This may come as a surprise to all of you who know me as a longevity-seeking, health-optimizing, nutrition nut…
…but I’ve had my fair share of experience with energy shots—and we're talking the hardcore, barely legal stuff from Thailand gas stations and the heart-rate jacking stuff from fringe bodybuilder garage gyms.
During my bodybuilding and Ironman triathlon days, I used to live and die by these kind of mass-marketed energy drinks, with likely very few favors to my adrenal glands and overall health. While these liquids and powders certainly jacked up my energy in the short term, they would inevitably leave me feeling sweaty-palmed with a racing heart during every workout, followed by a disturbing post-workout crash that made me want to crawl into bed and sleep the rest of the day. Not fun.
To say the least, now that I've come to realize the concept of biological tradeoffs for surges of chemical energy, my current definition of an “energy drink” is quite different. Nowadays when I’m looking for a little boost of energy, I usually take a much milder approach via something like a piping hot cup of organic coffee, a scoop of essential amino acids, a piece of nicotine gum, or a whiff of peppermint essential oil.
However, as of late, I’ve also been playing around with the more convenient option of healthy “energy shots”—especially when it comes to pre- or intra-workout, or during social events when I’m looking for a more calming, relaxing energy from specific botanicals that can even mimic the euphoric effects of alcohol.
So in this article, I want to tell you about ingredients to look for in healthy energy shots, as well as my favorite seven brands when you're looking for a quick and convenient cognitive boost, a pre-workout primer, or a euphoria-inducing alcohol replacement.
My Favorite Ingredients For Healthy Energy Shots
Now when I say “energy shots” I certainly don’t mean the variety you find on gas station shelves (e.g. 5-Hour Energy, Red Bull, Monster, etc.).
Those, of course, are usually chock-full of near heart-attack-inducing levels of caffeine, sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavorings, dyes, and other unnatural ingredients.
(PS: If you’re still consuming these yourself, you’ll want to read The Top 10 Natural, “Non-Jittery” Healthy Alternatives To Energy Drinks & Pre-Workout Supplements That Don’t Cause A Post-Workout Energy Crash.)
When it comes to my personal favorite energy shot ingredients, I now usually opt for:
- Botanicals and adaptogenic herbs that provide a unique energetic experience;
- Nootropics, natural compounds that increase cognitive and executive functioning; or
- Exogenous ketone esters, an alternate fuel source for the brain and potent energy booster.
Here’s a little bit of information about each, and in which scenario(s) you may want to opt for one or the other.
Botanicals & Adaptogens For Feel-Good Energy
While there are many plant compounds out there that can induce a favorable state of mind or enhance your energy in a specific way, I’m a fan of one specific group of compounds, called adaptogenic herbs.
Adaptogenic herbs have been used medicinally for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, and other ancient healing practices. In a nutshell, they’re believed to help the body stay resilient and deal with stress more effectively—whether it’s physical, emotional, or environmental.
There are dozens of adaptogenic herbs that can support your health, but two of the best for inducing a state of euphoric, calm energy are kava and kratom.
Kava is a plant-based elixir traditionally prepared from the roots of Piper methysticum.
It has been used by South Pacific islanders for thousands of years for its medicinal effects as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxant, and as a remedy for anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia.
The Islanders classify kava as a gentle entheogen (psychedelic) that can enhance creativity and introspection, increase productivity, and boost relaxation all at the same time. Its active compounds (known as kavalactones) modulate key receptors in the brain that enhance the activity of the body’s main pleasure chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. This creates kava’s signature mood-boosting and stress-relieving effects.
Many people use kava in social settings as an alternative to drugs and alcohol, because it allows you to loosen up and connect more easily without actually getting you “drunk.” I find that it elicits a sort of calm, productive, enhanced state of sobriety that’s a perfect boost for creative days or social events.
Disclaimer: You’ll want to be careful with where you source your kava, as it can be highly variable and doesn’t always meet the same safety, quality, or potency standards. It can also be made from parts of the kava plant that have a higher potential for toxicity, as opposed to traditional water extraction of the roots. I’ll tell you the two brands I trust for sourcing quality kava below.
Kratom, or Mitragyna speciose, is a tropical plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, where it’s been used for hundreds of years for its distinct psychotropic properties.
