These natural and healthy caffeine alternatives are based on compelling science an our experience. Plus, they are actually caffeine-free.
This is our shortlist of the best alternatives to caffeine for energy, focus, and alertness. Therefore, they are effective substitutes for coffee, soda, and energy drinks.
Cheers to feeling alert and alive all day long!
caffeine alternatives for energy and alertness
Earlier this year, we decided to cut out coffee cold turkey.
It. Was. Tough.
Our caffeine withdrawal timeline was complete with headaches, nausea, and extreme exhaustion. Once we got through it, we knew that we couldn’t risk becoming dependent on caffeine again.
So, we’ve been self-experimenting with new foods and drinks that are caffeine alternatives for alertness.
Whether or not you’re also looking to reduce your coffee intake or for coffee alternatives that are caffeine-free, here is a list of energy-boosting foods and activities to keep you awake, naturally!
Should You Replace or Substitute Caffeine?
Why should you look for alternatives to caffeine anyway? Caffeine isn’t necessarily bad for you.
But soda and energy drinks are, so you need to quit. For those of you looking for caffeine alternatives to soda or energy drinks, well done. You’re about to massively improve your health.
Of course, as a natural stimulant, caffeine gives that pick-me-up kick in times of need. Studies also show that caffeine improves your mood, brain function, and increases metabolism.
The problem comes, though, when we overindulge.
How much is too much?
“Overindulging” is a relative term, but many consider it as having more than 3 cups of coffee a day (or more than 300 mg of caffeine.)
Beyond that point, you may experience general irritability, sleep disturbance, acid reflux (aka GERD), and anxiety.
Plus, you’ll be dependent on caffeine unless you want to experience serious headaches and exhaustion.
According to Johns Hopkins University, consuming as little as 100 mg of caffeine a day (about 1 cup of coffee or 8 ounces) is enough to make you hooked. Based on our experience, this is 100% accurate.
And once you’re hooked, you’ll likely need more and more caffeine as your tolerance builds, making it even harder to quit.
Caffeine Isn’t Just In Coffee, Soda, and Energy Drinks
Caffeine is present in some non-obvious foods, so we needed to watch what else we consumed throughout the day, including:
- Black tea – 47 mg of caffeine per cup
- Green tea – 28 mg of caffeine per cup
- Soda – 40 mg of caffeine per 12 oz. can
- Dark chocolate – 24 mg of caffeine per ounce
- Energy drinks – 170 mg of caffeine per 16 oz. can
- Coffee or chocolate ice cream – 60 mg of caffeine per cup
- Weight loss pills – 150 mg per pill (depends on the brand)
- Pain relievers – 65 mg per pill (depends on the brand)
Here is a graph comparing caffeine levels in various foods and drinks.
When we quit coffee, it took Ryan seven miserable days of fatigue and headaches to get over his caffeine dependence, and me, three.
After going through that, it makes us wary of becoming dependent again, which is why we went on the hunt for natural ways to boost our energy.
Now that we are not caffeine dependent, our bodies are extremely responsive to caffeine alternatives. When we consume anything on this list, we feel the energy surge. Before when we drank coffee, the surge was less noticeable.
Why Are These The Best Caffeine Alternatives?
These are the best caffeine alternatives for several reasons. You’ll find hundreds of energy-boosting foods or coffee alternatives without caffeine on Google.
But our list is only of 9 really good substitutes for caffeine. Here’s why they’re best for energy and focus.
1. Compelling science
We stick to the foods that have the most compelling science. Since almost all foods containing calories will provide your body energy, the foods on this list are the most nutritionally dense and release energy slowly.
For example, fruits are a great source of energy but they didn’t make our list because you’ll experience a spike in blood sugar and then a drop in energy. That doesn’t make it a useful caffeine alternative for energy.
2. Tried and true
Yes, all of these alternatives to caffeine have been in our energy-boosting toolbox for months to years. We know they’re effective.
