Updated 16 July 2018

What energy drink in SA is the worst for you?

Our thirst for energy drinks just keeps growing, with South Africans glugging down more than 168 million litres of the stuff a year. With seemingly everyone hooked, #Trending set out to find out how different brands compare with one another.

Love energy drinks? Feel like you can’t do without them? Well, you’re not the only one. South Africa’s energy drinks market keeps expanding and our thirst seems insatiable.

They’re packed with sugar and caffeine, but we don’t seem to care. While the recently implemented sugar tax has seen some brands decrease their sugar content slightly, others have stayed the same. Some have unveiled “zero” variants that replace regular sugar with artificial sweeteners.

But what do you know about energy drinks? We rounded up some facts:

. Between 2009 and 2014, the annual volume of sports and energy drinks consumed in South Africa rose from about 98 million litres to 168 million litres;

. South Africa is the fifth-highest consumer of Red Bull in the world;

. Last year global sales of energy drinks were 11.57 billion litres and are expected to rise to 14.7 billion litres this year;

. Men below the age of 45 are the biggest consumers of energy drinks in South Africa;

. TV is the biggest medium for advertising energy drinks. Vuzu advertises energy drinks the most, with 728 related ads aired in 2013

. In 2013 R4.5 million in TV advertising was spent a month on energy drinks.

. Data in the fact list was drawn from the SA Sports and Energy Drinks Industry Landscape Report 2017 and a 2017 report by Wits University’s Nicholas Stacey for the school of public health.

Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

So, with literally dozens of energy drinks on the market, which one is the worst for you? We compared six popular brands according to their sugar and caffeine content. We tried to be fair in how we compare them, with most listed according to their most commonly sold serving size (440ml for Play, 500ml for Dragon).

Others, such as Red Bull, are most commonly sold and consumed in a 250ml can, but to be fair to the competitors, we used the bigger 355ml can for comparison. This is what we found:


Monster is going to do you the most damage. It’s got a wopping 12 teaspoons of sugar a can and the same amount of caffeine as three cups of coffee.

Dragon was surprisingly low in sugar at about three and a half teaspoons, but very high in caffeine, with an equivalent of about two and a half cups of coffee.

Lucozade had the least amount of caffeine, but still contained about four teaspoons of sugar a bottle.

All these comparisons were made using the drinks’ Original flavours. When you look at their variants, for instance Play Forge or Red Bull Tropical Fruits, you’ll find they contain more sugar than the Original flavour. Lucozade’s Orange, Apple, Blackcurrent, Caribbean Fusion and Pink Lemonade flavours, for instance, have 10 teaspoons of sugar compared with Lucozade Original’s four teaspoons. 

'I'm addicted to energy drinks'
By Phumlani S Langa

It’s another week at #Trending, and with that brings the prospect of another task from my editors. “P, we know you love your energy drinks, so what we want is for you to not have any for three days.” So now I write to you, dear reader, on the third day of what I can describe only as life without colour.

Self-confessed energy drink addict Phumlani S Langa
Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi

I’ve not even been allowed to drink extra coffee above my normal amount to quell the cravings as my intake of this is also being monitored. My poison of preference is the Caribbean Crush Lucozade or Play Original. I tend to go for the energy drinks that have understated burn, which for me amplifies the feeling that what I’m drinking is potentially harmful. Also that buzz is quite nice – and it’s legal. There’s nothing quite like reaching into the cold fridge at the service station for that cold Lucozade in that well-thought-out bottle with the cap. Having a bottle is nice because then the juice lasts longer.

I have missed my buzz for 72 hours and I must concede my addiction. I’m antsy and easily angered because my wings have been clipped. That’s a big shout out to the good folks at the Red Bull drinks lab. I use my consumption of Lucozade in perhaps an unconventional way. It gives me a buzz but, after the spike, no pun intended, I usually get very sleepy. This makes it perfect for an evening beverage. Needless to say my sleep patterns have been disrupted by this interruption. I do drink quite a bit of it and, why not, am I not the target market? I’m a bit surprised this dry spell has had the effect on me that it has. I think perhaps one of the ingredients on the back of these bottles – the ones you’ve never heard of and are too lazy to google – consists of the same stuff they put in McDonald’s fries. You might be at home thinking you aren’t addicted to the sweet delights of high-caffeine content and Guarana, soaked in glucose. I say take a few days off. If you develop shakes or you’re angry at the world, contact me. I’m starting a group for people like us, a safe space where we can talk about our strong affinity and maybe even chug back a few because, well, it’s legal.


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