Coffee vs. Energy Drinks: Which is Better?

Coffee vs. Energy Drinks: Which is Better?

If you have frequent late nights or early mornings, then you’ve likely debated this question before. Many people swear by coffee as the only thing to get them out of bed on those gloomy mornings.

On the other hand, others will only wake up to the promise of a cold can of energy drink waiting for them.

If you’re torn between both options, keep reading to learn which stimulating drink will give you the most energy, mental alertness, and health benefits. 

This detailed guide will outline the benefits of coffee vs energy drinks and make your decision much easier.

What are energy drinks?


‘Energy drinks’ is the collective term used to describe a group of beverages that provide an energy boost and increased mental alertness to the consumer. This energy boost is caused by the different legal stimulants contained in the drink. 

Some common stimulants in energy drinks are caffeine, taurine, guarana, etc. They also contain added sugars and additives. Most energy drinks contain the same stimulants and additives. 

The only difference you may notice between one energy drink and another is the kind of added flavors used. 

Contrary to the previous opinion that only athletes consume energy drinks, this beverage is often enjoyed by students, workers, parents, and almost everyone around the globe who wants a quick boost of energy.

In fact, a 2015 study showed that manufacturers diverted their marketing focus from athletes to younger people, leading to a regular consumption rate of about 30% in this category in the U.S. alone. 

What is coffee?

coffee cup on table - coffee vs. energy drinks

Pure coffee is a drink from mother nature that has just one ingredient - ground coffee beans. This is not to say that your favorite frappuccino from Starbucks is not coffee; it is coffee with many other ingredients added to improve the taste. 

The primary stimulant in coffee is caffeine, which is naturally found in coffee beans. It also contains other good nutrients like magnesium, niacin, and other vitamins. Depending on individual preference, coffee can be served either hot or cold and caffeinated or decaffeinated. 

This means, unlike with energy drinks where you can’t control the ingredients, coffee lovers have more customization options for their beverage of choice.

You can even make it stronger or weaker in terms of the caffeine content. You can also choose how much sugar and milk is added or which coffee flavor you want. 

There are also several types of coffee beverages to choose from. A famous example is espresso, which is stronger and thicker than plain black coffee and is often used as a base for other coffee beverages. You also have lattes, cappuccinos, Irish coffee, mocha, etc. 

How much caffeine is in an energy drink can?

As stated earlier, the amount of caffeine in a basic 8.4 fl oz can of energy drink is 80mg. This amount could increase to 240mg in a 16-oz can or bottle. 

Considering energy drink brands on the average side, a basic 12-ounce Redbull contains 111mg of caffeine. On the extreme side, 5-hour energy shots come in a small 2-ounce bottle but contain over 200mg of caffeine. 

So, with energy drinks, the amount of caffeine you get primarily depends on the exact brand you buy. 

How much caffeine is in a cup of coffee?

Cup size plays a massive role in determining how much caffeine is in your coffee. A basic eight-fl oz cup of coffee will have less caffeine than a 16-fl oz cup. With coffee, the bigger the cup, the more caffeine you get. 

For example, you may have to drink up to four to five regular cups of black coffee to get up to 400mg (which is the FDA-recommended daily limit) of caffeine in your system daily. 

So, which has more caffeine: coffee or energy drinks?

illustration of caffeine molecules

Many people assume energy drinks are packed with caffeine. However, both drinks have the same amount of caffeine on average. 

A plain cup of coffee (8.0 fl oz) = 80-100mg caffeine

Basic energy drink (8.4 fl oz) = 80mg caffeine

You should note that when comparing the caffeine content of both beverages, the type of energy drink you buy and how strong your coffee is may play a huge part. 

For example, some energy drinks may have three times more caffeine than a basic cup of coffee. The caffeine in coffee is also more concentrated than in energy drinks, so you may be alert for more extended periods after drinking coffee than when you have energy drinks. 

Bottom line: coffee has a slightly higher caffeine content than energy drinks. However, if you choose a strong energy drink, you’ll likely consume more caffeine. 

The high sugar content in energy drinks also leads to sugar crashes which eliminate the stimulation from caffeine. 

What about sugar?

According to the CDC, the leading sources of added sugars in American diets are sweetened beverages (with energy drinks and coffee each accounting for 3% and 7%, along with desserts. 

Consuming more than the daily recommended amount could cause serious health issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease. So, knowing just how much sugar is in your favorite energy drinks or coffee is really important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

How much sugar is in an energy drink can?

