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One Queer Meathead’s Quest for the Perfect Energy Drink

Author’s Note: Just so we’re clear…I use the term “meathead” here lovingly and in a non-gendered way.

Even if I’ve been enjoying this season of my life where I’ve suddenly become a baby powerlifter, I have to say I wasn’t convinced I’d ever get fully indoctrinated into the meathead lifestyle. Not because I didn’t think these people don’t know what they’re talking about but mostly because I’m not easily influenced into introducing costly habits to my lifestyle. I usually have a process: I find out about said new thing, I think about it for a month or so, and then I make a decision. Some meathead lifestyle necessities didn’t follow that pattern simply because some things do make life a lot easier. When you’re building muscle, there’s an equation you have to follow to ensure you’re eating enough protein for the day. So doing meathead shit like mixing whey protein with my cold brew in the morning and slamming down a Quest protein bar as a mid-afternoon snack or eating greek yogurt (with various mix-ins) as a “dessert” in the evening just makes sense in terms of time management. And when my coach, who I trust with my life at this point, suggested I start using creatine every day because “it’s actually the most studied supplement in the world” and has proven benefits for building strength, I listened.

But then out of nowhere — probably because I’m in the middle of a bunch of major shifts in my life currently — I started to watch a lot of different kinds of videos produced by meatheads in the sport and in the supplement industry. Videos of them giving advice for form and technique. Videos of them discussing the benefits of certain exercises. Videos of them discussing their meathead-ass macronutrient breakdown. And eventually, videos of them reviewing products. One of the most commonly reviewed products are ready-to-drink energy drinks, probably because the market for them has absolutely exploded in the last few years. They came up on the Instagram Reels algorithm over and over again, and as it was, I had already been thinking about using a pre-workout supplement with caffeine for months because I lift after work, 11 to 12 whole hours after my day starts. When I started to see the range of flavors — sometimes odd, sometimes familiar — I thought, “You know, it would be a nice little treat to try a new one before lifting every day.” And so, here I am, doing exactly that nearly every single day. Every time going into it wondering, are the Instagram bros who influenced me into this right about it? Does it actually taste like the thing it purports to be?

Now, listen, I don’t go out of my way to buy these things online. I just pick them up at random gas stations and at my second home, The Vitamin Shoppe. So there is, of course, a small wish list of drinks I want to try, but there are also a lot of flavors I have, and I’m ranking them here based on whether or not they actually taste like the thing they’re supposed to be.


You Really Can’t Go Wrong With Celsius Even if It’s Not the Best

celcius peach vibe, celcius fantasy vibe, and celcius cola

This is Jonah Hill’s favorite energy drink. That has nothing to do with the rankings but I just think it’s a fun fact everyone should know. You can easily find Celsius just about anywhere at this point. They come in a ton of flavors and have 200 milligrams of caffeine, which are two qualities of an energy drink I highly respect. I think I’ve tried every flavor of Celsius available at this point and my general take is they’re very good. They’re just not very fun, you know? They’re ol’ dependable. But I still think they deserve a shout out, so I’m including my top three flavors here.

Celsius Peach Vibe: I’m a sucker for peach-flavored stuff. It’s easily one of my favorite fruits, and one of my favorite artificially replicated fruits. This doesn’t taste too artificial and that makes it kind of cool. Definitely tastes like what I imagine peach should taste like but missing that slight acidic bite. 8.5/10.

Celsius Fantasy Vibe: I apologize for including another flavor with the word “vibe” on this list, but I can’t help it because it’s good. This is supposed to be a mandarin and marshmallow flavor, and man, they really do nail both of those flavors. I imagine marshmallow is hard to do so big ups to their chemists. 8/10.

Celsius Cola: Yeah, I’m the sicko who likes “cola” flavored products. What are you gonna do? Beat my ass about it? This tastes like those Haribo Happy-Cola candies and it rocks. 8.5/10.


