The Best Natural Energy Boosters (That Aren’t Coffee)

Ever find yourself experiencing a dip in energy levels throughout the day?

Or maybe you love your morning cup o’ joe, but would like to try and reduce the amount of caffeine in your life.

I definitely hear ya. The afternoon slump can be a killer for most people, and whether you tend to reach for coffee, a sugary snack or (shudder) a processed energy drink, those daily energy dips can be detrimental to any healthy lifestyle.

But there are healthy, natural, high energy foods that won’t crash your blood sugar, make you feel jittery, or leave you craving more (unhealthy) foods later on.

I’ve listed out my favourite energy boosting foods below, so you can learn more about them and how to incorporate them into your life. And if you keep scrolling, there’s even two energy boosting smoothie recipes that you can use to perk yourself up any time of day (don’t say I don’t take care o’ you guys).

Enjoy!

 

1. Green tea

Herbal tea

This one might sound obvious, but it amazes me sometimes why more people don’t drink green tea.

Unlike coffee, green tea contains the amino acid l-theanine, a relaxing component that combats the usual jittery effects of caffeine. It’s also rich in polyphenols including catechins – a type of natural antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage and aids renewal.

Overall, green tea contains less caffeine than coffee – about 35mg per cup vs.100-200mg. But the good news is that you can drink more of the stuff, and don’t need to worry about a late-afternoon mug disturbing your sleep later on. It also provides a steadier boost of energy and helps regulate blood sugar levels – so there’ll be no nervous caffeine crash.

The properties of green tea have been linked to all kinds of other benefits, such as helping with concentration and focus, supporting weight loss; fighting cancer and protecting the immune system.

But whatever your particular goals, adding a cup or two of green tea to your day is definitely going to add a pep to your step.

 

Get the good stuff

Different brands of tea will taste slightly different to others, so try a few and see what you like. I prefer to buy it loosely, or in unbleached, plastic-free bags. My favourite brands are Teapigs, Clipper and Pukka.

 

 

2. Matcha tea

Matcha tea benefits

If you’re already a fan of green tea, then consider trying its glamorous sister matcha.

Whereas with green tea, you strain the leaves and throw them away, matcha tea is a powder created by grinding up fresh green tea leaves. That means that you get all of the benefits of the whole leaf, taking the mind and body-boosting effects to a whole new level.

At a glance, matcha contains 137 times more catechins than regular green tea, making it an even more powerful force against cell damage and dangerous free radicals.

It’s also higher in caffeine – 32mg per half teaspoon – but it still won’t give you a crash, thanks to the larger amounts of l-theanine present. Therefore, you can look forward to a significant kick in the mornings…but accompanied by a pleasant ‘calm alertness’ you won’t get with coffee.

Along with these benefits, matcha has been shown to be useful in losing weight, thanks to its metabolic-boosting properties, and benefit exercise performance. Evidence has also suggested that it can protect the liver and the heart from damage.

In terms of antioxidants, matcha trumps all the usual sources, including dark chocolate, blueberries, pecans and even goji berries!

Get the good stuff

As with anything, matcha has to be chosen carefully to get the most benefit.

Always look for ceremonial grade matcha – not culinary – as that will have come from young, fresh leaves and will have been handled with care. Also, Japanese matcha beats Chinese, as this is where the tea originally came from and has been grown in the expert regions of Uji, Kyoto prefecture and Nishio, in Aichi prefecture.

Good matcha should be bright emerald in colour – not pale or yellowy green. This signifies its high chlorophyll content. And although this won’t be what you want to hear, it should also be on the expensive side, with a 30g jar costing anywhere between £20-30.

Check out this guide on how to shop and select good quality matcha. My favourite is Vitalife organic ceremonial grade.

 

 

3. Raw Cacao

Raw cacao powderFor those who aren’t aware, cacao is basically the raw, unprocessed form of cocoa, and is incredibly high in antioxidants and flavenols. (Over 40 times that of blueberries, to be exact!)

Cacao is also one of the highest plant sources of iron and is additionally a great source of magnesium, potassium and calcium. It has been shown to be a great mood elevator and anti-depressant, as it contains our known ‘bliss’ chemicals serotonin, tryptophan and phenylethylamine. (So there’s totally a logical reason for craving chocolate when we’re in a bad mood!)

Finally, it’s long been known that the cacao bean (and therefore all types of chocolate) naturally contains varying levels of caffeine, making it one of the best natural energy boosters. For this reason, it’s better to avoid eating it a couple of hours before bedtime. However, a well-timed cacao fix can actually be a fantastic perk-up, with more health benefits than coffee.

Cacao comes in both powder form and also as cacao nibs. Try adding a teaspoon of cacao powder to your usual morning green smoothie for a morning perk and wonderful chocolatey taste. Or, blend anywhere from 2 tsp to 1 tbsp with some cashews, frozen banana and non-dairy milk for a delicious afternoon chocolate milkshake!

It can also be used to make hot chocolate, the same as you would cocoa powder, or enjoyed as part of a raw chocolate bar. Some of my fave raw chocolate brands are Ombar, Lovechock and Loving Earth.

Cacao nibs meanwhile can be thrown into smoothies or used to top smoothie bowls and cakes.

Note: If you are quite sensitive to caffeine, I’d recommend not consuming any cacao-containing food within a few hours of bedtime. I have in the past and it has kept me awake!
If making a chocolatey dessert after dinner or a hot chocolate before sleeping, I stick to using high quality plain cocoa powder. If it’s the morning or afternoon however, and I need a boost, I’ll use cacao.

 

Get the good stuff

Cacao is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so always aim to buy organic. I buy Sevenhills organic raw cacao for its high quality and great value.

