Boost Your Energy Without Binging on Caffeine
Addicted to coffee? You’re not alone. Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Entrepreneur in Residence Maria Marlowe helps us out.
Close to 60% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a day, and the average American consumes about three cups a day, according to the National Coffee Association. We drink it in the morning to wake us up, crave a cup post-lunch to keep us pushing through the last few hours of work, and sometimes even enjoy it as an after-dinner drink. Though taste does play a role, most people turn to coffee to perk them up and give them energy. However, the surprising truth is that coffee is often the very culprit that’s zapping their energy in the first place! Caffeine gives a ‘false’ energy because it's a stimulant. As you’ve probably experienced, you get a caffeine high after drinking it, but soon after you may feel even more tired than before, causing you to reach for another cup. The caffeine in coffee increases your stress hormones, taxes your adrenal glands and can throw off your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which can disrupt your sleep cycle even if you only drink one cup in the morning. According to James D. Lane, Ph.D., the associate research professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, who led a study on caffeine’s effect on the body, “The effects of coffee drinking are long-lasting and exaggerate the stress response both in terms of the body's physiological response in blood pressure elevations and stress hormone levels, but it also magnifies a person's perception of stress.” Break the caffeine rollercoaster by adding these seven energy-boosting sources to your daily diet:
1. Dark Leafy Greens
B vitamins, found in leafy greens, help your body convert the nutrients you eat into energy. The effect won’t be instantaneous, but eating them daily can help prevent fatigue. As a bonus, they also contain iron, which is needed to deliver oxygen to the cells; too little oxygen can cause fatigue. Spinach, kale and chard are all good choices. Pair your greens with a Vitamin C-rich food, such as citrus or bell peppers, to improve the iron absorption. Try this Kale & Avocado Salad or sautéed Swiss Chard veggie pocket.
A handful or two of raw or sprouted nuts can provide the midday boost you need. Aside from the protein and healthy fat, nuts are generally a good source of magnesium—a mineral that, when depleted, can cause low energy—as well as copper and manganese, which also play a role in maintaining energy. Cashews, almonds and hazelnuts are all great sources.
Sometimes, just being dehydrated can make us sluggish, so make sure you’re drinking the recommended 2.2 liters of water a day. Keep a liter bottle at your desk and make a habit of filling it at least twice while you’re at work.
4. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a high fiber, high protein food well known for their ability to keep you energized and satiated for long periods of time. For breakfast, I like to make a quick chia gel and add it to a smoothie instead of almond milk. I’ll also make chia seed pudding, or add a homemade chia jam to oatmeal. You can now find chia drinks in the refrigerator section of your grocer, which are typically chia seeds soaked in water and fruit juice.
Maca is an adaptogenic root vegetable which increases energy and endurance naturally, without caffeine. It’s mainly grown in South America, so you won’t find it fresh in the states, but you can find it in powdered form. Add ½ a teaspoon to your morning smoothie for sustained energy without the caffeine jitters. It also pairs well with cinnamon and oats.
6. Goji Berries
Goji berries are a nutrient-dense fruit that are sometimes called the “happy berry” for their ability to boost the mood. They have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to improve energy and support hormone health for centuries. You’ll rarely find them fresh in the states (although chances are higher if you live in California, where some small farms are now growing them). Instead, add the dried berries or powder into your morning smoothie for a burst of flavor and energy. One great way to try them is in this Summer Skin Glow Smoothie.
7. Beans and Lentils
Aside from their high fiber and protein content (providing on average about 15g of each, per cup), beans and lentils are a good source of energy-boosting vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins, magnesium, iron, manganese and copper. Add a cup of chickpeas to your spinach salad, dip veggies into hummus or try a cup of lentil soup. Just like with leafy greens, pair your beans and lentils with foods that are rich in Vitamin C to increase iron absorption.
Illustration and animation by Jonny Ruzzo