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Are Coffee and Tea Bad for You?
It’s not that coffee (or tea) are bad; studies have shown that they’re high in antioxidants and may decrease the risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s, heart disease, and cancer. But slamming caffeine doesn’t give you true energy. Instead, it creates a fake rush by prompting the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones that, over time, deplete the adrenals and create an overall drop in true energy—and a greater dependence on caffeine as a drug.
The same goes for energy drinks and shots laced with caffeine and guarana (a “natural” caffeine source). Even worse, they’re usually loaded with sugar, artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives, which studies show can lead to other adverse effects including arterial dilatation, aneurysm formation, rupture of large arteries, anxiety, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, muscle twitching, headaches, and a decrease in insulin sensitivity. And that’s not just for heavy users: even one drink per day can dramatically increase blood pressure
True energy—not the jittery, boundless feeling that derives from a surge of cortisol or adrenaline—comes from adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a usable form of energy for cells and is created from the foods we eat. Insufficient levels of ATP lead to both mental and physical fatigue. And while the occasional cup of coffee is fine, if you’re propping yourself up three times a day with espresso and strong black tea, it’s time for a change. Kick caffeine to the curb and try these energizing alternatives for a natural high.
5 Natural Caffeine Alternatives
Traditionally used in Chinese medicine to nourish the organs, improve qi (vital energy), and increase stamina, ginseng is considered an adaptogen, meaning it supports and protects the body by rejuvenating and invigorating it. There are two main types of ginseng: American and Asian, also called Korean or Panax ginseng. Panax ginseng is considered more stimulating than American, and is your best choice for long-term vitality and overall balance. (Siberian ginseng, also called eleuthero, is not a true ginseng, although it has beneficial health properties of its own.)
Panax ginseng appears to work by increasing production of ATP, in part via its antioxidant effects that protect mitochondria, and research supports its energy-enhancing effects. Studies show that it can effectively fight fatigue and is a promising treatment for people with chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s also been shown to enhance mental energy, especially attention, memory, and reaction time, and to ease depression, which is often associated with fatigue and lethargy.
How to use it: Look for ginseng in tinctures and capsules, or in tea form as a substitute to your caffeine-laced morning brew.
From the root of a Peruvian plant in the radish family, maca is an adaptogen that has been used traditionally to increase stamina, improve physical performance, and lessen fatigue. Studies show that maca can enhance physical performance and endurance, especially for athletes. It’s also been shown to relieve fatigue and enhance focus and mental clarity. And because maca has hormone-balancing properties, it’s especially helpful in reducing fatigue and easing depression related to hormonal shifts.
Rhodiola is also worth mentioning. This adaptogen is often combined with maca in formulas. It works by impacting the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine for improved energy and mood.
How to use it: Use maca in capsules or powder form, which you can add to smoothies. Gelatinized forms are easier to digest. Use rhodiola in capsule form.
3. Vitamins and Minerals
These important nutrients play an essential role in cellular energy production, acting as coenzymes to free energy from the foods you eat, and even mild deficiencies can lead to fatigue, feelings of exhaustion, and poor concentration.
Vitamins B and B in particular are necessary for maintaining myelin, a fatty compound that forms a sheath around the ends of nerve cells, insulating them and allowing them to send signals faster and more efficiently, enhancing mental stamina and cognition. B is also involved in red blood cell production, necessary for oxygen transport and improved overall vitality.
Magnesium is key for cellular energy production, and low levels can decrease physical stamina and lead to fatigue. Vitamin C is necessary for the synthesis of carnitine, which transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria, where they’re used to produce energy; deficiencies have been shown to lead to depression and fatigue. In one study, volunteers who received 10 grams of vitamin C reported significant reductions in fatigue two hours after treatment, and the effects lasted for a full day.
Although technically not a vitamin, CoQ10 is a vitaminlike nutrient that plays a critical role in ATP, the body’s primary source of fuel.
How to use them: Look for a high-quality B-complex supplement; combine it with vitamin C and magnesium in sparkling water or juice for an uplifting, natural energy drink. For CoQ10: Use the active form (Ubiquinol) for maximum results.
From a type of parasitic fungus that grows on caterpillars in the mountainous regions of China, cordyceps has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine to improve energy and endurance. (Modern versions are grown on grains, so they’re vegan). Cordyceps appears to work by boosting levels of ATP, especially during conditions of stress, and by increasing insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to use energy more efficiently.
In one study, people who took a cordyceps extract supplement for 12 weeks showed more than a 10 percent improvement in overall stamina and significantly increased their ability to work out longer.
How to use it: Look for tinctures, extracts, and capsules. You can also find powdered or whole dried cordyceps. Add it to soups and stews, or hot herbal tea. You can also find single-serve packets of cordyceps powder mixed with coffee.
5. Peppermint Tea
Peppermint has a proven ability to enhance stamina, improve performance, and increase mental clarity. In one study, volunteers who drank water with peppermint oil had significant improvements in exercise performance, power, and energy. Inhaling peppermint essential oil has similar effects and can enhance alertness. Drinking peppermint tea with lots of water can also boost energy: even mild dehydration reduces feelings of tiredness.
How to use it: Swap strong-brewed peppermint tea for your morning beverage; add a few drops of peppermint oil for extra invigoration. Or take a whiff of the essential oil straight from the bottle.
Try our Beauty Chai recipe.
Energy Boosters We Love
American Health Ester-C Effervescent (shown here in Natural Orange flavor) combines 1,000 mg of buffered vitamin C with replenishing electrolytes.
Bio Nutrition Maca-Max contains maca from Peru in an easier-to-absorb gelatinized form.
Mushroom Wisdom Super Cordyceps uses a concentrated hot water extract. And it’s cultivated with the most-researched strain, Cs-4.
Redd Remedies trueENERGY is a blend of vitamin B and herbs, including ginseng, rhodiola, and cordyceps.
Solgar Korean Ginseng Root Extract features a standardized extract of Panax ginseng root and powder.