If you’re cycling for longer than an 90 minutes at a time, then consider using an energy drink. Any of you who’ve ‘hit the wall’ on a long ride will know what it feels like to run out of gas – it’s not fun and is detrimental to your training.
Energy drinks or other energy products are designed to help you ride further and faster by keeping your glucose levels topped up. We tested 16 drinks to see which ones give you the strength of an Olympian and which do nothing more than taste like old dishwater.
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Top 10 energy drinks
HIGH5 Energy Source
£10.99 / US$N/A (12x50g sachets)
Top three ingredients: maltodextrin, crystalline fructose, natural flavouring
Flavours: citrus, summer fruits, orange, tropical
This contains two sources of carbohydrate in a 2:1 ratio, following the theory that your body can process significantly more carbohydrate if it comes from multiple sources. We tested the fresh citrus flavour, which had a natural taste, not overly sweet and mellow rather than sour.
Each sachet easily mixes into 500ml of water and provides a hefty 45g of carbohydrate. It’s a little thick but perfectly drinkable. The mellow fruit taste makes it a welcome treat when you’re feeling groggy from long miles. We found it was impressively good at keeping us fuelled for a hard final hour of a four to five hour ride.
£1.50 / US$N/A (60g sachet)
Top three ingredients: maltodextrin, fructose, acidity regulator
Flavours: lemon lime, raspberry, blueberry and pomegranate, orange
Our testers agreed that this was the best-tasting drink of the bunch. You can taste real fruit, but it also has a mellow and vaguely milky consistency that’s great during hot, sweaty rides when you feel ropey. It comes in single-serving sachets, with a good range of flavours.
Each one contains the electrolytes sodium and potassium to help you stay hydrated, and a 2:1 mix of maltodextrin and fructose. A 60g serving contains 53g of carbohydrate when mixed into 473ml (16oz) of water. The flavour alone will boost flagging spirits.
From: GU Energy
£11 / US$N/A (500g)
Top three ingredients: maltodextrin, fructose, citric acid
Flavours: orange, lemon lime, lemon, pink grapefruit
With no colouring, artificial flavourings or sweeteners, Torq Energy has a light, clean taste that leaves a slight salty aftertaste on your tongue. It comes in a basic tub with a scoop, and within a couple of shakes it dissolves into a clear drink. It also has a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to increase energy absorption, and five different electrolytes to boost hydration.
At the standard dosage it’ll give you 30g of carbohydrate per 500ml drink. It was kind on our stomachs and left us feeling energised and quenched during our training rides.
£19.99 / US$TBC (1.32kg)
Top three ingredients: glucose, fructose, maltodextrin
Flavours: orange, lemon, red fruit punch
IsoActive contains 29g of carbohydrate per 33g serving and comes with a nifty long-handled scoop that makes it easy to measure and pour. It mixes up within a few shakes, leaving no powdery bits or residue, to create a pleasant (if not delicious) drink with five electrolytes.
It also contains two types of carbohydrate (glucose and fructose). Research indicates that when these carbohydrates are consumed in a 2:1 ratio they increase your energy uptake. Either way, IsoActive performed brilliantly for us in terms of long-term energy and ease of use. We’d happily use it during any ride or race.
£8.99 / US$12 (350g)
Top three ingredients: sugar, dextrose, citric acid
Flavours: Orange, lemon
A bottle of Perform is just the ticket if you’re riding on a hot day. The orange flavour has a natural-tasting, sweet orange kick, with a vaguely salty aftertaste. If you’re racing at a high intensity for several hours the sugary taste can be too much, but otherwise it provides a welcome energy boost the second it hits your tongue.
The plastic tub is a handy size but it requires you to measure out the powder in its lid, which then makes it tricky to pour the powder into your bottle. That aside, it mixed easily to give a great tasting, thirst quenching sports beverage.
ZipVit ZV1 Elite
£8.99 / US$N/A (700g)
Top three ingredients: maltodextrin, sucrose, sodium chloride
Flavours: orange, lemon, fruit punch
This came in a resealable silver pouch, which was a bit unwieldy at first, although you can buy it in a big tub. Its purple powder contains a blend of electrolytes that mimic those lost in sweat, while the energy comes from maltodextrin and sucrose (table sugar).
It’s noticeably easy on the stomach and has a thinner consistency than many drinks, making it very thirst quenching. It’s free of artificial colours and flavourings, and it’s one of the few drinks that are gluten free. We tested the fruit punch flavour, which tasted pleasantly of Parma Violet sweets, but not quite as sugary.
Nectar Fuel Tank
£25 / US$N/A (2kg)
Top three ingredients: glucose syrup, fructose, water
Flavours: light orange, lemon lime
Nectar is a liquid concentrate that you mix with water. It’s far easier to deal with than powder – no sticky powder everywhere. One press of the pump gives a three per cent carbohydrate solution, and higher dosages will determine whether your solution is hypotonic, isotonic or hypertonic (the mechanism by which water passes into your cells).
It has a 2:1 glucose: fructose carbohydrate ratio to optimise energy uptake and five electrolytes to boost hydration. It’s a great product, although the orange taste was too sweet for some, particularly when they opted for the hypertonic triple dose.
Clif Shot Electrolyte
£15.99 / US$22 (910g)
Top three ingredients: organic brown rice syrup solids, citric acid, organic evaporated cane juice
Flavours: Lemonade, cranberry-razz
Clif Shot tastes natural and isn’t too sweet, ideal for long days because your stomach won’t be able to handle anything too sickly. It’s not as instantly likeable as some sweeter drinks but you’ll be grateful for its slightly tart, salty taste when on your third bottle.
It’s made from 92 percent organic ingredients, such as green tea extract and beetroot colouring, and contains the electrolytes sodium chloride, potassium and magnesium to boost hydration, with 19g of carbohydrate per 20g scoop. Measuring is simple, and it dissolves easily.
SiS GO Energy
£1.10 / US$2 (50g sachet)
Top three ingredients: maltodextrin, fructose, natural flavouring
Flavours: orange, lemon, blackcurrant
GO Energy is SiS’s new name for their PSP22 Energy product. While it’s not laden with electrolytes, it is well suited to carb-loading or long rides where you won’t be sweating buckets. We did a three-hour ride on two bottles of this and it kept us well fuelled.
The ingredient list is short and simple (no bad thing) and the carbohydrate comes from maltodextrin and fructose. A 50g sachet contains 47g of carbohydrate and it’s kind enough on your stomach to be taken in higher concentrations.
From: Science in Sport
USN Enduro Carbs
£23.99 / US$N/A (1kg)
Top three ingredients: waxy maize starch, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin
Flavours: lemon lime, orange
An energy-packed drink that contains a mighty 69g of carbohydrate per two-scoop serving. With it being so energy-dense you might expect it to be thick and sickly sweet, but it isn’t. It contains three types of carbohydrate plus electrolytes, minerals and antioxidants.
The antioxidants fight free radicals, formed during intense exercise, although some nutritionists feel they’re not important on race day. Our only minor gripe was that it took some serious shaking to get rid of all the small clumps of powder.