Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s) and published for informational purposes only. We recommend that patients speak with a doctor before regularly using energy drinks, because there may be medical conditions which preclude use of this type of product.
5-hour Energy is one of the most popular energy drinks in the U.S. It comes in a small bottle that’s less than two ounces in weight, so it seems like a convenient way to get a mid-afternoon boost of energy.
But is the product likely to be effective? Is it safe? In this article we’ll review the ingredients in 5-hour Energy to answer those questions and explain whether or not we recommend this product for energy.
Regular Strength Energy Shot Ingredient Review
5-hour Energy’s most popular product is their Regular Strength energy shot. It comes in a variety of flavors, all of which have the same active ingredients, so our comments stand for all flavored variations of this product.
The most important active ingredient is caffeine at a dose of 200 milligrams (mg), which is an effective dose. As we explained in our best pre workout review article, the effective dose of caffeine for improving mental focus and physical performance ranges from 100-400 mg, and most manufacturers use a dose of around 200 mg.
This is a low enough dose to prevent most sensitive consumers from experiencing anxiety, but high enough to be effective. It’s about the same amount of caffeine as in two standard cups of coffee.
5-hour Energy Shot contains a megadose of Vitamin B12, providing over 20,000% of the Daily Value (DV). While this vitamin is water-soluble, meaning it’s nearly impossible to overdose on, we don’t believe it’s logical or sensible to take random megadoses of any vitamin without a documented deficiency.
Taurine is the first-listed active ingredient in 5-hour Energy’s proprietary blend, which means it’s the ingredient at the highest dose in the blend. While this amino acid is often included in energy drinks, we haven’t come across any medical research proving that taurine alone is effective at improving energy. There is also some medical research suggesting that this compound may be harmful to the brain development of adolescents.
Glucuronolactone is the second-listed ingredient in the prop blend, and is a compound produced by the human body. When taken supplementally, it’s thought to increase energy though there doesn’t appear to be much medical research backing its efficacy. An energy drink containing glucuronolactone along with taurine and caffeine (all ingredients in 5-hour Energy), was shown to improve driving ability in sleepy drivers in a clinical trial.
However it’s worth noting that these three ingredients in combination have been shown in a separate clinical trial to have adverse effects on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.
We can’t locate any medical research suggesting the ingredients n-acetyl l-tyrosine or malic acid are effective for improving energy.
Citicoline appears to be an effective ingredient choice for an energy drink, because this compound had nootropic effects in a medical trial published in The Journal of Nutrition in 2021. Researchers found that supplemental intake of citicoline over the course of 12 weeks improved memory in older adults with memory deficiencies. However the dose used in the study was 500 mg/day, and the entire prop blend dose in 5-hour Energy is 1,870 mg. Since citicoline is the last-listed ingredient, we find it unlikely that there is a 500 mg dose in 5-hour Energy.
The final active ingredient to review is l-phenylalanine which is a precursor to a variety of neurotransmitters according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We cannot find any medical research suggesting this amino acid increases energy or reduces fatigue, nor does the NIH resource page make reference to such effects.
Overall there are definitely some effective ingredients in this formulation, and we do believe it’s likely to increase energy short-term. This doesn’t mean the product is necessarily healthy, just that it’s likely to be effective for the primary stated health claim.
Questionable Inactive Ingredients
5-hour Energy contains the inactive ingredients natural and artificial flavors. If you’ve read any of our previous reviews, you’ll know that we recommend avoiding these compounds as they aren’t well regulated and this descriptor doesn’t detail which specific chemicals are used to create the flavors.
Animal studies have shown toxicity for some artificial flavoring compounds.
This energy shot also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose, which was found in a clinical trial to cause insulin dysregulation in young healthy adults. This is a concerning study in our opinion, because the effects of sucralose on unhealthy adults (which the majority of Americans definitionally are) is likely worse.
This product also contains three separate preservatives: potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and EDTA. An in vitro (test tube) study found that potassium sorbate was “clearly seen to be genotoxic” to human cells. We recommend avoiding these preservatives out of an abundance of caution, especially when there are natural energy-promoting products like coffee that are free of preservatives.
Deaths Attributed to 5-hour Energy
In 2012, the New York Times reported that there were 13 deaths attributed to use of 5-hour Energy, and that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. was investigating. We haven’t seen the results of any such investigation.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean the 5-hour Energy drinks directly caused the deaths, it is a warning sign that consumers should heed. This is especially true for consumers with pre-existing health conditions like high blood pressure.
Caffeine alone can cause increased blood pressure and should probably be avoided by certain patients, but the combination of the various stimulatory ingredients in 5-hour Energy Shots may make the product riskier than drinking the equivalent amount of caffeine from coffee.
Extra Strength Energy Shot Ingredient Review
5-hour Energy sells an Extra Strength Energy Shot which is presumably more potent.
Caffeine is at a 30 mg higher dose in Extra Strength than Regular Strength, and the Energy Blend (apart from caffeine) is at a 100 mg higher dose. These are essentially negligible differences in our opinion, and this product differentiation is mostly for marketing and not for any significantly differential effects on energy.
Yes, more caffeine will lead to more energy, but a 30 mg difference is subtle. All of the inactive ingredients remain the same, and we wouldn’t recommend this product either.
We recommend black coffee over 5-hour Energy for improved energy and reduced fatigue. Black coffee is a much healthier option in our opinion. It contains no questionable filler ingredients and actually is associated with improved health outcomes in published medical research. An extensive medical review published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that consumption of coffee was associated with reductions in all-cause mortality, presumably due to the beneficial phytonutrients in the coffee, along with the benefits of black coffee to blood sugar.
We recommend Bulletproof coffee for coffee beans to brew at home. Its cost is $15.99 for 12 ounces, or around $0.50 per cup. This equates to $1 for two cups, which contains the equivalent caffeine to 5-hour Energy Shots, and is around one-third of the price.
We understand that there is a convenience to 5-hour Energy, but the price of one 5-hour Energy shot is similar to the price of a coffee from most coffee shops, so even going out for a coffee is a better alternative in our opinion.
5-Hour Energy User Reviews
5-hour Energy has pretty favorable reviews on Amazon. Their Regular Energy shots have an average 5-star rating, and the brand receives a B grade from FakeSpot. This is an algorithm which detects likelihood of fake reviews. A B grade is a good grade suggesting that 5-hour Energy did not falsify any reviews on their most popular product.
The most popular positive review comes from a user named “kw” who claims they’re not a coffee drinker and that 5-hour Energy is effective for them and cheaper than dietary supplements:
“Far less costly & more convenient than multiple jars of capsules. On midway days, I sip a 1/2 bottle on rising. Rougher days, a full. It remains part of my maintenance program when fatigue (& brain fog) have me knockered.”
The most popular negative review is written by “DanAMA MCLE” and claims that the taste of the Pomegranate version of the energy shots is bad:
“I can't imagine why this purchase tasted so much worse than before. I couldn't wait to use it all up, and it seemed to take forever. I give this a 2 out of 5 because the product worked as well as usual.”
The most popular YouTube video on 5-hour Energy has over half a million views, and has real people test 5-hour Energy. They have some pretty funny and genuine reactions:
5-hour Energy Pros and Cons
Here are our thoughts about the benefits and negatives of 5-hour Energy:
- Relatively cheap compared to supplements
- Several effective ingredients for energy
- Artificial flavors
- Unnecessary megadose of Vitamin B12
- Unhealthy formulation in our opinion