I used to be a pot-a-day coffee nut. But my caffeine habit ended up causing heart palpitations (which were totally benign, but still scary!), and major crashes in the afternoon after the caffeine wore off.
I kicked my caffeine habit, but my energy levels paid the price. Getting more sleep just wasn’t an option, thanks to my son’s four-month sleep regression.
If you’re looking for natural energy boosters, here are seven that promise to pep you up as effectively as your afternoon latte, but without the caffeine.
Sometimes, an underlying issue may be the reason your energy is dragging.
There’s a big difference between needing an occasional energy boost because you had a late night and feeling chronically fatigued. If you consistently feel tired for several weeks or months but are getting adequate sleep and nutrition, it’s worth consulting your doctor to see if a medical condition might be causing your low energy levels.
One of the most common causes of fatigue is poor gut health, says Juliann Abecassis, a holistic healthcare provider in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Symptoms of poor gut function are bloating, gas, acid reflux, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, constipation, poor appetite, or [getting] full quickly with small meals,” Abecassis explains. “Poor gut function can also cause brain fog, inability to retain information, inability to focus, [and] poor memory recall.”
Your gut is sort of like your body’s second brain, and it can have a direct effect on your mood and energy levels. Fiber and antioxidants can help restore gut balance, so if your gut health isn’t great, try getting more okra and other high-fiber foods in your diet.
Routine blood work at your doctor’s office can easily identify if you have a vitamin deficiency. Luckily, supplements and increasing your intake of dark, leafy greens and healthy proteins can help boost your natural energy levels.
“Ever stand up and get black spots in your vision, narrowing vision, feel lightheaded, or need a minute to stabilize? You’re probably dehydrated! Dehydration can also cause fatigue!” Abecassis says. “One of the best ways to fix this is to drink water that has electrolytes—add a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt or a squeeze of fresh citrus in order to make your own electrolyte water.”
Natural Energy Boosters
Sometimes there’s no underlying issue for your fatigue—unless you count the meltdown your kid had because you packed peanut butter instead of turkey for lunch, the 15 loads of clean laundry that still need to be folded, and the pile of paperwork you brought home from the office.
If you feel occasionally fatigued, here are seven natural energy boosters for those particularly rough days. While all of these natural energy boosters are safe for consumption, always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplement.
Also, if you’re pregnant or nursing, know that most of these natural energy boosters are off limits, especially during the first trimester.
Ginseng is a natural herb that has long been used for its energy-giving properties. In fact, ginseng is a well-known adaptogen, a natural substance that promotes homeostasis in the body. One study from the Mayo Clinic showed that cancer patients experienced significant fatigue reduction after eight weeks of ginseng supplements.
Heads up to all the pregnant women looking for an energy boost: Ginseng is not recommended during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.
The easiest way to use ginseng as a natural energy booster is to boil it as a tea, says Rebekah Epling, an herbalist is West Virginia.
“Technically, you’ll be making a decoction,” Epling says. “For a ginseng tea decoction, use approximately a quarter ounce of dried ginseng root per one cup of water. Bring the water to a boil, add ginseng, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Then strain the water and you’ve got ginseng tea!”
Make sure you get 100 percent real American or Asian ginseng though, as some kinds available in stores are processed with ethanol (you can read more about ethanol and its environmental impacts here).
Okay, so the first time I heard of cordyceps, I may or may not have thought they were a kind of extinct dinosaur. Actually, cordyceps are a type of fungi used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine that have purported healing and energy-giving properties.
In one study, mice that were given cordyceps supplements for three weeks were able to swim for substantially longer periods than mice in the control group. According to the same study, cordyceps contain large amounts of B vitamins, which may be why they’re such a great natural energy booster.
So far, no studies have shown any real threat of human toxicity, but still, pregnant and nursing women should steer clear of cordyceps since there hasn’t been much research on how cordyceps may affect a developing fetus or nursing child.
To use cordyceps, you can either purchase a cordyceps powder supplement from a reputable herbalist or boil dried cordyceps into a tea for a natural energy boost.
Maca is a Peruvian plant that was first documented in 1553 for its medicinal properties. Not only is it touted as a natural energy booster, but maca may also improve libido and enhance fertility.
Maca is part of the brassica family and is most closely related to other leafy greens like watercress, cabbage, and mustard greens. And, like the leaves of other plants in the mustard family, maca leaves are also perfectly fine to consume. But the best way to consume maca, says Epling, is in powdered form.
“It’s best to consume the raw powdered root in order to preserve the active ingredients. It can have an unpleasant taste,” Epling says, “so most people put it in coffee, smoothies, or oatmeal.”
Luckily maca is one of most easily accessible natural energy boosters in the U.S., so you can probably find it at a specialty food store or even the farmers’ market. Ready to add maca to your menu? Try this delicious almond butter maca smoothie from Blissful Basil.
Tulsi, or holy basil, is a type of basil (yes, just like the basil in your herb garden) that is revered in some cultures for its restorative powers.
According to one study, holy basil can indeed be used for a variety of maladies and works well as a natural energy booster. A potent adaptogen, holy basil is bitter and hot to the taste but can help promote balance within the body. Like the other natural energy boosters on this list, you can boil holy basil leaves in hot water for a tea, or you can simply chew a few fresh holy basil leaves for a quick energy boost.
Holy basil still isn’t recommended for pregnant women in the first and second trimesters as basil has been shown to promote uterine contractions. That said, if you’ve gone past your due date, there’s nothing wrong with eating a little basil to try to get labor started. There’s not a whole lot of scientific data on whether or not this really works, but if it means more pizza and pesto, then bring it on!
More Easily Accessible Natural Energy Boosters (That Are Also Safe During Pregnancy)
Understandably, your local grocery store may not be flush in cordyceps. Luckily, there are more accessible natural foods that can still give you a boost of energy when you need it most. Plus, pregnant ladies, rejoice; all of these are safe for consumption during pregnancy.
“This yellow spice originates from the Curcuma longa plant native to India and southeast Asia. It has been used in Eastern medical practices for thousands of years, and many swear by it despite the apparent want of more empirical evidence,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics. “The active ingredient, curcumin, has been linked to improved brain function and increased energy due to its ability to aid digestion and balance levels of fat and sugar in the blood. It is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial agent, and can be used as a spice or supplement.”
“Goji berries especially have gotten more popular in recent years, being labeled [a] superfood by those who spread the buzz,” says Backe. “They contain unsaturated fatty acids, beta-carotene, lycopene, and a long list of trace minerals.”
Goji berries are a bright red-orange berry native to China. To be honest, they kind of look like small, skinny cherry tomatoes, but they are big on taste! Goji berries can be eaten fresh or dried. However, because goji berries lower blood sugar levels, they could cause an adverse reaction if ingested by people who are taking medication for diabetes. Additionally, isolated studies have shown that goji berries may also interact negatively with blood thinners like Warfarin, so talk to your doctor before consuming goji berries if you take these medications.
“Many types of nuts are great for you due to their antioxidant properties, though you would want to watch your intake, as some are rather high on the caloric scale,” Backe warns. “Nuts contain fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E and B (known for their energy-boosting abilities), and walnuts in particular have also been linked to heart health and increased brain function.”
“A handful of these can provide you with a boost of energy if you are feeling slow and laggy,” Backe continues. “These, too, can be eaten as is, salted, roasted, dipped, or used in many ways in a large number of recipes. Rice with pecan bits and raisins, for instance, is a classic!”
Whether you want to go all out and order yourself some cordyceps or prefer to snack on a nutty trail mix while sipping turmeric tea, before you pour another cup of coffee, consider trying one of these natural energy boosters to put some pep in your step.