When I first used kratom for a back injury a few years ago, I felt the pain-relieving effects within minutes—and also experienced a pleasant euphoria, and even a drop in appetite, with none of the side effects of a painkiller and or the psychosis of something like marijuana. Like kava, kratom provides unique stimulant effects along with calming, mood-boosting properties—making it a great choice for a stable “energy shot” without a crash later.
If you want to know more about the nitty-gritty of kratom, check out my podcast with Chris Bell, The Kratom User’s Guide: What Is Kratom, How Do You Use It & The Truth Behind This Controversial Natural Herb.
Disclaimer: Use kratom sparingly and responsibly, as there are still questions about its addictive properties. Like kava, there can also be quality issues, so make sure you’re getting it from a reputable source.
Nootropics for Brain-Boosting Energy
Nootropics are compounds that increase mental function and energy.
Benefits of nootropics include improved motivation, memory, concentration, attention, and other aspects of executive functioning (in fact, the word “nootropics” translates from Greek as “mind” and “bend”).
Nootropics can be either naturally derived or synthetically made. Regardless of where they come from, there is a very strict criterion in order for a substance to be classified as a true nootropic. This criterion requires that the substance exhibits the following:
- Enhancement of learning acquisition;
- Resistance to impairing agents;
- Facilitation of interhemispheric transfer of information;
- Enhanced resistance to brain “aggressions”;
- Increased tonic, cortico-subcortical “control”; and
- Absence of usual pharmacological effects of neuro-psychotropic drugs.
Like adaptogens, there are dozens of nootropics on the market. However, there’s one blend of six different nootropics that takes the cake when it comes to an “energy shot for your brain”—and I’ll tell you about it below.
You can learn more about the nitty-gritty of nootropics in the following:
- Boost Your Brain Power With These 4 Underground, Highly Effective Nootropic Compounds Most People Don’t Know About.
- Limitless & Lucy–Your Ultimate, Done-For-You Guide To Nootropics, Smart Drugs & Psychedelics.
- Smart Drugs, Nootropics, Microdosing With Psychedelics, Enhancing Deep Sleep, Rites Of Passage & Much More With Kyle Kingsbury Of Onnit.
- How to Make Your Own Smart Drugs, Natural Nootropic Stacks, My Brain-Enhancing Compounds of Choice & Much More!
Exogenous Ketones: Energy for the Extremist
Ketones are a source of fuel produced by the liver when the body is in a state of “ketosis” and there is an insufficient supply of glucose (usually from eating a ketogenic diet or extended fasting).
However, with the creation of exogenous ketone products, we can now experience the energy-enhancing effects of ketones without having to go through the tedious steps of getting into ketosis. Hallelujah!
The energy-boosting effects of ketones can be both mental and physical:
- Ketones are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and provide the brain with an efficient source of fuel, which can increase mental energy and cognitive performance.
- They allow the body to burn fat instead of glucose for fuel, which provides a more steady, slow-burning source of energy for muscles.
Now, when it comes to the use of exogenous ketones, there are an increasing array of products on the market, which tend to be in the form of either ketone salts or ketone esters. I typically prefer the latter, and here’s why.
Ketone salts are beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)—a chemical that is made by the body to provide energy in times when not enough carbohydrates or sugars have been consumed—bound to a mineral, such as sodium, magnesium, or calcium. While these are relatively cheap, some formulas add 100-200% of your daily recommended value for sodium. A ketone ester, on the other hand, is simply an organic molecule that delivers 100% BHB equivalent. So you’re essentially getting a purer, more potent source of ketones with an ester as opposed to a salt.
I have personally utilized ketone esters during periods of extended fasting or calorie restriction to keep up my energy levels and cognitive performance. I’ve also had great success using them as “rocket fuel” for athletic competitions, combining ketone esters with glucose to create an admittedly unnatural, yet superhuman-like hyperglycemic and hyper-ketotic state. And, like kratom and kava, I’ve experimented with ketones as an alcohol substitute for a similar “feel-good” buzz without the hangover.
Ketone esters are an extremely versatile, powerful source of mental and physical energy which makes them one of my favorite energy shots for athletic performance or competitions.
(My podcast with H.V.M.N. (Health Via Modern Nutrition) co-founder and CEO Geoffrey Woo as well as my episode with Dominic D’Agostino dive deep into ketosis as well as the differences between ketone salts and esters.)
