want more energy, especially when the pressure is on—but we also want a healthier lifestyle. Accordingly, the market offers a vast array of appealing energy drinks, many with potentially healthful ingredients.  

Then there is coffee—beloved by so many, but with a mixed record of health studies. Both offer a generous amount of caffeine, but what are the important differences between energy drinks and coffee?  

This article will help you decide—coffee versus energy drinks—to help you perform your best. 

woman drinking coffee

As a natural caffeine source, coffee presents the positives and negatives of caffeine consumption: It makes you more alert, awake, and energized, but excess consumption can make you jittery, irritable, and unable to sleep. Therefore, avoid it within about 6 hours of bedtime 

Moreover, pregnant women and those with heart or blood pressure conditions should limit caffeine intake. The FDA indicates that no one should exceed 400 mg of caffeine per day—about 4-5 cups of coffee. 

Mostly due to its bitter taste, coffee is favored by mature youth and adults: industrious college students, teachers, professors, as well as both blue- and white-collar workers.  

Benefits Of Drinking Coffee For Energy

  • Coffee nutrients: B vitamins, especially riboflavin, as well as other antioxidants and polyphenols. 
  • Scientific studies linking coffee consumption to reduced disease risk: It seems to reduce overall cancer risk, as well as the incidence of Parkinson's disease and other neurological diseases, as well as Type-2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease.  
  • Coffee consumption has been linked to a serious reduction in suicidal thoughts as well as reduced risk of suicide itself. 
  • Coffee is a highly customizable beverage nutritionally—you can make it as high in caffeine, sugar, fat, protein, etc., as you want. You can add any sort of milk, sugar, and nutritional additives that you want. Furthermore, the caffeine content in coffee is usually higher than energy drinks, giving you more opportunity to add stuff while still getting a lot of caffeine. 
  • Similarly, flavor is highly customizable: Aside from additives, the different coffee bean varieties impart slightly different flavors.  

Downsides Of Drinking Coffee For Energy

  • Coffee may contain small amounts of carcinogens, acrylamide, and diterpenes, but levels vary with preparation approaches. (Most sources agree that the good almost always outweighs the bad.) 
  • Some coffee preparations are highly caloric and have a high fat and sugar content. 
  • Coffee preparation takes some time, equipment, and energy. Furthermore, some pieces of coffee-making equipment are throw-away or potentially difficult to recycle. 

How Do Energy Drinks Boost Your Energy? (Overview + Pros & Cons) 

Energy drinks have added caffeine, so they present the normal positives and negatives of caffeine consumption, as described above for coffee. So, again, listen to your own body: If you find yourself regularly sick, unable to sleep, or notice you have a persistently elevated heart rate or mood disturbances—you should reduce your consumption of energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages. 

Energy drinks are generally marketed for young people and athletes. However, mature professionals and weekend warriors—especially those who do not like coffee—might enjoy the refreshing rush of an energy drink.  

energy drink

Benefits Of Using Energy Drinks To Boost Energy

  • While the jury is still out on long-term health effects, energy drinks do appear to boost short-term athletic performance, according to a 2021 NIH study. 
  • Many contain vitamins (usually B’s), natural caffeine sources (such as guarana seed extract, yerba mate, green tea extract), and other healthful energizers (such as taurine, Panax ginseng, and ginkgo). 
  • There are an overwhelming number of brands, flavors, and sizes—including zero-calorie/sugar-free options. 
  • Energy drinks are among the most convenient caffeine sources since most come in recyclable cans. 
  • The branding, packaging, and flavor—as well as the refreshment of a cold beverage—might be inherently invigorating and exciting. 

Downsides Of Using Energy Drinks To Boost Energy

  • Sugary flavors—as well as an advertisement that suggests enhanced power, performance, and pleasure—might encourage people, especially the young, to consume more caffeine than they would otherwise. Conversely, the presence of caffeine in a sugary beverage encourages greater sugar consumption, too. 
  • While there are many flavors, almost all are fruity; also, energy drinks are always cold, so they give no hot beverage option.  
  • Energy drinks are a processed food, so they have basic preservatives and additives.  

Coffee Vs Energy Drinks (Differences Compared For Energy Boosts) 

man needing energy boost

Caffeine Content 

Variation between brands and can sizes for energy drinks and bean varieties and coffee preparations makes it difficult to precisely compare the caffeine in energy drinks vs. coffee. The caffeine in coffee vs. Red Bull—four 1-oz. espresso shots would give the same amount as 3 cans of Red Bull. The caffeine in coffee vs. Monster energy drink—a couple cups of brewed coffee have more caffeine than a 16-oz. can of Monster. Generally, coffee is more efficient at getting caffeine into your body.  

Approximate Caffeine Content Of Common Energizing Beverages 

Coffee Type

Caffeine (Per 8 Oz.) 

Regular Brewed Coffee 

95 mg1 

Regular Instant Coffee

62 mg2 

Espresso 

63 mg Per 1-Oz. Shot1 

Decaf Coffee 

5 mg1 

Black Tea 

48 mg1 

Oolong Tea 

50 mg 

Green Tea 

28 mg2 

Macha Tea 

68 mg3 

Cocoa 

4.3 mg (In 1 TBSP)1 

Hot Chocolate 

5 mg4 

Red Bull 

76 mg – 80 mg Per Original-Size Can 

Monster 

80 mg – 105 mg Per Original-Size Can 

Soda/Cola 

22 mg (Note: Most Servings Are Over 8 Ounces) 

Sugar Content 

Some of the perking-up effects from an energy drink usually comes from sugar, but this is not the case with a zero-sugar energy drink (aside from subjective enjoyment of the sweet taste). In contrast, coffee has almost no natural sugar, but you could add a generous amount of sugar or sweetener to get the same effect.  

