8 Energizing Foods That Don’t Have Caffeine

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November 15, 2022
parfait with nuts blueberries granola and honey
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From groggy mornings to sluggish afternoons to the occasional bout of brain fog, we could all use a pick-me-up once in a while. While an occasional cup of coffee is not typically problematic for most of us, excessive caffeine consumption has been shown to cause negative effects like anxiety, agitation, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues. When you put it that way, it sounds less like a solution and more like trading one problem for another. The good news is there are many other energizing foods that can give you a boost without caffeine.

In short, all food gives you energy. It’s literally the purpose of food. However, the human body uses different fuel sources differently, meaning the effects of that energy will vary depending on what you eat. For example, a sweet pastry can give you a quick burst of energy from the excess refined sugar — which is technically an overload of fuel. Soon thereafter, though, you’ll crash, which will leave you in a state of hunger and more tired than you were before. Obviously, that’s not ideal.

That’s why many doctors and dietitians recommend reaching for healthier options to get the job done instead of caffeine and sweets. “Foods that are high in fiber, rich in protein, and nourishing in fat can naturally boost energy levels,” says registered dietitian and sports nutritionist Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, co-founder of Mija.

These kinds of foods provide a more steady stream of energy than simple sugars and they take longer to digest, which also helps to keep us fuller for longer. And even better, most of them are easily found in grocery stores and local markets.

Lindley Wells, CNS, LDN also recommends looking for foods rich in color. “The more colors you eat the more polyphenols, flavonoids, and antioxidants you are getting into your diet,” she explains.

With these strategies in mind, we found eight common energizing foods without caffeine or unhealthy added sugars. You may even already have a few in your pantry!

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1. Pulses

Found in the legume family, pulses are the edible seeds of a legume plant. They are harvested dry and deliver a powerhouse of nutrients, including iron and magnesium, two key factors in energy production. Pulses are naturally low in fat and high in both protein and fiber, keeping you fuller for longer. Featuring complex carbs, pulses like beans, lentils, and chickpeas provide long-lasting energy and promote steady blood sugar levels.

2. Berries

“Goji berries, goldenberries, and blueberries are packed with fiber which increases energy,” says Koszyk.

Goldenberries also have protein, making them even more nutritionally valuable. “Pair the fruit with another protein such as sacha inchi seeds, nuts, or a yogurt for a fabulous combination snack that will keep you fueled,” she says.

3. Dates

For a tasty snack or an energy-boosting breakfast, consider reaching for a handful of dates. A rich source of nutrients, dates are loaded with naturally occurring glucose and fructose, magnesium, B vitamins, calcium, and potassium. A 2019 nutritional assessment published in the PeerJ Life & Environment Journal confirmed that the composition of Medjool dates in particular made them an excellent source of energy, thanks largely to easily digestible sugars. They’re a perfect addition to various dishes, great for including as a salad topper, in smoothies, or even just on their own. Joolies offer snack packs, perfect for nutritious munchies on the go or packed lunches.

4. Honey

While honey is not the sweetener most of us typically choose, perhaps it should be. In addition to improving blood sugar regulation with unique natural sugars, honey also has antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This nutritional profile makes it an ideal energy booster or even a pre-workout snack. Add it to yogurt, fruit, granola, and more.

5. Mushrooms

Instead of pouring a cup of caffeinated brew, consider going with something a bit more…unexpected. We’re talking about mushrooms! These fungi have been around longer than humans and have recently captured some renewed interest among health enthusiasts and tired parents alike. Cordyceps and Lion’s Mane varieties specifically have been shown to improve energy levels and cognitive function.

If a mushroom brew isn’t your speed, there are also snack products that incorporate the nutrient-packed fungi varieties, like this specialty granola by Forij.

6. Herbal Tea

While it’s not exactly one of the energizing foods, herbal tea can still provide your body with a boost of energy in a warm, soothing cup compared to reaching for a cup of coffee. Even without caffeine, many herbal teas offer up a powerful combination of energizing herbs and other compounds that work on a cellular level. Many herbs are rich in antioxidants, which serve a primary function in cellular health and overall wellness. These herbs can include sage, peppermint, ginseng, lemon balm, and more.

In a small 2019 randomized controlled trial, sage was shown to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms, including fatigue.

In a separate 2019 review in the medical journal Nutrients, American ginseng was shown to provide various benefits for the nervous system, including boosting memory, increasing calmness, and improving cognitive performance.

Brew a cup of No Worries Tea from Good Pharma or any of the large selection Numi Tea offers.

Related: The Best Tea Products to Brew the Perfect Cup

7. Nuts

Nuts are rich in protein, providing a satiating boost and a steady source of energy. Nuts are also high in magnesium, which plays an important role in our energy production. Low magnesium makes it harder for our booties to convert sugar to energy, making it a crucial part of our diets. Just a single ounce of almonds contains up to 20% of recommended daily magnesium. Blue Diamond has a ton of delicious and interesting different flavors.

8. Apples

A great source of fiber, antioxidants, and complex carbohydrates, the humble apple is chock-full of everything we need for a quick energy boost, making it one of the best energizing foods. Slice it up and serve it with honey, add it to a salad, or steam it and mash it up with a healthy dose of ground cinnamon for a simple homemade treat.

If you want to kick it up a notch in the flavor and nutrition department, Brainiac Foods offers nutrient-dense applesauce with omega-3s and choline,

Read next: The 7 Best Foods for Your Brain Health, Say Dietitians

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