The 7 Best Healthy Energy Shots
So, now that you’re aware of some of my favorite energy-enhancing ingredients, here are a few handy-dandy energy shot formulas that utilize botanicals, nootropics, and ketone esters.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing “buzz” without the hangover, a mental boost for a long workday or presentation, or a sustained, powerful shot for both your mind and body, the following are some potent, healthy options—vetted by yours truly—that you can feel good about.
Below, you'll find a really quick overview of each of the 7 healthy energy shots. There's plenty more information about each of the brands here on their websites and, for many of them, in podcasts I've recorded or articles I've written. I encourage you to look through what's here and if there's a shot that piques your interest, keep on reading.
1. Feel Free Wellness Tonic (Botanical Energy Shot)
Feel Free is one of my absolute favorite botanical energy shots.
Their Wellness Tonic is made with a combination of kava and kratom, which together basically mimic the euphoric effects of alcohol—without, of course, destroying your liver or leaving you with a head-pounding hangover the next day.
I'll pop one of these in the afternoon before a workout for a stable energy boost, or prior to a social event or party as a mood-boosting alcohol alternative. My friend Brian Sanders and I even recorded a “drunken” podcast while sipping on some Feel Free (and I must say, things got a little silly). Then, last week I had Feel Free founder JW Ross on the podcast to dive into what makes the Feel Free formula so uniquely effective for improving mood and performance.
Grab your pack of Feel Free Wellness Tonic here and get a whopping 40% discount automatically applied at checkout.
2. Tru Kava (Botanical Energy Shot)
Tru Kava is one of the purest, highest quality options for kava that I’m currently aware of.
Their products are made from the same premium (Noble) kava varieties that have been safely used by South Pacific Islanders for over 3000 years. Each batch of their kava root is independently lab tested to ensure that it’s free of chemicals and pesticides and meets strict quality and safety standards.
When it comes to energy shots, I’m digging their brand-new Tropical Shots—a full-spectrum, shelf-stable, traditional kava drink in a concentrated 2 oz. form. They claim to use a low-temperature, solvent-free extraction method that mimics the process of making traditional kava and captures the root’s full complex of kavalactones and other active constituents.
You can also add these shots (or any of the other Tru Kava products) to coffee or tea for an additional mood boost and nootropic kick without the jitters.
Get a mood-boosting, stress-relieving energy boost with Tru Kava’s Tropical Shots here and use code BEN10 to get a 10% discount.
3. Hanah One (Botanical Energy Shot)
Hanah One is perhaps the most unique botanical energy shot I’ve come across, combining over 30 energy-boosting herbs and adaptogens with a delicious base of Ayurvedic ghee and honey.
- Ashwagandha: Reduces stress and anxiety, and improves memory and cognitive function.
- Gotu Kola: Elevates mood, enhances memory, and has neuroprotective properties.
- Tribulus Terrestris: Has been traditionally used to energize, vitalize, and improve sexual function and physical performance.
- Shatavari: Enhances memory and protects against amnesia, reduces stress, and may have aphrodisiac activity.
- Cobras Saffron: Supports the nervous system, learning, and memory.
All of the ingredients work in combination to increase energy and stamina, improve focus and mental clarity, strengthen the immune system, and even improve digestion.
I personally love Hanah One’s “Go Packs” which are basically a healthier version of your traditional “energy goo shot” and can be easily thrown in a gym bag or pocket and consumed during a long workout or outdoor adventure.
You can grab yours here and use code BEN15 to get a 15% discount.
4. Qualia Nootropic Energy Shot (Nootropic)
Qualia Nootropic Energy Shot contains a unique blend of nootropic compounds, vitamins, amino acids, fruit extracts, and herbal extracts that work together to support mental energy, focus, cognitive processing capacity, and productivity.
It works like gangbusters and is one of my go-to nootropic energy shots for staying sharp if I have a cognitively-demanding day ahead of me.
You’ll notice this is the only “nootropic” on the list, and that’s because, well, it beats the pants off just about every other formula. Each ingredient was selected to specifically target the brain and neurochemical systems, for a mental boost like no other, including six potent nootropic compounds:
- EnXtra® Alpinia galanga Root Extract: Supports alertness and focus for up to five hours.
- NooLVL™: Supports blood levels of L-arginine, which promotes circulation to metabolically active tissues, like the brain and muscles.
- Organic Coffeeberry® Whole Fruit Extract: A source of caffeine known to enhance alertness, processing speed, and motor reflexes.
