Energy drinks are everything wrong with modern society in a can: people believing advertising over their own bodies. They’re Pandora’s Tins of self-esteem problems persuading people that they’re uselessly broken in every way, but it’ll only take three dollars of soda to turn them into roller-blading success stories.
Unfortunately I can’t just list everything wrong with them and laugh. Writing for ZUG means I’ll have to drink them. ALL OF THEM. Instead of food for a day.
But first let’s look at the ingredients of my imminent doom:
The most popular psychoactive pesticide in history, trimethylxanthine is the core of modern civilization. (Antibiotics might keep more people alive, without caffeine all those healthy people would still be wondering why that big bright thing keeps coming back every day.)
I’m not saying guarana is a daemonic pact, but you’re getting energy from the horrifying ripped-out-eyeball plant:
Guarana fruit contain twice as much caffeine as coffee beans, multiplying their effectiveness by two, and are foreign-sounding, multiplying their effectiveness by how gullible you are. In Tupi culture they’re also said to have sprouted from the dismembered eyes of an innocent child murdered by supernatural evil. So there’s that. Faust would look at this plant and decide we hasn’t that tired.
Call something bile and people know it’s an awful vileness they shouldn’t drink. Call it taurine and it’s strong like a bull. Bull bile! It’s practically a synonym for energy drinks, and it’s never been proven to help provide energy. I love it when reality provides punchlines for me. Though it has been shown to possibly help with skeletal muscles, decreasing blood pressure, and we know that cats go blind without it – so if you’re an aging feline about to take up weightlifting, drink up!
(WARNING: Sweet Thoth, don’t anybody feed energy drinks to any cats.)
Because grinding up tiny naked couples with octopus-genitals is a good idea.
The word “Ginseng” comes from the chinese “Ren1 Shen2”, which should give you some idea of how smart the westerners adapting Asian products for marketing are. I don’t expect explorers to bring chemical-analysing mass spectrometers along, but when they can’t even get the consonants right I wouldn’t eat anything they’d touched.
Wikipedia says “It has been difficult to either verify or quantify the medicinal benefits of ginseng using science,” and when even Wikipedia won’t risk making a claim you may be in trouble. Also awesome is the implication that it’s merely science which doesn’t work, as if magic might.
Protip: All true ginsengs are from the Panax family, so any energy drink advertising PANAX Ginseng is upping the tautological bullshit factor just to get another Xtra-Xtreme-X in there. And it is without question the least interesting XXX I’ve ever indulged in.
“The amounts of guarana, taurine, and ginseng found in popular energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events”
Each energy drink will be rated on Taste, Energy, and the Activity I performed with that Energy.
7 am: Cherry Red mc2
The healthy lifestyle of a freelance writer means coffee for breakfast, carefully marinated over a warm keyboard in whatever stomach acids I have lying around. Most mornings they churn an acid vortex which would do 2d6 damage to Melf himself. Cherry Red mc2 made me miss that hissing void like a purring kitten.
Taste: An energy drink for breakfast works like a grenade launcher as an alarm clock – it definitely works, you’re definitely awake, but it’s extraordinarily unpleasant and you’re pretty sure you’re doing serious damage. The drink tasted like Skynet was simulating cherries but still wanted to kill you.
As Energizing As: A solid blow to the head. Within minutes of my energy drink breakfast I felt light-headed and dizzy. Definitely awake, if only because my body knew it was under some kind of attack.
Activity: Convincing myself not to listen to the warning signs, the spinning sensation in head, or the fact parts of my brain were beginning to float.
Want’s entire deal is that it’s Canadian and has caffeine, making it exactly as extreme as Tim Horton’s. This effortectomy is amplified in the ingredients: the first thing they do is stress how their water is purified by reverse osmosis, and when the most notable thing about your drink is how little has been added to the water you might be missing the point. Or trying to save idiots like me.
Taste: It tastes like blackcurrant soda which got depressed about going stale. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful break after the chemicalkrieg of mc2, but this is the first time sugar has tasted lazy. There’s 38 grams of pure carhobydrate in my mouth and my tongue’s still telling me to take a nap. When your name is a verb you need to be more exciting, and when that verb features HAL9000 instead of a vowel I expect to light up like a Terminator arguing with Zeus.
As Energizing As: This is the least energezing drink since Snow White’s stepmother’s cider.
Activity: To avoid falling asleep I had to reach for another energy drink. That’s how anti-energetic WANT is: it made my use my existing energy to get one of its competitors.