Calorie Content 

While coffee generally is not as sugary as an energy drink, many people add fat- and protein-containing components to coffee, which adds calories. You can find full nutrition facts on Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts websites, but the article How Many Ounces Are in Starbucks Drink Sizes (thespruceeats.com) is a great way to make sense of it all 

Drink

Per 8 Oz. 

Coffee (All) 

>10 

Tea (All) 

>5 

Cocoa (In Water) 

10 (In 1 TBSP) 

Hot Chocolate (In Water) 

90  

Red Bull 

105 – 110 Per Original-Size Can 

Monster 

115 – 150 Per Original-Size Can 

Soda 

93 (Note: Most Servings Are Over 8 Oz.) 

Taste 

Different types of coffee beans impart various notes of fruits, nuts, chocolate, or spices. You also can get different roast types—light, medium, or dark—which give different flavor strengths but have negligible impact on caffeine content.

Plus, most brands have decaf options, which give the same taste variations and coffee health benefits, with greatly reduced caffeine content. In recent times, with the prevalence of artisan roasters/craft coffees, there are also cold-brewed and nitro options, both of which tend to make for a milder taste. 

Texture 

An area where coffee seriously outcompetes any energy drink is in texture options: There are creamy dessert-like or milkshake-like coffees, strong dark coffees, milky coffees—all of which are available hot or cold. There are also iced and shaved-ice coffees for a cold crunch on hot days. 

Ingredients 

Coffee is a plant product composed of a mix of harmless and healthful organic chemicals, including caffeine. In contrast, caffeine must be extracted from a natural source and added as an ingredient to energy drinks.

Other non-stimulant additives, most often taurine and B-vitamins, are added to energy drinks to contribute to alertness.  

Recommended Ingredients To Add To Your Coffee 

Extras

Why It’s Good

Cocoa 

Mood-Boosting, Iron, Potassium 

Hot Chocolate 

Some mood-boosting from cocoa; fat 

Brown Sugar (Light Or Dark) 

Wholesome and interesting flavor 

Honey 

Wholesome and interesting flavor, Antioxidants 

Molasses (Especially Black Strap) 

Natural Zero-Calorie Sweetener (Especially Stevia) 

Whole, 2%, or 1% Milk 

Fat, Protein, Reduces Acidity, Vitamin D, Calcium 

Skim Milk 

Protein, Reduces Acidity, Vitamin D, Calcium 

Almond Milk 

Soy Milk 

Cinnamon 

Mint Extract 

Invigorating Flavor, Possible digestive benefits 

Vanilla Extract 

Cost & Convenience 

Both coffee and energy drinks are available online—on Amazon and others. You might especially like this if you want to buy in bulk (usually cheaper). Most people find energy drinks the vastly easier option.

You can just go to the refrigerator, and there it is—no blowing on it waiting for it to cool off, no fumbling to put in the additives you want, or fear of spilling it in a line, etc. Plus, a few energy drink brands have a coffee flavor option that actually appears to be more or less the same product as a canned cold coffee. 

Sustainability 

At a glance, coffee might seem to be the more sustainable option. However, coffee grinding, brewing, and warming almost always introduce some material waste and consume energy. In contrast, once manufactured, energy drinks just come in recyclable cans. 

Health Effects 

Most sources agree that coffee is healthier than energy drinks in the long run. Most coffee preparations have a lower glycemic index than energy drinks:

Even if you have a rich coffee with the same total calories as a sugary energy drink, it should metabolize more slowly, keeping you energized longer. However, this does not apply if you only drink sugar-free energy drinks and coffees. 

The coffee vs energy drinks verdict 

Coffee is better for long-term health—it will generally help you be a more energetic and alert person. However, energy drinks give a fun and refreshing shot of caffeine, sugar, and metabolism-friendly nutrients that can help you through particularly draining situations. 

talking and drinking coffee

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can I drink coffee after an energy drink?  

Yes, but just be mindful of how much caffeine is in the particular coffee and energy drinks you are having. During long bouts of sleep-deprived work, switching between coffee and energy drinks could be a way to control sugar and caffeine consumption for best results. 

Is coffee or energy drinks better for studying?  

The difference between coffee and energy drinks depends considerably on your choice of coffee preparation, but normally coffee is caffeine-strong and sugar-weak compared to an energy drink. While sugar consumption should generally be minimized, too much caffeine without sufficient calories could leave you feeling depleted. Monster energy drink caffeine content is lower than most coffees per volume, giving a relatively gradual release of caffeine and sugar. 

What happens if you drink energy drinks every day?

Sugar-free options notwithstanding, the biggest difference between coffee and energy drinks is the sugar content. Energy drinks encourage sugar addiction, which ultimately impacts metabolic, cardiovascular, and dental health. 

How many cups of coffee is equal to 1 can of energy drink?  

The caffeine difference between coffee and energy drinks usually weighs on the side of coffee, so really, you would have to have a large (16-oz.) size of most energy drinks to get the caffeine of a relatively small 8-12 oz. cup of coffee. 


Conclusion

Coffee and energy drinks can both be helpful and healthful when used correctly, but correctly varies considerably among people and situations. Coffee definitely wins for long-term use, but energy drinks can work well for some people when they need a serious burst of energy for athletic competition or to get through an exceptional challenge.