Energy Drinks That Taste Like Other Drinks

six flavors of energy drinks from Ryse and Alani

I think this subheading says it all. I’ve noticed that a large part of the energy drink market is just this: making their drinks taste like other things we know and love. It probably helps drive sales or something. I don’t really know, but I like the idea of grabbing something familiar or nostalgic while also getting a bunch of caffeine and other energy-producing vitamins sent straight to the dome.

Ryse Kool-Aid Tropical Punch: Maybe this ranking is a little fucked up because I picked this up not fully reading the can thinking it was a dupe of those Kool-Aid Bursts squeeze bottles. Those had a berry flavor, so I was shocked when this was actually tropical punch. I mean, it’s fine. It definitely tastes like tropical punch, but it’s actually weirdly sweeter than I remember Kool-Aid being. 6/10.

Alani Nu Cherry Slush and Blue Slush: I’m putting these together because they’re the same idea. This review is simple: the flavors just aren’t strong enough to bring you back to that getting an Icee at the movies moment. They taste both melted (which I think is a cool feature, actually) and slightly watered down. 5/10.

Ryse Sunny D: I grew up in Florida, so I didn’t drink a ton of Sunny D growing up. We just drank a lot of regular orange juice. So, getting Sunny D felt like a weird treat. And you know, Sunny D has that very specific taste that lingers: it’s not just orange-citrus, but also slightly antiseptic in a good way. This definitely has a not-too-sweet orange-citrus flavor but it’s missing that Sunny D feel. 5/10.

Ryse Country Time Lemonade: Don’t have a lot to say about this. They actually nailed this one on both taste and feel levels. It doesn’t even taste sugar free, which is the wildest thing about it. 10/10.

Alani Nu Mimosa: When you try this, you’ll get it. Sure, it doesn’t have the alcohol in it but there is a textural thing happening here that makes you feel like you’re not even missing it. I don’t know what the chemists had to do to get that subtle champagne flavor in there, but they did it. 10/10 easy.

Ryse Baja Burst: When you see the label of this one, you know what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be Mountain Dew Baja Blast. And I’m sorry to say, it is not that! This isn’t bad but it just has far too much lime flavor to be Baja Blast. I’m sure the flavor secrets to Baja Blast’s success are heavily guarded so I can’t be mad at them but I was hopeful. 7.5/10.


I Love Creamsicles, So Here Are All the Creamsicle-Adjacent Ones

four creamsicle energy drinks

These don’t have a lot of frills. They’re just two flavors: orange and cream. A beverage that is orange and cream flavored should have the perfect balance of both, in my opinion. Neither the orange nor the vanilla ice cream flavor should overpower the other. Creamsicles are a perfect summer treat, and I went into drinking these hoping they’d evoke that.

C4 Energy Orange Cream: This has 300 milligrams of caffeine in it, which automatically gives it some points in my book. It has a nice balance of the orange and cream, but doesn’t achieve that melted creamsicle feeling. It’s not giving me summer, you know? 6/10.

Alani Nu Dream Float: Ok, this is much better. Again, this isn’t giving me melted creamsicles. This is actually giving me like orange vanilla soft serve, which obviously is delicious. I guess “Dream Float” is implying this is supposed to taste like orange juice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it and it’s definitely that. Overall, Alani Nu really shines in the citrus flavor arena, and this is a great example of why. 9/10.

Ghost Energy Orange Cream: When I first tasted this, I thought someone was messing with me. This DOES taste like melted creamsicles. Actually, it tastes like licking the melted creamsicle off your hand in the middle of the hottest day of the year. And it even has a lighter carbonation to give you a creamier feeling. Magical, really. 10/10.

Reign Orange Dreamsicle: This actually has “dreamsicle” in the name, so I expected a lot, I won’t lie. There are a couple of Reign flavors that totally rip, and all Reign products have 300 milligrams of caffeine, which also rips, but this was kind of a let down. Maybe I expected too much? The orange definitely overpowers the vanilla cream flavor but the textural feeling is a lot better than the C4. 7/10.


