While caffeine is a daily crutch for so many people, so many of us are also truly interested in finding caffeine-free ways to boost energy. According to internal medicine specialist Jacob Teitelbalm, MD, in an article for Prevention, “We have an energy crisis of historic proportions going on. We are reaching for anything that will give us energy — and we’re over-relying on coffee now more than ever.”
And while caffeine in and of itself isn't bad (the Mayo Clinic reported that up to four cups of coffee a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults), if you're like me, you may just not like the idea of being dependent on a substance. Or, also like me, you may be trying to cut back on caffeine in general in order to get a better night's sleep. According to Psychology Today, a sleep study conducted at Henry Ford Hospital’s Sleep Disorders & Research Center in Michigan revealed that caffeine as early as six hours before bed resulted in "significantly diminished sleep quality and sleep quantity."
For those of us trying to reduce our caffeine intake, or even cut it out altogether, the question then becomes: How do you battle those daily energy lulls without it? If this is something you're struggling with, read on for nine foods that will give you energy, caffeine-free.
1. Whole Grains
OK, this might seem like boring advice, but according to Dr. Teitelbaum, one of the biggest culprits of mid-afternoon fatigue is the mid-afternoon sugar crash, and you're much more likely to have a sugar crash if you've been loading up on refined carbohydrates. "Whole grains give you the real energy," he said. So ditch your sugary cereals or bagel for oatmeal or whole grain bread. However, he also noted not to "overdo it," as eating more whole grains than you actually need will increase your serotonin levels, triggering drowsiness.
2. Fruit And Almonds
In an article for Women's Health, Keri Gans, Registered Dietician and author of The Small Change Diet, said a fresh piece of fruit and a serving of almonds is perfect, as it's "healthy with quick energy, and so portable." She also noted that a lot of the time when we feel low-energy, it's just because we're hungry. "What you need is carbs, that's the bottom line. Then, protein and fat keep you satiated longer, so it's a win-win," she said.
3. KIND Bars
Gans also recommended KIND Bars when you're feeling low energy. "They're low in sugar, high in fiber, and easy to take along with you," she said. They also come in a variety of flavors, so you can keep a store in your desk and feel like you're getting variety each day. It is fair to mention, though, that the Food and Drug Administration recently reported that some varieties of KIND bars aren't actually healthy, so be sure to do a little research before you choose your bar. However, some outlets, like Men's Journal, have explained why describing them as strictly unhealthy may not be 100 percent accurate, either.
KIND Caramel, Almond, and Sea Salt Nutrition Bars - 12 Count, $14.99, Target.com
Gans noted that foods with a little kick, like spicy lentil chips, or the chipotle-flavored The Laughing Cow Light spreadable wedges, are great for when you're feeling sluggish. "Spicy can wake you up," she said. Not to mention, the lentil chips are full of protein and fiber, which will help keep you satiated longer.
In an article for EveryDayHealth.com, Rachel Berman, author of Boosting Your Metabolism for Dummies, said that popcorn is a great whole grain snack that will give you long-lasting energy. "Thanks to fiber, whole grains help prevent the blood-sugar crashes that happen after consuming refined or simple carbohydrates," she said. The article also noted to avoid popcorn brands with lots of added salt, butter, and oil, and recommended popping your own popcorn at home and seasoning with your own herbs and spices if you can.
I do this myself at home and totally recommend it! A little coconut oil and cayenne pepper goes a long way for great flavor.
6. Nut Butters
Berman also recommended eating nut-based butters for an energy boost, like peanut or almond butter. While technically a calorie dense food, they contain healthy fats and proteins to keep you full longer. She recommended substituting low nutrient regular butter and jelly on your morning toast for an all-natural nut-based butter with no added sugars, and to stick to two tablespoon servings to make sure you're hitting maximum energy levels.
Creamy Peanut Butter, $4.45, Earth Balance
7. Hummus And Veggies
In the same article for EverydayHealth.com, dietician Kari Kooi, MS, RD, said that hummus' garbanzo-bean base will take the edge off of hunger, stabilize blood sugar, and boost energy. It also makes a delicious dip for fresh vegetables, as well as a super satisfying sandwich spread replacement for mayonnaise. Also, you can definitely make hummus at home for an amazingly cost-efficient supply.
Gans also noted that sometimes we crash because we're dehydrated, and a simple fix is just drinking some water. Additionally, according to Patricia Nevins, RN and MSN in an article for LIVESTRONG, since we often attain water through foods like fruits, vegetables, and soups, our bodies can sometimes tell us we're hungry when what we really need is more water. So if you feel low-energy and hungry, even when you know you've eaten, try hydrating.
According to a 2012 UK study, people who chewed gum for 15 minutes felt more revitalized than people who did not. In an article on Prevention, the study's author, Andy Smith, said that, “Chewing gum increases heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain. It also stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which can increase alertness.” And according to Dr. Teitelbaum, mint flavors are best, since mint "stimulates your nerve fibers — it’s kind of like splashing cold water on your face.”
Orbit Peppermint Sugar Free Gum 3 Pack, $2.24, Target.com
When you feel that afternoon crash coming on, don't feel as if you necessarily need to reach for that extra large cup of coffee with the extra shot. There are a variety of super tasty energy-packed foods to give you a boost, as well as a few non-caffeinated tricks to get you through the day.