I’m don’t expect much from magic drinks. Unless they name themselves after monsters and explosive devices, in which case I not only expect but demand every single advertisement to come true. If this doesn’t have me hoverboarding over the future while punching cylons, I’ll be very disappointed.
Taste: I’m very disappointed. M-80 tastes like chemicals dissolved in raw sugar. Which makes a lot of sense. At least it’s truly sweet, unlike the awful mechanical parodies of sweetness I’ve been drinking, but that just means they’ve synthetically captured and corrupted the natural element like a saccharine Borg.
As Energizing As: A doctor with test results asking you to sit down.
It’s 9 am, the most strenuous thing I’ve done all day is pull ring tabs, and I’m shaking and sweating like a sumo sauna in an earthquake. The manic buzzing in my skull (which, in true horror movie tradition, I’ve decided is probably nothing) is making it hard to think.
Activity: I just cleaned the entire house and did my laundry between the last sentence and this one. Whether this is proof of increased energy levels, or a subconscious urge to put my affairs in order, I don’t yet know.
12 pm status
It’s only midday and I’ve already experienced more intense stimulation than three Jack Bauers. It’s like my brain’s been smeared in caffeinated glue: it’s absolutely awake and desperate to do something, anything, but all the bits are jammed and sticky and it’s impossible to relax or think. It’s the perfect chemical serum for data entry, but artificially stimulating yourself to be better at data entry is like helping your Gestapo questioner find his favorite scalpel.
I’m also far hungrier than if I merely hadn’t eaten. And the problem with hunger is that deciding not to eat isn’t like not buying a new CD – the decision isn’t over. You have to decide not to eat again, and again, every single second, and it never quiets the yawning void in your abdomen.
To teach that damn digestive system a lesson, I had another energy drink.
Hyphy features the most insane dedication to the XTreme Scrabble game of naming conventions. Not only is the brand so radically phonetic it’s forgotten mere vowels, the flavor is a combative verb, cruelly forcing apple and grape into unholy matrimony to produce “Grapple.”
Taste: “Grapple” attacks your tongue like a crystal methed California Raisin. They claim they’re using natural flavors, in the same way a T-800 can claim a human touch – technically true while viciously and synthetically murdering the real point.
As Energizing As: It’s getting harder to even spell focus, let alone do it. I’ve entered an impossible point exactly halfway between hyperactive and dead. It’s like opening a monastery in the mansion of Playboy: both angles are missing important points, and just because you’ve pulled off the impossible in combining them doesn’t mean anyone’s going to enjoy it.
Activity: It would be utterly unscientific to claim a direct link, but for half an hour my “activity” was discovering that if you pour nothing but unpleasant liquids into your body, that’s all it’ll pour out. And not just when peeing. Also: flushing repeatedly.
They don’t explicitly claim X-factor’s an energy drink, but nothing’s been implied harder outside of a Viagra commercial. With neon blue, a lightning bolt, X-Factor and “Formula 87” on the cover it’s hard to tell if this is meant to be a drink or a Marvel comic.
Taste: If this is Formula 87, Formula 1 must have been salt sprinkled on sandpaper. I could brew a better drink in an empty room if you gave me some water and a couple of hours. It’s like Smurf bathwater after a vigorous foot-scrubbing – the wrong color, and the powdery texture of something that doesn’t quite dissolve.
It’s still by far the best tasting drink I’ve had today.
As Energizing As: Standing hip-deep in a land fill. You’re certainly very aware of your situation and feel extremely motivated to do something about it, but you’d rather be unmotivated and not feeling like this. It’s also a relief compared to the handstand of all the other drinks.
Activity: I went to the gym, not because of but in spite of these “energy” drinks. On other days I’ve done this daily workout through insomnia, near-terminal hangovers, and two weeks with a broken foot, and I’ve never felt like throwing up before. The sweat and adrenaline both diluted the toxins in my body and tasted better. Instead of measuring my heart rate the machine told me my next of kin would be very proud of my high score..
I now understand the true benefits of exercise. I’m living through those experiments where they fill samples with brightly colored dye. I could actually feel the candy chemistry being flushed from my tissues by honest sweat, great inroads of freshened flesh surging my glorious frame as exercise drove the synthetic horrors from my pores.
So I had to drink some more.