Speaking of Frozen Confections…

three energy drinks that taste like frozen treats

As you get deeper into the ready-to-drink energy drink fandom, you see that nostalgia is probably the biggest driver in what these companies are trying to create. Popsicle and frozen confection flavors are huge, and there are so many of them. I’m not going to bore you with the ones that rank below a 5 because I don’t want you to waste your money. Here’s the best of the best instead.

C4 Energy Frozen Bombsicle: So many energy drink brands have a variation of the Bomb/Rocket Pop flavor on the market. You can find ones from Alani Nu, 3D Energy, Bucked Up, Ghost Energy, and Accelerator, but they all kind of pale in comparison to C4’s version. In this one, you’re very clearly getting cherry, lemon-lime, and blue raspberry. Nothing special, technically, I know. But listen, you get them in order, exactly how you would if you were actually eating a Rocket Pop. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty sick. 9/10.

Alani Nu Hawaiian Shaved Ice: All of those brands I mentioned above, plus G-Fuel (which you won’t find on this list because their drinks are not good), make some variation of a “snow cone” or a “shaved ice” flavor or both. “Snow cone” flavor is generally on the blue raspberry side, so that’s just kind of boring. “Shaved ice,” however, is more of a strawberry watermelon mix, which is a little more exciting. As far as “shaved ice” flavors go, Alani Nu takes it. It has that syrupy quality of the last few sips of a melted shaved ice without being too sweet. 8/10.

Reign Reignbow Sherbet: Horrible word play aside, this is just an incredible beverage. Not even just for an energy drink. It’s giving you rainbow sherbet, that’s for sure. The lime, orange, and raspberry are perfectly balanced, and again, I cannot explain how they do this shit but they really nail that creamy feeling you get with a sherbet. I was shocked at how good this is and now I drink it like once or twice a week. 10/10.


Candy Flavors and Candy Collaborations Are Really the Holy Grail of Energy Drink Production

six energy drinks flavored like candies

One of the things I noticed during the first couple of weeks at my gym was that there is always some kind of candy laying around. Seems incongruous to a meathead lifestyle, right? But actually, meatheads treat themselves, too! And also, it serves another purpose: sugar is a fast burning carbohydrate that can give you a little energy boost when you’re lifting heavy. I guess it makes sense then that these flavors came to be and you know what? I’m not mad at it.

Beyond Raw Lit Jolly Rancher Green Apple: I don’t know why I bought this. I don’t like green apple. I have had a green apple Jolly Rancher unfortunately, and this does get very, very close. Upon further research, I saw Beyond Lit has a whole line of Jolly Rancher flavors, so I’ll definitely try the other ones but I’ll never drink this again. 5/10 (points for getting so close).

Reign White Gummy Bear: The white gummy bears aren’t my favorite, but I like them and I respect them. They’re basically just pineapple flavor, and I think it’s cool that pineapple is included in the Haribo Goldbears pack. As much as I want to say this tastes just like that, it doesn’t. It tastes like the white gummy bear you’d get in like a Walgreens brand gummy bear pack. And on top of that, the flavor really LINGERS no matter what else you drink. 5/10.

Ryse Ring Pop Berry Blast: I won’t hold you…this Ring Pop flavor is the best Ring Pop flavor on the market. I haven’t had one in years, but I’m standing by that. Ryse pretty much nailed the flavor here but it’s just not that exciting to me. It’s berry flavor, ok? 6.5/10.

Ghost Energy Warheads Sour Watermelon/Sour Green Apple: I tried the green apple because SCIENCE, but I’m sorry, y’all. I just think green apple sucks. No offense. The sour watermelon, on the other hand, really hits all the right notes, and it does have that Warheads-famous sourness without being too overbearing about it. I guess that means it doesn’t exactly taste like a Warhead, but I wouldn’t consider that a bad thing. I think my only complaint about this is that it comes in a 16 ounce can which is just too much. 7/10.