Energy drinks usually have very high amounts of added sugar (up to 62g per 16oz can). This is much higher than the AHA-recommended amount of sugar an adult should consume in one day. 

Some energy drink brands claim to be sugar-free. However, since sweeteners like aspartame are used instead of sugar, they could be equally addicting and increase your sugar cravings. 

How much sugar is in a cup of coffee?

Natural, pure, black coffee is sugar-free. However, since some people find the original taste of black coffee to be a bit bitter, they like to add sugar, cream, or sweeteners. 

American coffee shops like Starbucks make several coffee beverages where varying amounts of sugar can be added. If you’re a regular consumer of these coffee beverages, tracking how much added sugar is used in your drink may be difficult. 

For example, a medium, or ‘Grande’ coffee caramel frappuccino from Starbucks contains 54g of sugar, which is about 13 teaspoons. This is way more than the daily limit of sugar intake recommended by the American Heart Association. 

On the other hand, if you make your own coffee, you can still choose to add a few teaspoons of sugar and cream if you want it sweeter, while still controlling and tracking the amount of sugar you’re consuming. 

What about calories?

The CDC states that adult Americans get about 7% of their daily calorie intake from sweetened beverages. 

Understanding calories is important, especially if you’re on a fitness journey. Knowing how many calories are in your favorite beverages is vital to maintaining a healthy weight. 

But just how many calories are in your coffee and energy drinks?

How many calories are in an energy drink can?

Energy drinks usually have a high number of calories in them. This information is important to anyone on a health journey because most of these calories come from added sugars. 

For example, a 16oz can of energy drink could have up to 200 calories or more. 

This study shows that Rockstar energy drink has the highest number of calories compared to other brands, with a 16oz can containing 260 calories. This value exceeds the number of calories in the most popular sodas. 

You should note that low-carb and sugar-free energy drinks usually have significantly lesser calories than other energy drinks. For example, the Monster low-carb energy drink contains just ten calories. The same goes for the AMP sugar-free energy boost. 

How many calories are in a cup of coffee?

Plain coffee is mainly water, so the calorific content is quite low. A basic shot of espresso has only two calories, while a plain black cup of coffee with no added sugars or cream could have five or fewer calories. 

Having coffee instead of energy drinks makes sense if you are on a weight loss journey and trying to maintain a calorie deficit. 

However, if you like having different kinds of coffee drinks like frappuccinos and mochas, you may consume more calories than expected. 

Although the calorie content of coffee may not always go up to energy drink levels, all the added sugars from the cream, sweeteners, and flavoring in your fancy coffee drinks could significantly increase the number of calories. 

For example, research shows that one medium, or ‘grande’, coffee frappuccino at Starbucks contains around 240 calories. Having this every day or multiple times a day can significantly affect your health in the long run. So you should pay attention to what is added to your drinks. 

Final Thoughts

common room roasters crew in long beach California

When weighing your options between coffee and energy drinks, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of each beverage. 

Energy drinks are not all bad and they serve a specific purpose. However, for health reasons, coffee is better if you need an energy boost in the mornings or want to be more mentally alert. 

The many health benefits associated with coffee, low calorific content, and ability to regulate what goes into your drink is its primary advantage over energy drinks. 

On the other hand, the high amounts of added sugar, calories, and potential sugar crash associated with energy drinks can be pretty detrimental to your health in the long run. 

So next time you’re at the store and wavering between both options, pick coffee for your health!


The primary differences between coffee and energy drinks lie in their ingredients, caffeine content, and nutritional profiles.

Coffee is a natural beverage made from brewed coffee beans and generally contains fewer additives.

Energy drinks, on the other hand, often contain a mix of caffeine, sugar, and other additives like taurine and B-vitamins.

While it's essential to consider individual health needs, coffee is generally considered healthier than energy drinks for most people.

Coffee is rich in antioxidants and lacks the high sugar and additive content found in many energy drinks.

However, it's crucial to consume coffee in moderation and be mindful of added sugars or high-fat creamers that can negate its health benefits.

Yes, there can be side effects depending on your choice.

Coffee can be acidic, which may not suit people with certain gastrointestinal issues. It also lacks the added vitamins found in some energy drinks.

Energy drinks, however, often contain high levels of sugar and additives that can lead to quick spikes and crashes in energy levels, and may contribute to long-term health issues like obesity or heart problems.