Energy—who doesn’t want more? It ignites our day, helps us chase children around, and gets us through our afternoon slumps. We know the best route to energy is eight hours of sleep, regular exercise, and a healthy diet, but sometimes, we just need a jump-start.
It’s tempting to turn to the quick boosts provided by caffeine in coffee or energy drinks such as Red Bull. You know they work. But they come at a price. “They bring you up quickly, but they also bring you down,” says Ashley Koff, author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged. “There’s a big difference between energy and good energy.”
Your best bet for a healthy pick-me-up is to forego the Joe and Bull and seek out natural energy shots. These powerhouses offer the convenience of their conventional cousins but deliver energy via vitamins, botanicals, superfruits, and other wholesome ingredients.
Good Vs. Bad Energy
Conventional energy shots amp you up with high doses of caffeine and taurine, an amino acid. They get their good looks and taste from sugar or artificial sweeteners. “These kinds of shots can put someone into further energy debt by masking their fatigue,” says Laurie Steelsmith, ND, author of Great Sex Naturally (available in July). “ I often tell patients that using caffeine when you’re tired is like borrowing from a bank account that has no money in it.”
Try taking a handful of nuts or other protein when you take an energy shot to balance the fructose and get a longer-lasting benefit.
Some manufacturers put upwards of 1,000 mg of taurine in their energy shots. “You can feel mentally exhausted after the brain-stimulating effects of taurine wear off. Without more research, I would be wary of energy drinks with high doses,” Steelsmith says. Taurine-laced drinks are currently banned in some countries, including France, Denmark, and Norway.
It’s important to note that some natural energy drinks contain low doses of caffeine or taurine, but experts agree that’s not a problem if the dose is small and balanced with healthy ingredients to make a wholesome tonic.
In balanced shot blends, botanicals often top ingredient lists. “Herbs such as adaptogens nourish the body and slowly build energy,” Steelsmith says. You’ll also find adrenal tonic herbs that can restore vital energy through their actions on the adrenal glands, which is analogous to nourishing the kidney Qi (life force in Chinese medicine)—the source of all the Qi in the body, according to Steelsmith.
Vitamins, superfruits, greens, and teas also give these healthy shots their energy-promoting benefits.
Ready to shop for shots? Brush up on these ingredients to choose your best boost:
Adaptogens: This class of herbs—which includes ashwagandha, rhodiola, ginseng, and schizandra—helps the body adapt to stress. These herbs contain active ingredients that don’t stimulate like caffeine does, yet they’re able to increase physical and mental efficiency, Steelsmith says. Research has shown they can improve athletic performance.
B vitamins: These powerhouses help the body turn carbohydrates into energy. According to Koff: B vitamins work synergistically, so make sure to find a product that contains a blend of Bs. Also make sure to stay hydrated to help these water-soluble vitamins work perfectly.
Green tea: Green tea contains a low dose of caffeine along with a slew of healthy compounds. “The flavonoids in green tea are top-notch antioxidants that are cancer preventive, antiviral, and immune boosting," Steelsmith says.
Guarana: A rain forest plant with seeds that contain more caffeine than coffee beans. “How guarana affects someone is very individual. For one person 100 mg can be too much, for others, 500 mg is okay,” says Koff. If you’re new to guarana, start with a low dose.
Honey: The fructose in honey appears to work in a timed-release fashion, delivering energy from carbohydrates with a smaller blood sugar spike.
Ribose: This simple sugar produced in the body is used to manufacture energy. Initial studies demonstrate supplementation with ribose might improve cardiovascular performance.
Superfruits: Noni, açai, blueberry, and pomegranate can provide quick energy from fructose. As a bonus, they also help support cellular health. “Calories give the body energy, and nutrient-dense superfruits are a great way to do this in an energy shot,” Koff says.
Yerba maté: This South American herb contains low levels of caffeine and is packed with nutrients including vitamins B and C, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Initial research demonstrates that maté’s complex ingredient interactions may give it a “cocktail” approach to energy.
Try these quick boosts, made with all-natural ingredients and low in sugar, anytime you need more energy.
Honey Energy Gels
Honey, ginseng, gotu kola, potassium, and a bunch of B vitamins give these packets their buzz.
Kombucha Energy Shot
Kombucha fans will love the live, raw organic kombucha and the energizing boost of caffeine from guarana, plus B-vitamins and ginseng.
Energy 28 Whole Food Energizer
Each single-serving packet contains 24 organic superfruits and vegetables, as well as chlorella, ribose, rhodiola, and even fiber.
B-12 Energy Boost
Get a complete B vitamin profile, including 10,000 mcg of B12, plus vitamin C in yummy xylitol-sweetened Mixed Berry flavor.
Organic Energy Tonic
An immune-building blend of adaptogenic herbs designed to improve energy gently. Comes in liquid and spray form.