- Celastrus paniculatus Seed Extract: Also known in India as “the intellect tree”, it enhances mental acuity, supports memory, and alleviates mental fatigue and stress.
- Alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC): Precursor to acetylcholine, which is involved in brain functions including attention, concentration, mental focus, memory formation, and recall.
- Saffron Stigma Extract: Saffron has been used and traded as a spice for at least 4000 years and is considered the world's most costly spice by weight. May support mood, cognition, vision, sports performance, appetite regulation, metabolic function, and women’s health.
There you have it, folks. One shot of this golden elixir and your brain will literally be on fire. You can tell your boss to thank me later.
You can get your hands on Qualia Nootropic Energy Shots here and use code BGF15 to save 15%.
5. KetoneAid (Ketone Ester)
KetoneAid is one of the first ketone esters I ever experimented with, back when they were selling for a cool $30k a pop (you can watch my entire experiment and crazy results in this fun little home video).
KetoneAid was founded by Frank Llosa, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on ketosis. So, it’s basically the O.G. of ketone esters. Many athletes swear by KetoneAid’s Performance Enhancing shot, and I’ve personally seen it bump up my blood levels of ketones from 0.5 to 8.0 in just 10 minutes!
Try it for yourself here, and use code BEN to save on shipping.
6. HVMN 2.0
HVMN (or Health Via Modern Nutrition) is one of my personal favorite ketone brands, even though it's not necessarily a ketone ester by definition. It's actually a ketone precursor, which will turn into a ketone body once it reaches the liver.
In the past, their ester combined with glucose helped me win my first Ironman Triathlon.
Even if you’re not about to race in an Ironman, their products provide an instant boost for mind and body excellence. I’m super excited because they’re about to release a brand new “ketone shot” product with a novel technology that elevates ketones for 3+ hours. But it’s literally so hot-off-the-presses it hasn’t even been released yet! It’s called Ketone 2.0, and you can skip the waitlist for it with my special link here. (Just an FYI, you should not ingest more than three servings of Ketone 2.0 for performance as it is an alcohol and will leave the consumer inebriated if taken in excess.)
You can also learn more about H.V.M.N. and ketone esters in general in my podcast episode with their co-founder in this podcast episode: The Latest Research On Ketones & Ketosis For Performance & Recovery, Do Ketones Break A Fast, Using Ketones For 45 Days Of Crossfit Murph, Ketone Esters vs. Ketone Salts & More With Geoffrey Woo of H.V.M.N.
7. DeltaG Tactical (Ketone Ester)
DeltaG contains the exact ester formula funded by DARPA, developed by Oxford and the NIH, protected by global patents, and used in a number of other ketone formulas today.
They currently offer three different formulas, but my personal favorite is their △G Tactical, which contains a whopping 32 grams (!) of Oxford ketone esters.
△G Tactical was specifically formulated for the unique requirements of professional athletes and military personnel who perform under extreme physiological and mental stress. In fact, they even test and evaluate the formula using real veterans of Tier 1 military special operations units, SWAT teams, professional MMA fighters, and professional shooters.
Pretty legit stuff.
So, if you need a shot of rocket-fuel-like energy prior to an extreme competition or another intense scenario, you can grab your △G Tactical here.
Now that I’ve given you the lowdown on healthy energy shots, you officially have zero reasons to ever grab a 5 Hour Energy, Monster, Red Bull, or another can of caffeine and chemicals again.
Thanks to botanicals and adaptogenic herbs, nootropics, and exogenous ketones, you can experience a calmer, longer-lasting, crash-free, and even health-promoting boost of energy.
To recap, my favorite energy shot options for a feel-good, euphoric state akin to alcohol (without the hangover) include:
If you need a cognitive boost for a demanding workday, to prep for a presentation, or to cram for an exam, nothing beats Qualia’s Nootropic Energy Shot.
And, if you’re a high-charging athlete or performance-minded individual, you need to experience the superhuman-like boost from ketone esters, my favorites of which are:
Finally, don't underestimate the power of “stacking” these type of compounds. For example, a couple of my favorite ways to do that includes a shot of Feel Free paired with a shot of ketones, or a Qualia nootropic shot tacked with a touch of extra kava from Tru Kava.
Now, I want to hear from you. Have you tried any of these “energy shots”? What was your experience? Are there any I’m missing from this list that I should check out? Let me know in the comments!