These 11 Caffeine Alternatives Will Give You A Natural Energy Boost

Registered Dietitian By Carlene Thomas, R.D.
Registered Dietitian
Carlene Thomas is a registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian nutritionist. She received a B.S. in dietetics from James Madison University.
Overhead Photo of Ginseng on a Plate

Image by Sophia Hsin / Stocksy

If you're feeling sluggish of late, that's only natural. Right now there's so much that demands our attention and energy, making us feel perpetually drained. Not to mention, many of us are removed from our normal routines that power us through our day. (No afternoon yoga class for an energy boost, for example.) But if you don't want to keep reaching for coffee, or just don't like coffee in general, where can you turn? Try one of these caffeine alternatives for natural, healthy energy.

1. Chicory root "coffee"

While this won't specifically give you an energy boost, making chicory root coffee is one of the best ways to mimic the flavor and ritual of coffee, if that's the placebo you are looking for.

Chicory root is often used to make a coffee-like beverage since, when roasted, it gives off a similar aroma and flavor. You might also recognize chicory root for its frequent appearance on the ingredients list of fiber-added foods since it can provide beneficial digestion properties, as well as antihyperglycemic benefits.

To enjoy, steep in water and add your choice of milk and sweetener.

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2. B vitamins, like nicotinamide riboside

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Cellular beauty has arrived with this revolutionary formula, featuring the powerful adaptogen Rhodiola rosea.*

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B-vitamin deficiencies can result in mood problems, fatigue, and poor concentration. Make sure you're eating B-vitamin-rich foods—like lean meats, nuts, seeds, and fortified grains—as part of your diet. B vitamins are also available as supplements.

One of the most innovative is a form of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide riboside (NR).* It works so well because our bodies can convert NR into a coenzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).* This coenzyme is found in all living cells, and it plays a vital role in promoting energy metabolism and maintaining proper cell function. So if you support your body's natural levels of NAD+, you support your energy production at the cellular level.*

3. Carob

Most often known for its use as a chocolate alternative, carob has been cultivated for thousands of years. This caffeine-free pantry item is incredibly nutritious and includes protein, vitamins A and B, and carbohydrates, along with some minerals. Carob contains high amounts of pinitol, which has an insulin-like effect that works together with the minerals to give an energized feeling.

Carob also has digestive benefits (which is so important since sluggish digestion can be a huge energy sap!). Since carob is sweeter than cocoa, you can use it to make a smoothie or hot chocolate taste sweeter, with no added sugar.

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4. Rhodiola

Rhodiola is a perennial flowering plant often used to enhance energy and stamina and support attention and memory.* According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is evidence that rhodiola may support physical performance and ease mental fatigue.*

It's most often consumed (and most readily available) as a supplement.

5. Water

You know water is great for you—so why aren't you drinking more of it? Drink it with a squeeze of lemon or berries for natural flavor and have it warm or cold. No matter which way you drink it, water can help you feel more alert, especially since dehydration (even in minor levels) causes fatigue.

I recommend starting the day with a big glass of water to kick off your hydration first thing—and then, when you need a pick-me-up throughout the day, consider it your body's natural reminder to drink some water!

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6. Maca

Maca has been around for centuries as a popular adaptogen for supporting adrenal function and helping enhance mental focus while combatting fatigue.* But current studies show it earns its keep in your kitchen.

Add a few scoops to your smoothie or make it hot with a plant-based milk for a great way to start the morning. There are also a bunch of baking recipes you can add this superfood into.

7. Peppermint tea

Peppermint just feels refreshing, so it's not surprising that studies show ingesting it may be useful for exercise performance and supporting brain oxygen concentration.

Since mint is incredibly easy to grow (and will take over your entire planting area if you're not careful), you can always have it on hand to add fresh or dried leaves to hot water for a few minutes for a quick tea. You can also add in peppermint essential oil, which, in one study, had a similarly energizing effect.

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8. Cordyceps

Cordyceps have been shown to enhance aerobic performance and endurance while helping those who are fatigued support energy levels. This energy-supporting elixir is a favorite among weekend warriors and athletes.

Add the powder to smoothies or oats, or check out the ready-made blends from Four Sigmatic or Om Organic Mushrooms.

9. Ginseng

If you look at the ingredients of popular energy drinks, you'll likely see ginseng. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng was used as an energy-replenishing tonic since it was said to "supplement the five viscera" (spleen, lung, heart, liver, and kidneys) and sharpen the mind.* Today, it's used for memory and endurance, as well as for enhancing concentration.* It might even make you retroactively regret your college study fuel choices.

Try it in its popular tea form, or take it as a capsule from your local health food store or online. Just remember to be cautious with dosages depending on supplement concentration, read all of the information on the package, and talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen.

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10. Nuts

Nuts are the perfect, nutrient-dense and balanced food, containing carbs, fat, and protein. They'll keep you full and energized longer than other foods since they balance carbohydrate fuel with the satiating and blood-sugar-balancing effects of fat and protein. A study found that eating nuts on a regular basis improved brain-wave frequencies associated with cognition, so you can be sharp without the caffeine jolt.

Each nut has its own benefits, so pick your favorite and add it to your breakfast bowl or bring some along as a snack. For an extra jolt of brain power, studies suggest that walnuts have beneficial effects on memory and learning skills. A handful of walnuts actually contains almost twice the antioxidants as an equivalent amount of other common nuts.

11. Berries

If you've got a sweet tooth midday, your body might be telling you to find energy, fast! Kick candy to the curb and opt for a naturally sweet, nutrient-dense food like berries. For double-duty, pick up some blueberries, which are a good source of fiber, meaning that energy boost will last and can help you feel satisfied longer. Blueberry intake has been found to have a connection to improved endothelial health (the inner lining of blood vessels) for better blood flow. Blueberries are good in everything from salads to smoothies, so stock up!

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