3. Actually caffeine-free
Sure, chocolate, cacao powder, and matcha tea are great foods to naturally boost your energy, but they contain caffeine. Our caffeine alternatives are caffeine-free.
Therefore, they’re all helpful caffeine alternatives for GERD and pregnancy.
The Best Caffeine Alternatives for Energy
These are the best caffeine alternatives that are relatively easy and enjoyable to incorporate into your day.
1. Hot sauce
Capsaicin, an active component in chili peppers, is a natural stimulant.
Adding a dash of hot sauce to your morning eggs can replace caffeine for energy.
It will increase your circulation (particularly blood flow to the stomach) and elevate your heart rate. Plus, hot sauce is also a known metabolism booster and features on our hot list of “Zero Calorie Foods for Weight Loss.”
Hot sauce is so much of a stimulant that a variety of studies, including this one out of the University of Tasmania, indicate that eating tabasco sauce at dinner lowers your quality of sleep.
2. Maca powder
Maca is known as the “Inca’s Viagra,” if that gives you an idea of how powerful a punch this caffeine-free superfood has.
Initial studies show that in addition to increased sexual desire, maca is a stimulant that also improves energy and athletic performance.
When we lived in Peru, these little root vegetables were at every market, but you usually find them elsewhere as a powder.
Ryan and I have been enjoying maca for years as it’s also an ingredient in our favorite superfood shake, Shakeology. And when we need a boost, we’ll add 1 tsp/person to our daily smoothies.
A maca latte is a great caffeine alternative to coffee or energy drinks. It’s also an excellent caffeine replacement for pregnancy (and it might help you get pregnant faster).
If maca is the super root of Peru, then ashwagandha is the super root of India.
Ashwagandha is many things: a stimulant, aphrodisiac, diuretic, and in some cases, a narcotic. This adaptogenic herb has been used for millennia to treat things as wide-ranging as venomous snake bites to infertility in men.
And luckily for us, ashwagandha is also a caffeine-free energy booster.
Ashwagandha works differently than the other stimulants on this list because it improves energy by reducing cortisol levels.
Studies by the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic show that ashwagandha supplementation can lower cortisol by 28% and increase your body’s resilience to both mental and physical stress.
Ashwagandha can be found in powder form to add to your smoothies. For us, ashwagandha is already an ingredient in Shakeology, but sometimes we supplement when we really need a boost!
Studies are inconclusive, but generally, this is not a recommended caffeine alternative for pregnancy.
Loaded with Vitamin B, ginseng is a common ingredient utilized in energy drinks.
Asian ginseng, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, has an impressive resume of attributes, including:
- enhances physical stamina
- improves concentration and memory
- slows down the aging process
- relieves anxiety
In fact, the largest side effect of ginseng is insomnia, so use this wonder root earlier in the day for your energy boost! It’s a caffeine alternative that is considered a nootropic because it boosts brain function.
Ginseng is most commonly consumed as tea and is easy to find at your local supermarket or health food store.
5. Chia seeds
In the extraordinary book, Born to Run (which also happens to be the bible for all of us minimalist and barefoot runners), the author participates in the most amazing ultramarathon that the world has never heard about.
In this true story, top American ultramarathoners are pitted against the reclusive indigenous tribe, the Tarahumara, in Mexico’s Copper Canyons.
The Tarahumara, known as “the running people,” have been known to run 200 miles (320 km) at a time in nothing but simple sandals made out of old tires. They’re fast, never get injured, and seemingly have endless amounts of energy.
What’s their secret?
While there is a lot to it, the book shares that the Tarahumara rely on a special drink, iskiate (also known as chia fresca), during multi-day runs to re-power and refuel. The drink’s main ingredient? Chia seeds.
Another superfood gracing our list, chia seeds are packed with Vitamin B (see a trend here?) as well as fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber.
