I’ve never been a diehard coffee drinker. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried. I’ve had many mini love affairs with the stuff: I like the routine, the accessibility, the Americanness of coffee, but it never makes me feel as great as I want it to. Enter pregnancy and breastfeeding and, well, I’ve since learned to live a life that’s relatively devoid of caffeine, and tbh, I don’t miss it that much (have I waxed on about my love of Teeccino to you yet?). If you, too, are sensitive to caffeine and looking for a way to cut back, here’s the scoop on energizing alternatives that’ll help make mornings a little easier.
Feeling foggy and run-down? Mucuna puriens is an adaptogenic herb (technically a legume) that is actually used as a coffee substitute in Central America. This bean extract contains a significant quantity of the amino acid levodopa (L-dopa), a precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which accounts for the happy, elevated vibes mucuna bestows.
Research shows that mucuna supports nervous system function, boosts the body’s ability to handle stress, improves energy and endurance, revitalizes libido (especially in males) and bolsters mood and brain function.
Like other adaptogens, this herb works best if you take a small daily dose. In Ayurveda, it’s traditionally taken with milk and honey as a super nourishing tonic. Note that it may interact with SSRIs or Parkinson’s meds.
Stir a scoop of powder into your smoothie, soup or tea—it’s so neutral tasting that it’s almost undetectable. Or whisk up this happy-making honey vinaigrette.
Maca root, or Lepidium meyenii, is a member of the cruciferous family (and tastes a little like nutty, butterscotch-y broccoli, tbh). It’s also an adaptogen and a powerful antioxidant that lends a high level of energy without the caffeine jitters.
Trials have shown that maca may boost energy and stamina by acting on the adrenal glands and helping to balance blood sugar. Animal studies have shown that it can improve memory and focus. It’s also a well-known female hormone balancer and can improve libido in women. Hellooo, aphrodisiac.
Maca root is a good source of protein, fiber and vitamin C, copper and iron, which makes it a great addition to your post-workout routine. Start with 1 tablespoon of the powder form and work up to 2-3 tablespoons daily.
Add a scoop of maca to your morning coffee or hot cocoa, or whip up an aphrodisiac smoothie for two.
There’s lots to love about this ceremonial form of green tea, but one of its primary superpowers is providing a sustained burst of energy. Thanks to a combo of caffeine and L-theanine (an amino acid often used to quell anxiety), matcha provides a slight boost with a hefty dose of calm—perfect for when you need to feel focused.
Matcha differs from other green tea in that the entire leaf is ground down into a fine powder and drunk, not just steeped, which means matcha’s antioxidant content is off the charts—it’s packed with epigallocatechin-3-gallate (or EGCG, it’s a mouthful)—which has been shown to enhance metabolism and protect against cancer. Matcha has also been studied for its effects in enhancing endurance and immune function.
While matcha and green tea are truly stellar, they aren’t silver bullets. Incorporate them in moderation, but don’t go crazy. Some studies outlining matcha’s benefits aren’t always able to control for other lifestyle factors that could affect outcome like healthy diet and exercise, which makes it harder to tell if it’s really the matcha making the difference.
Gotu kola, cordyceps, ashwagandha and rhodiola. Lest we forget, sleep, regular exercise and breathwork can also do wonders to boost your energy levels when you’re dragging.
If you're feeling fatigued on a daily basis, the first line of attack is always to assess your sleep. But if you're logging 7-9 hours on the regs and still zonked, you could be lacking a vital nutrient (like iron or B12) or have out-of-whack hormones (thanks, stress) that make it difficult for you to actually feel rested. Let's work together to find a solution.
Note also that not all of these are safe to take during pregnancy/lactation or if you’re taking other medications. Contact me for further info about what’s right for you.
Maybe it’s time to slow down on all that celery juice...and just drink some H2O. (The Atlantic)
It’s really not your fault that you’re still confused by nutrition science. (The New York Times)
We’re all crazy busy, sleep-deprived and hooked on Netflix. Could that be why we’re having less sex than ever? (Time)