Millions of people start every day with a few cups of coffee, getting that injection of caffeine they need to greet the rising sun – or early afternoon – with the energy they need. Others opt for energy drinks to serve the same purpose, from the 5-Hour Energy shots to the wall of various Monster and Monster-alternative drinks out there. Millions more spend all day sipping on sugary, caffeine-laced beverages from the soft drink aisle, keeping that infusion going throughout the day.
If you've ever tried to stop that habit, though, you'll know immediately that the caffeine in these beverages can have adverse effects. It gives you a burst of energy, sure, but it knocks you down afterwards. It's a drug, and like any drug, it has associated withdrawals as well.
While actively taking caffeine, you can get some energy, but you might also have too much energy and get jittery. You might be more easily distracted and have a shorter attention span with less focus. You might experience heart palpitations with more extreme consumption.
When you stop taking caffeine, your body has to adjust bruptly. You feel sluggish and tired all the time. You will almost definitely get a headache, possibly one bad enough to debilitate you for a day or more. Some people experience anxiety or depression as well. All in all, it's not a good drug to be taking so casually and so frequently.
Since most people use caffeine as a way to get more energy in the mornings, it's hard to quit. We're here to tell you, though, you can get your energy from other sources. Many caffeine alternatives are less harsh, with few or no withdrawals, and are all-around better for you. Here are fifteen alternatives you can look into.
Chicory is a plant relative of the dandelion, typically with blue flowers. It has been used throughout history for leaves, which are used in salads, and roots. Chicory Root is harvested, washed, baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute. When prepared the same way ground coffee is used, it has a slightly woody taste but can serve as an adequate coffee replacement.
Coffee replacements are great for coffee drinkers, because they allow you to keep one habit going – the consumption of a morning beverage – while helping wean you off of caffeine. It also contains healthy fiber for your diet.
Our recommendation is to start out by cutting back on your coffee by mixing it with Chicory, and gradually increase the Chicory while decreasing the coffee. Eventually, you'll be able to wake up with just Chicory.
2. Chia Seeds
Chia Seeds are broadly known as a health superfood. What used to be a gimmick plant used to grow "hair" on ceramic busts, Chia is now widely consumed in health foods, smoothies, and other meals. You can mix some into a breakfast smoothie, add some to cereal in the morning, or generally just consume it with whatever else you're eating. Chia is versatile!
Ounce for ounce, Chia is one of the more nutrient-rich foods you can eat. The tiny black seeds are packed with a ton of nutrients, fiber, and healthy fats, all of which goes to giving your body more energy. It's also very low in calories, so it's not bulking up your morning meal all that much.
Protein is incredibly important for cognitive function. We often think of eating a balanced breakfast as something for children to do before they rush out the door to school, but it's just as important for adults as well. A good, protein-rich breakfast helps wake you up and give you the energy you need to get through the day.
Protein can come from a variety of sources. Eggs are great, and you can supplement them with yogurt with a mixture of oatmeal and Chia. Salmon – on a bagel is a common preparation – is great as well. For the vegetarians and vegans out there, you can try for something with quinoa, tofu, or tempeh. There are a lot of options available for simple breakfasts packed with healthy, energy-boosting protein.
4. Whole Grains
What's a whole grain? A grain is simply the edible seed of a plant. A whole grain is a grain that contains all three parts of the seed; the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Grains that are milled down and separated, or grains that are processed to remove just about everything beneficial in it – we're looking at you, processed white flour – aren't whole grains.
Whole grains don't have to be exotic, either. While ingredients like bulgur, quinoa, and faro are all who grains, so are rice, oats, and even corn. Yes, corn is technically a grain. While we don't recommend eating corn on the cob for breakfast, whole corn can be decidedly healthy.
Whole grains are good because they're a source of energy, but they take a while for the body to fully process and absorb them. Thus, you won't get a spike of energy when you eat them; rather, you'll get a slow release of energy throughout your day.
Vitamin B12, like all vitamins, is crucial to your health. More importantly for this discussion, a B12 deficiency causes fatigue and makes it harder for your body to process food into energy. You might be eating plenty well, but without that vitamin to absorb the energy, you can't take advantage of it.
B12 can be found in supplements, but you can also get it from healthy food sources like eggs, yogurt, cheese, some cereals, and fish. If you noticed that some of those are also on other parts of this list, well, now you know why they're such recommended foods.
Carob is a tropical seed pod typically used as a chocolate replacement. It's sweeter in its pure form, though it lacks some of the smooth, fatty essence of cacao. Carob is better for you than chocolate, though it will taste a little different. Crucially, chocolate contains caffeine, while Carob does not.
