Dr. Amanda Anderson, PT, DPT, MS, Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
But first, coffee. You and your coworkers know not to even talk to each other until you’ve at least made it through your first cup of the day.
And rightfully so: There are health benefits associated with caffeine such as weight loss, improved alertness, improved athletic performance, decreased risk of certain cancers, decreased risk of Type II diabetes, and improved memory(1).
The Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for healthy adults who don’t experience any negative side effects. However, for many people, anything close to 400 milligrams causes headaches, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, frequent urination, heart palpitations, muscle tremors, or gastrointestinal upset(2).
Like anything, caffeine may not be for everyone. Typically, people who don’t ingest caffeine regularly may be more prone to some of its less desirable side effects. If you are experiencing “caffeine jitters” or having difficulty sleeping, it may be time to rethink your daily morning routine.
The good news is there are many alternatives to caffeine that can still kick-start your morning (without an emergency trip to the restroom).
While there is still “coffee” in the name of this drink, consider it more of a caffeine-free herbal coffee. Chicory is a root that can be roasted, ground, and brewed into a beverage that tastes similar to coffee, with more of a woody or nutty flavor.
Chicory is also a good source of inulin, a soluble fiber that can help digestion and gut health. In some people, this may cause side effects like bloating or gas. It may also help to stimulate your gallbladder to produce more bile, which can aid in fat digestion.
Use around about two tablespoons of ground for every six ounces of water to start, adjusting that ratio as needed(3).
Golden milk is a nutrient-dense but caffeine-free way to start the day. While there are many ways to make golden milk, this hot drink usually involves some combination of ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper. Sometimes, it is made with cardamom, vanilla, or honey.
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory made fromcurcumin. Both black pepper and fat increase your body’s ability to absorb curcumin, so it may be helpful to use a full-fat milk product or dairy alternative for this particular drink.
Golden milk takes about five minutes to prepare:
Chai tea is black tea blended with a robust mix of herbs and spices. It contains less caffeine than coffee (approximately 47 milligrams compared to 95 milligrams in an 8-oz cup of coffee), but increases mental alertness in a similar way. Both black and green tea also have antioxidant properties.
Research has also shown that chai tea helps to reduce overeating during the day and supports healthy blood sugar levels.
While there are hundreds of recipes for chai tea and it may take some trial and error to help you find your favorite combination, here is an easy recipe for chai tea:
Kombucha is a fermented black tea made with bacteria, yeast, and sugar. After the fermentation process, kombucha is packed with a variety of probiotics, acetic acid, and antioxidants, all of which produce health benefits without the caffeine.
Unless you are well-versed in the fermentation process and the materials required, it is not a good idea to make your own kombucha due to the high contamination risk from dangerous pathogens(8).
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made by crushing apples and combining them with yeast and bacteria to kickstart the fermentation process. This process will create acetic acid, like in kombucha, which may improve insulin sensitivity and regulate blood sugar levels.
A beverage with apple cider vinegar generally will contain 1 to 2 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar combined with 1 cup of cold water and 1 to 2 tablespoons of raw or another sweetener for taste.
It is important to make sure to dilute your apple cider vinegar with water prior to drinking it. Acetic acid has the potential to burn your mouth and throat, and can also wear away tooth enamel. If you are a regular ACV drinker, get into the habit of rinsing your mouth out with water after your ACV beverage or considerACV capsules instead(9).
Not only is this option an excellent replacement for caffeine, it will likely keep you full until lunch! Try blending together a mix of your favorite fruits, like a frozen banana and blueberries, with some spinach and your favorite milk, yogurt, or dairy alternative. For that extra energy boost, add in a spoonful of nut butter, avocado slices, or MCT oil.
MCT oil stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are saturated fats with a shorter chain than the typical long-chain triglycerides that are a part of our daily diets. This chemical structure allows MCTs to be absorbed faster and converted to energy without being stored as fat. Because of this, they are an excellent alternative for that energy burst you may be looking for in the morning, without the anxiety-provoking or gastrointestinal disturbances you might experience from caffeine(10).
How can water possibly make me feel energized? Believe it or not, dehydration can actually cause substantial fatigue and the feelings of “brain fog.” By addressing that head-on every morning, you will automatically feel more alert and ready to start the day.
Instead of throwing your alarm across the room and falling back asleep in your dark cave of blackout curtains, immediately open your blinds first thing in the morning. Getting more light in the morning and avoiding electronic blue light in the evening helps to regulate your melatonin and natural sleep cycle. The good news: you’ll be awake quicker without the need for any caffeine(13).
Sometimes hopping in the shower first thing in the morning can be a lifesaver when it comes to feeling more alert, even if you’re not particularly dirty. Even if that means getting up a few minutes earlier, it gives you the time you need to wake up without making you feel rushed.
Some people enjoy the invigorating feeling a cooler shower gives them in the morning to prepare them for the day ahead(14).
So, you’re still not sold on getting through the morning without caffeine. You’ve tried to open the blinds, wake up with natural light, take a shower in the morning, and inundate your system with every natural caffeine remedy under the sun. Ultimately, though, you keep returning to your first morning love: coffee.
And that’s okay! If you’re really concerned about the effects that caffeine seems to have on you, it may be a better and more comfortable option to switch to decaf first, rather than quitting coffee cold-turkey. Caffeine withdrawal headaches are no joke, so don’t be ashamed to gradually transition yourself to a natural caffeine alternative(15).
If you have sensitivities to caffeine, rest assured there are many caffeine-free options to consider that won’t leave you tired for the rest of your days. It may be helpful to initially switch to decaf coffee if you’re having trouble imagining your day without the stuff.
Utilizing your natural response to light and practicing healthy sleep hygiene may also be an effective way to avoid caffeine while feeling ready to start the day.
Once you’re ready to kick coffee altogether, chicory coffee, golden milk, chai tea, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, and MCT oil are alternative ways to give you that extra energy boost you may need to be productive at work or school.
Be patient with yourself and you will find the combination of caffeine-free alternatives that work for you and your lifestyle!
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