In fact, it is this trifecta that yields its energy-boosting qualities, providing a slow release of long-term energy. It’s an excellent caffeine alternative for alertness.
Reishi is a type of mushroom from Asia that is ground into a popular health supplement. Reishi is most commonly known for its cancer-fight effects and it is a natural immunity booster.
However, its energy-boosting qualities are slowly taking over the limelight. In our experience, it’s an excellent alternative to caffeine for focus.
Separate studies on breast cancer survivors and patients with neurasthenia both show promising evidence that fatigue, depression, and anxiety can be reduced after a few weeks supplementing with reishi.
This superfood is another goodie that is already in our favorite shake, Shakeology, or else add some powder to your smoothies at home.
7. Vitamin B
Supplements and foods containing Vitamin B (particularly B12 and B6) help your body convert glucose to energy. Without enough B-vitamins, you’ll become tired and will be at risk for anemia.
Vitamin B12 and B6 are common in energy shots and energy drinks, but we recommend you instead eat a diet rich in them. Foods like beef, liver, chicken, fish, yogurt, cheese, eggs, peanuts, and bananas are high in B-vitamins.
Next time you go to the doctor for a blood draw, ask them to check your B levels. If you’re low, ask for a supplement recommendation. It’s best to get B vitamins naturally. If supplementation is recommended, make sure it doesn’t negatively impact your sleep.
Vitamin B is an excellent caffeine alternative that will provide all-day energy.
This is the best caffeine drink alternative out there! Did you know that something as simple as drinking more water can help fight fatigue?
Research from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that even mild dehydration (2%) reduces motivation and endurance while increasing perceived effort.
When we experimented with drinking a gallon of water a day, our sleep scores went up and our energy was high throughout the day. Like gasoline to a car, we learned that water fuels the mitochondria in our cells to create our bodies’ energy.
Not ready to drink a gallon of water a day? Start by using this simple rule of thumb: take half your body weight in pounds and drink that many fluid ounces. So a 200 lb. person should aim for 100 ounces of water a day.
If you’re sleepy and tired (and you’re properly hydrated), it may be because you didn’t eat enough protein during your last meal.
Some proteins are better for energy boosts than others (no tryptophan here, turkey!) so our go-to snack is always nuts.
Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, and peanuts are high in Vitamin B, manganese, iron, and Vitamin E. These minerals and vitamins have been demonstrated to improve alertness and energy.
They’re a perfect substitute for caffeine.
Plus, since nuts are high in fiber, the energy is released slowly over time, so you won’t experience a spike as you do with a caffeine hit of coffee.
In our favorite health book of all time, The Blue Zones Solution, the longest living and healthiest populations in the world eat about a handful of nuts a day.
10. Non-food ways to boost energy
While our list highlights some of the best caffeine-free foods to boost your energy naturally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t include other tips that don’t involve food at all.
Here are a few ways that you can increase your energy without entering the kitchen:
1. Sunlight in the morning has been proven to help rebalance your circadian rhythm to keep you awake naturally throughout the day.
2. While seemingly counterproductive, exercise can actually increase your energy levels. This is because the more active you are, the more your mitochondria (aka your cell’s power plants) produce.
3. Cold temperatures have been known to jerk you awake in times of need. So whether you take a cold shower in the morning or just lower the AC at your office, you’ll be helping your body stay more alert and focused.
4. Fresh air, as simple as it sounds, brings more oxygen to your body. As your body, and particularly your brain, fuel up, you’ll feel more energized.
5. Finally, the importance of sleeping well and improving your sleep quality for more energy throughout the day cannot be understated.
We hope you implement a few of these best alternatives to caffeine so you can take control of your caffeine consumption and energy levels.
Whether you plan to boost your energy naturally or substitute these alternatives for coffee, soda, or energy drinks, you’re on the right track.
If, like us, you quit coffee and are avoiding caffeine dependence at all costs, please share any other coffee alternatives with no caffeine.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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