It's also packed with nutrients like Vitamins A and B, as well as some healthy minerals. All of this makes it a great addition to something like a breakfast smoothie to give it that sweeter kick and some extra energy boost.
Tea is generally a good beverage to replace coffee, but if you're looking to cut out caffeine entirely, watch out. Teas generally contain some amount of caffeine, so you'll want to look for decaf tea blends. Herbal teas – skip the sleep-promoting chamomile – are generally going to be your best option. We like peppermint tea ourselves.
8. Maca Powder
Maca is a Peruvian plant that has been used as a traditional remedy for thousands of years, and as such has been associated with everything from libido to energy to health. While it probably doesn't do all that, one thing it definitely does is boosts your energy.
Add some powder as a supplement to a meal to get a bunch of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fiber and fats. If you're the kind of person who likes to work out in the morning, Maca can be a great supplement to accompany it, since it helps boost muscle mass.
Magnesium is a metal, so you don't want to just order a spool of it and chow down; you'll hurt yourself. However, it's also a mineral that is beneficial to the body when consumed as part of your food or supplements. Magnesium is a critical mineral for helping your body break down carbs and fats into energy. The more magnesium you have, within reason, the better your body will be at providing you energy you already have stored.
To get a good boost of magnesium from your diet, you can try things like avocados and nuts. Some seeds, like pumpkin seeds, are also great for this. Bananas can be wonderful, though watch out if you're watching your kidney health. And, of course, leafy greens are packed with pretty much everything.
Cordyceps is one of those ingredients that is vaguely terrifying to learn about. It's a parasitic fungus that grows on insects. It infects them and gradually consumes them, replacing internal organs with fungal structures, before sprouting outwards. When the insect is dying or dead, the fungus directs the bug to an open area and sprouts, making it attractive to other creatures that would want to consume it, thus repeating the cycle.
Cordyceps, luckily, does not infect humans. In fact, harvesting it and eating it has been part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. While the specific benefits of Cordyceps have not been fully tested, some initial research implies a number of benefits, including boosted energy levels.
Berries, like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, are all great, energy-dense little snacks you can keep on hand throughout the day. Berries are a good supplemental food for breakfast, but their best benefit comes from later in the day. After your early morning energy spike has passed its peak and you find yourself flagging, turn to a trail mix with some dried berries, or to a package of fresh fruit, for that energy boost. Berries are packed with vitamins and antioxidants, and they have natural sugars that increase your energy without giving you the crash you'll get later from processed sugars.
12. Golden Milk
Golden milk is a preparation you can make as a beverage that combines some common, beneficial spices with milk to give you something full of energy, minerals, and vitamins.
Take some milk and add in turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, a bit of black pepper, and some honey to sweeten it. Warm it on medium heat and keep it stirred, until warm and slightly reduced. This mixture is rich, tasty, and healthy.
13. Breathe Deep
There are a handful of different scents that can help with energy, though the exact extent of how they help hasn't been fully studied. Rosemary essential oil has been studied to increase cognition. Cinnamon is a beneficial scent, and a peppermint oil diffuser can have similar effects.
You're not likely to experience a ton of beneficial energy from these infusions, but a simple candle, diffuser, or air freshener on the commute to work can go a long way.
Water might not have much of anything in it, but it's hugely beneficial to energy levels simply because of what it is. Water is an essential part of your body and a critical ingredient in your health.
Dehydration comes with a wide range of negative side effects, and one effect is fatigue. By drinking more water, more regularly, you can keep your body ready to go. Practically everyone is chronically dehydrated, some more than others, and even just keeping a water bottle at your desk all day can help.
Water is also great as a way to satiate certain kinds of cravings. If you're feeling peckish or want some kind of snack, take a few sips of cold water and you may find those cravings receding. Sometimes all you want is to put something in your mouth, and it doesn't have to be something with calories attached.
Alright, so this last one isn't really a food you can eat, but a little bit of sunlight goes a long way towards waking you up in the morning. If you're in a pleasant climate, consider eating your breakfast on a patio or outdoors. If not, consider waking up a bit earlier and going for a walk in the morning light. Even just standing outside in the sunlight for a few minutes can get you a boost of energy to make it that much easier to wake up.
Sunlight has a few great benefits, in moderation. It stimulates the production of vitamin D, essential to health. It helps set your internal clock, telling your body it's time to wake up and go about your day, which can be especially helpful if you're immersed in artificial light all the time. It can also help those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
The real sun can be difficult to come by in some climates and some timing, so you might consider getting a sun lamp. These lamps are formulated to mimic the wavelengths of actual sunlight and are proven to help with many of the same problems. Just give it a try and see how you feel.