Ryse Smarties: I don’t know what I thought I was going to get here. I don’t dislike Smarties, I’m just not going to pick them if I have a choice. But you know, I’m trying all this shit, so why not? I will say this: this tastes nothing like Smarties. The fruit flavors are actually a little too sharp to be like Smarties and there is no chalkiness, though you do get a slightly chalky aftertaste. 6/10 (mainly for tasting better than actual Smarties).

Alani Nu Witch’s Brew: I have to hand it to them…a caramel apple flavored beverage is such a sick idea. I figured this would either taste like an actual caramel apple or one of those incredible caramel apple lollipops that only come out at Halloween. I would’ve loved either scenario, but I think caramel flavor was just too tall an order for the chemists to really nail down. This mostly tastes like apple cider, which is cool (!!!) but not what I was wanting or expecting. 6/10.

Beyond Raw Lit Gummy Worm and Raze Energy Sour Gummy Worm: Ok, so I went looking for these because of a conversation my editor Kayla and I were having about all of this shit the other day. And sadly, they’re not great! You’re just not getting that candy feel here. They just taste like a bunch of flavors thrown together, which I guess is what a bag of gummy worms is, but I don’t know…I think they could try harder. 5/10.

Redcon1 Energy Sour Peach Rings: Redcon1, in general, is not really on my radar but they were on sale for a dollar at my local Vitamin Shoppe so I got a couple of flavors and was excited to try this. Sour peach rings are one of my most favorite candies. They’re one of those treats I don’t get often BECAUSE I like them so much, and I really wanted to like this. It’s….fine. Mostly, it just has a candy peach flavor, but there is no acidic bite. I’ll give it some credit for that. 6/10.

C4 Energy Skittles: I haven’t eaten Skittles in years but when I did, I most definitely just dumped them into my mouth all together as God intended. Unfortunately, this doesn’t taste like that. In fact, there is no candy flavor or feeling at all. This just tastes like fruit punch. And not even a great fruit punch at that. 4/10.

Alani Nu Cosmic Stardust: I’m going off-concept here because this is not an explicitly candy-coded flavor. But I had to include. No joke, this tastes like pouring both sides of the purple/pink Nerds box straight into your mouth at once. I mean, it tastes exactly like that. I was in shock. 9/10.

Ghost Energy Swedish Fish: I think we — and by we, I mean my fellow Swedish Fish enjoyers — that there is a particular quality to the berry-ish flavor of a Swedish Fish that is extremely hard to understand. Like your brain recognizes it as berry, but which one? That kind of feeling. Internet research tells me that it’s supposed to be lingonberry, but I think they made that up. It’s just red. Red flavor. For some reason, I thought this might be hard to achieve if you don’t have the exact chemical combination that makes red flavor on file, but Ghost gets pretty damn close here. 9/10.

C4 Energy Starburst: These come in all the original Starburst flavors: strawberry, lemon, orange, and cherry. I have absolutely zero complaints about these because they all taste like the way your spit tastes when you’re chewing a Starburst. (Yeah, folks, the Starburst “juice” is just spit.) They’re all perfect, but like eating a pack of real Starburst, I suggest getting the one that is your favorite. Mine is the strawberry, of course, because it’s the best flavor. You should run, not walk to get these. They fucking rule. 10/10.

Ghost Energy Sour Patch Kids Redberry and Blue Raspberry: Similar to the Swedish Fish, I think Sour Patch Kids have a very particular flavor that is unique to them. It’s just something about the aftertaste. I don’t know what accounts for that chemistry-wise, but it’s there just after getting through the little bit of citric and malic acids that hit your tongue first. These drinks have the exact same feeling. First, you get that little bit of sour, and then you get that very specific Sour Patch Kids taste. Blows my mind that these are sugar free and full of caffeine. The Ghost chemists really put their foot in these, I’m telling you. 10/10.