I get my cacao nibs from my local bulk food store.

 

 

4. Acai Berries

Acai smoothie bowls <3

Acai berries are small, deep purple berries that originate from Central and South America.

Like their berry sibling blueberries, they are incredibly high in antioxidants, as well as a fantastic source of fibre, electrolytes, trace minerals, amino acids and Vitamins A, B and C. Like all other berries, they are notorious for warding off free radicals in the body, which helps fight cancer and other diseases and slows down ageing.

Some records suggest that Caboclo people ate acai berries at certain times of the year to make up 40% of their calories, and were able to hunt and gather food for hours without feeling weak! Though this may not be the whole story, I can definitely relate. I used to regularly consume acai bowls from my local juice bar as a quick energy booster when feeling sleepy, and it was usually just what I needed. (It’s for this reason I recommend acai as a handy study aid!)

Because of its nutritional properties, acai has been linked to all kinds of benefits including improved skin health; better cognitive functioning; aiding digestion and weight loss, and protecting against diabetes and heart disease.

Though it is technically a berry, acai is usually sold in powder or puree form, and is usually mixed with other fruits as part of a smoothie. It can be expensive to buy a bag of acai, but a little goes a long way, and it still works out cheaper than buying acai bowls when out and about.

Here’s a nice simple acai bowl recipe you can try yourself at home.

 

Get the good stuff

Some acai powders and purees can be loaded with added sugar, so aim to go for organic, cold-pressed 100% acai. I like this one by Sevenhills.

 

 

5. Dates

Dates as a snack

Dates are like nature’s candy. Sticky and sweet, they taste like a delicious dessert whilst providing a healthy supply of fibre, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, to name just a few.

Some people feel that dates are too high in sugar to be consumed regularly, but I (and many other plant-based nutritionists) disagree. The fact is, dates are some of the purest form of concentrated energy you can get, full of potassium and naturally occurring sugars that make them one of the best energy boosting foods out there. Their benefits and uses have been praised throughout history, and cover all kinds including improved digestion and constipation relief; strengthened bones; anaemia prevention and treatment and of course, better energy levels!

Try eating a few dates stuffed with half a teaspoon of nut butter for a deletable afternoon snack. Or blend a couple up into a smoothie (see below), make a batch of healthy energy balls or just eat them raw. Medjool dates are the tastiest and gooiest, so try these if you’re new to dates.

 

 

6. Bananas

Ripe bananasMany people forget about bananas when looking for their next energy kick! And yet this humble and widely available fruit has so much more to offer than just its cheap price.

Bananas are a fantastic source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, copper, fibre, and vitamins C and B6. They also have a high water content and contribute towards your fruit-and-veg intake for the day.

Though some people are wary of bananas because of their high carbohydrate content, please know that every bit of a banana is useful and healthful for your body – not like those diet or granola bars that are actually full of empty sugars. If you’re ever in a rush and need something to fill a hole desperately, just grab a banana. It’s the simplest and easiest fast food option so many people overlook!

Thanks to their high potassium content, bananas are a great natural energy booster and can get you through a run, a workout, a meeting, or just stave off hunger for another hour. They’ve also been shown to moderate blood sugar levels; improve digestion; help with weight loss; support kidney health, and are full of those all-important antioxidants.

 

Get the good stuff

Bananas should be consumed when brown spots appear on their outer skin. This shows that they have reached optimal ripeness, and will be easier to digest.

However, some people enjoy eating bananas before their ripe stage, and unripe bananas have even been shown to help regulate insulin levels thanks to their resistant starch. Therefore, try it out for yourself and see how your own body and digestive system responds.

I like storing a few ripe bananas in the freezer at all times, so they’re ready to be blended up into thick, frosty smoothies.

 

 

7. Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate benefits

Though I kind of already covered cacao, I feel that dark chocolate ought to be named here in its own right.

Dark chocolate has usually undergone heat treatment and is therefore not the same as raw cacao. However it still carries a whole bunch of health benefits and is cheaper and easier to find.

Although dark chocolate still contains fat and sugar, the amounts of these are significantly less than in your usual commercial milk chocolate. It’s a great source of magnesium, copper, zinc, and antioxidants, and is able to give just the right amount of ‘kick’ thanks to the cocoa’s low caffeine and theobromine levels.

Dark chocolate has been known to aid performance in bodybuilders and athletes when consumed before a workout, and can even lower blood pressure and improve brain function.

Be sure to not consume dark chocolate in large amounts, as the caffeine and sugar may keep you awake and be too stimulating. The good news, however, is that you won’t need as much of it to make you feel satisfied.

 

Get the good stuff

Good quality dark chocolate should be 70% cocoa content or above, and have a loud satisfying ‘snap’ sound when you break it. My favourite is Green & Black’s.

 

 

Easy Energy Boosting Smoothies

Here below are a couple of easy smoothie recipes you can make, using a few of the energy boosting foods above.

 

Energy Smoothie #1: Acai Berry

Acai energy smoothie

Ingredients

1-2 frozen bananas
1 cup water or non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon acai powder
1 handful greens (optional)
1/4 tsp matcha powder (optional)

 

Method

Place all ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth.

Energy Smoothie #2: Banana & Cacao

Ingredients

1-2 frozen bananas
1 cup water or non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder
1-2 dates
1 tsp maca powder (optional)

 

Method

Add all ingredients to your blender and blend until smooth. If your dates aren’t soft and you don’t have a strong blender, try soaking them in hot water for 10 minutes first, to get a smoother consistency.

Feel free to top with walnuts/pecans and cacao nibs.

Vegan cacao smoothie

What are some of you guys’ favourite high energy foods? Are there any you’d like to try? Let me know in the comments below!

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