These Caffeine Alternatives Will Give You A Natural Energy Boost

Written by Carlene Thomas, R.D.
Carlene Thomas is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and received a B.S. in Dietetics from James Madison University.

Photo by Cameron Whitman

We all have our morning routines. Part autopilot, part ritual, what we do each morning helps us get ready for what the day brings. For some, it all starts with a staggering zombie walk to make coffee (I include myself in this category). But for others who are seeking an alternative to caffeine to jump-start the morning, there are many natural energy-boosting options.

Don't get me wrong, caffeine has benefits. A Johns Hopkins study found caffeine helped boost memory, and Harvard researchers saw that four to five cups of coffee each day reduced the risk of Parkinson's. But remember, caffeine's impact is different from person to person and is even affected by genetics (looking at you, CYP1A2!). The healthiest thing for you is the thing that works best for your body.

If you do want to forgo caffeine or just cut down on your consumption, 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 what helps give you that energetic feeling. Chicory root is often used to make a coffee-like beverage since, when roasted, it gives off a similar aroma and flavor. If you're a fan of the famous Café du Monde of New Orleans, you've already had chicory-root-containing coffee. You'll also recognize chicory root for its frequent appearance on the ingredients list of fiber-added foods since it provides 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. 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.

3. 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 will 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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4. Maca

Maca has been around for centuries as a popular adaptogen for boosting adrenal function and helping improve mental focus while reducing fatigue. But current studies prove 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.

5. Peppermint tea

Photo: Nataša Mandić

Peppermint just feels refreshing, so it's not surprising that studies show that ingesting it may be useful for boosting exercise performance and increasing 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 (here's an easy recipe that's oh-so-delicious). You can also add in peppermint essential oil, which, in one study, had a similarly energizing effect.

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6. Cordyceps

Cordyceps are shown to improve aerobic performance and endurance while helping those who are fatigued increase 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.

7. 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 boosting concentration. It kind of makes 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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8. Rhodiola

Rhodiola is a perennial flowering plant often used to increase energy and stamina and improve attention and memory. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is evidence that rhodiola may enhance physical performance and ease mental fatigue. It's most often consumed (and most readily available) as a supplement.

9. B vitamins

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 part of the very popular IV therapy bars popping up in major cities.

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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 (and actually might delay the onset/progression of Alzheimer's disease). 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 is 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, helping 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. They're good in everything from salads to smoothies, so stock up!

You don't have to rely on caffeine for that kick-start. Stock your pantry with these favorites and have options for energy right in your cabinet.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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