Rockstar. Monster. Red Bull. That’s not a list of NFL teams, video games or rock bands, but some of the most popular energy drinks on the market. Whether to boost energy for sports, or just to get through the day after a 4-hour night of sleep, adults and kids alike are now buying these expensive drinks in droves, sometimes even to the detriment of their health.

While the drinks may give you an energy boost, they don’t quite work the way the manufacturers would have you believe. For all the cool marketing, they amount to little more than a shot of caffeine and/or sugar, essentially combining the effects of a coffee and a soda. The energy lift is usually just from the caffeine, often the same amount or a little more than in a standard cup of coffee. Many brands are also loaded with sugar; a typical can of Rockstar or Monster has a whopping 54 grams of sugar, which is like loading a cup of coffee with 11-12 sugar packets! That may get you going for a short time, but as you probably know, you’ll be in for a just as bad an energy crash, if not worse.

As for other common ingredients, like B-vitamins, amino acids (like taurine), guarana and ginseng, they are little more than fancy dressing. They’re more effective at marketing the drinks and jacking up the price than they are at helping you wake up. B-vitamins may be necessary for better long-term health, but they don’t give you an immediate lift.

For optimal energy levels throughout the day, what you really need is:

  • Enough sleep.
  • Quality nutrition. Plenty of real food, lean protein, fruits, veggies and whole grains for your fiber, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds and avocado. Limit processed foods, added sugars and excess white breads and grains. The refined carbohydrates in many white breads and grains sometimes produce the same energy ups and downs as sugar.
  • Water. Even slight dehydration is a common cause of energy crashes.
  • Caffeine in low to moderate amounts . Get your caffeine from coffee or tea, which also provide other health benefits in moderation.

Get in the habit of getting enough of the above, and you won’t need to spend your hard-earned money on glorified cans of sugar and caffeine anymore.