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Stef Rubino

Stef Rubino is a writer, community organizer, and student of abolition from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They teach Literature and writing to high schoolers and to people who are currently incarcerated, and they’re the fat half of the arts and culture podcast Fat Guy, Jacked Guy. You can find them on Twitter (unfortunately).

Stef has written 80 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. I’m ALSO a queer meathead and I’ve been doing a recent energy drink adventure as well!

    I find that, more often than not, Ghost hits for me. I feel confident trying their new/weirder flavors, which cannot be said for every brand. They’re harder to find in regular convenience stores than Reign/Bang/Monster/etc. are, but luckily the supermarket in my neighborhood usually has them fully stocked.

    Top 3 in my rotation at the moment are the Reign Reignbow Sherbert (literally, why is it so good?!?!?), Ghost Orange Cream and Ghost Cherry Limeade (which I believe is a newer flavor).

    I turn to energy drinks enough that I’ve started taking stim-free preworkout to mitigate my caffeine intake.

    • Yeah, Ghost are a little harder to find for me, too. More often than not, I find them in Vitamin Shoppe or 7-11. If you have a local GNC, check there too because I’ve found them there on sale a few times!

      Been thinking about pre-workout still but I haven’t taken the plunge. Which one are you using? What effects do you get from it??

      • I (who previously forgot I have an actual profile on this site) am using the Ghost “Pump” non-stimulant pre-workout at the moment, but recently purchased some of Gorilla Mode’s “Nitric” non-stim to try out as well.

        I’ve liked my experience with Pump thus far. The formula is more focused on muscle blood flow/hydration/etc., so I don’t get a lot of the “focus” benefits people talk about with other pres, but I also usually don’t have a problem getting locked in at the gym. The main benefit is that it makes your muscles look yuge during your workout, which helps motivate me a lot. I’ve also noticed that I don’t get as sore and tend to bust out reps easier, but that might just be because I’m getting stronger lol.

  2. “I think we — and by we, I mean my fellow Swedish Fish enjoyers — that there is a particular quality to the berry-ish flavor of a Swedish Fish that is extremely hard to understand. Like your brain recognizes it as berry, but which one? That kind of feeling. Internet research tells me that it’s supposed to be lingonberry, but I think they made that up. It’s just red. Red flavor.” – Hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. My best friend lives in Sweden and there is such a thing as Lingonberry, same with Cloudberry. Next time look up the berry itself and not what a candy is supposed to be like, before you comment with “I think they made it up”! Thanks =)

    • Hahaha yes, exactly what Kayla said. I really appreciate your willingness to throw down for lingonberries and the nation of Sweden, but I absolutely just meant that I don’t believe the Swedish Fish makers when they claim they are lingonberry flavored!

  3. Every time I get a red bull cocktail I get closer to being someone who drinks redbull without alcohol…but I don’t like the taste THAT much. I think this list might be life changing for me – and a good motivator to start moving my body more. Excited for the tastebud journey lol

  4. This is a comprehensive and important discussion that mainstream media DOESN’T want us to talk about. Ghost really is crushing it right now, though. I’ll throw down for the warheads flavor.

  5. Even though I don’t like energy drinks at all (artificial sweeteners make my head hurt, and I love coffee and tea so much I’ll never need to get my caffeine from anything else), I absolutely loved reading this and would look forward to a sequel!!

  6. I absolutely love ghost sour watermelon, but it looks like there’s a shortage in my country :(

    for anyone wanting to scale it back a bit I’d recommend oxyshred (their cotton candy is the best cotton candy I’ve had) it’s not as intense but still has some good buzz. Plus I find it much more manageable to get through a small can

  7. this is 100% content for me, a broke & caffeine-dependent student/customer-facing jobs girlie who is too lazy to make/bring coffee with me everywhere lol !

    my faves lately are Celcius apple/pear (I was skeptical but it tastes so crisp) & Alani’s new “juicy peach” which makes me sooo excited for summer aka peach season!!

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