Energy drinks are all about pandering to a fictional market, and nothing fictional panders harder than video games. This is the video game/nerdery selection in my local sweet shop.
and here are how many actual different drinks there are
They couldn’t be more desperate to shift this stuff if it was toxic, which you should think about before drinking. They’ll slap ANY label on as long as that means people will buy it: there’s a Napoleon Dynamite drink, because someone still quoting that is definitely a fast-moving person with lots going on in their life, an Emily The Strange drink (which you’d imagine is ghostly emo-poison), there’s even a goddamn Quagmire drink. I remember when scientific energy-serums were used to create Captain America, not Family Guy characters.
They use any possible fluid from their licensed properties whether it makes sense or not. The Ghostbusters guzzle Ectoplasm, while the Gears of War ingest Imulsion. Never mind how that’s a poisonous super-gasoline which insanely mutates even subterranean horror-monsters, because
a) It’s in the game
b) That would still taste better than these goddamn drinks.
I chose one of each type according to my favorite games, thereby playing right into their hands.
This stuff comes in a metal can, is never meant to be seen, and it’s still translucent bright purple. That’s when I realised these drinks don’t have bright neon colors to look extreme: it’s because nature can’t get yellow-black striped lines to stay in a liquid.
Taste: It tastes like an intense cutting edge, making it anti-Nintendo. This is an overpriced cutting edge crammed with the latest in synthetic components, so it’s a perfect Sony drink. It’s about as Mario as a blue hedgehog. Which wouldn’t hurt your tongue as much. It’s difficult to attribute an actual taste to it, in the same way it’s difficult to attribute taste to being knocked out by a thrown brick – a moment of pain, then aching, but your memories are damaged or gone.
As Energizing As: Appearing in a Saw movie. Definite desire to move, definite desire that this wasn’t happening.
Activity: Wishing I wasn’t so nerdy that I actually can’t make the joke about a headache like ramming your head off metal blocks – because he doesn’t do that!
Wait, wait, got it: my head feels like a Goomba trying to help Mario choose new shoes.
I’m now slightly biased against energy drinks. I drank some Sonic Boom so that my massive pro-Street Fighter would cancel out my old-fashioned “anti-poison” stance.
Taste: This is anti-liquid. It sucks all the moisture out of your mouth then feels like it’s trying to furl your tongue back down your throat. It’s not a drink, it’s quick-drying chemical tarmac. The only reason they don’t use it to clean chemical spills is that there’s nothing worse than it.
As Energizing As: An actual sonic attack unleashed through your face. I know that’s unoriginal, but the near-blinding migraine I’m experiencing makes it impossible to care.
Activity: Playing Street Fighter IV. Hurting. Pretending my opponents are responsible for energy drinks then punching them in the face five thousand times, which technically counts as bonding because I’m just sharing my own pain.
The original plan was to spend an evening at a friend’s house, watching terrible movies and drinking more energy, but when I arrived they wouldn’t let me. Quotes include “You look like you’ve been run over by a tank.” My massive “energy” levels had me stuttering, tuning out of conversations midway through my own sentences, and on several occassions I forgot what words were. As a writer that’s slightly worrying. This convinced me that it was time to stop, and that’s when I made the most amazing discovery of all.
My friend has the Holy Grail in her sink.
Just sitting there, like an ordinary glass, but when I drank water from it Lo, I Was Cured, and all the Evils of the World were washed away by the pure holy water that flows from its rim. I have never drunk anything as beautiful, as sheerly intensely right as that glass of H20, except for the twenty further glasses I drank immediately afterwards.
Energy drinks help like setting yourself on fire – they’ll keep you awake and you’ll run around but you’ll be in no condition to achieve anything. You’ll waste any extra actions you get trying to get back to how you were before all the chemical changes. These things are liquid stress. Halfway through the day my cat meowed and I demanded to know what the fuck it wanted. These things are Darkseid’s Anti-Life equation liquified and sold in the hopes that even more chemical accidents will undo all the superheroes.
These drinks claim to operate on the nervous system, meaning they as much actual energy as a kick to the genitals. They might dump a ton of sugar into your bloodstream, but unless your metabolism already converts that everyday it’s that’s not going anywhere but blubber. So you’re forced awake after your body would normally have stopped.
What do you call something whose nervous system won’t stop, sleep, or die, even as the flesh breaks down around it? If that sounds like something you’d like to do to yourself, please hold still while I get my shotgun and chainsaw.
(The original article appeared on the sadly defunct ZUG.com in 2010)