How To Stay Alert and Energized…Without Coffee

More people are developing a co-dependence on that word that begins with a C. Yea, Coffee. It’s great, sometimes, but other times a bit too much.

So first, let me clarify what quantity you should be drinking in a day, and what “good” coffee really means. I will also go over the mental (and physical!) hazards of drinking too much coffee every day. And after that, I’ll share some of my favorite alternatives to coffee — including health shakes I make — when I’m looking for an energy pick-me-up.

For me, I like coffee only twice a week, in the afternoons. I can’t drink it in the morning or I become somewhat of a unstoppable [still very tired] comedian. My heart races, and I normally don’t feel well adjusted.

Coffee: The Good

The overall benefits of drinking coffee can be fantastic, but it depends on how you make it and if the quantity is limited to one or two cups a day.

  1. Black is best. Milk and sugar will limit the nutrient levels found in coffee naturally.
  2. Always buy organic coffee, since coffee beans are sprayed with tons of pesticides.
  3. Anything with dark pigmentation is usually healthier for you (kale vs. cabbage, blueberries vs. strawberries) so a dark roast French or Turkish coffee is an excellent choice in the morning.
  4. Coffee is packed with antioxidants; some suggest it has more anti-oxidants in front of fruits and vegetables
  5. Coffee contains vitamins B5, B12, B3, and B1. B vitamins give you energy. So, here is the whole line up.
  6. Coffee contains potassium and manganese. (Manganese helps the body utilize Vitamin C and B1.) Good stuff.

…And the Bad

Too much of anything is not good for you. And more than four cups a day of coffee can actually do the opposite of giving you energy and promoting all of these health benefits.

A study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings followed people for two decades. The study found that people under the age of 55 who drank four or more cups of coffee a day were at risk for premature death, cardio-respiratory problems, and an increase in blood pressure.

So with that being said, humbug. With moderation, please.

And most of all, listen to your body. If you have the jitters and can’t sit still, grab that coffee, and stop, drop, and throw it in the can.

Alternatives to Coffee

Here are my favorite vitamins, probiotics, food, herbs, supplements, and drinks that make you naturally awake, alert, and energized. I also find health shakes fascinating: you can make one in less than 6 minutes, and you can put in almost whatever you want. And it can taste really good and be really good for you.

Wheat Grass

Photo by Paul Mayne, via Flickr.
Photo by Paul Mayne, via Flickr.

Not only is it a complete protein, but a shot of wheat grass gives you a lot of energy, increased mental clarity, and over time, a strong immune system, improved eyesight (good for when we are looking at the computer all day…and then on ANGEL all night). It is a complete protein, contains 20+ amino acids, and has an abundance of chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll naturally oxygenates the body. It is not bottled or canned, and it is fresh. It literally looks like grass. There are much more benefits. Wheat grass can be grown in your home, and you can normally get a shot of it at your local health food store for $0.99 ($1.50 in New York City).

Matcha Tea

Matcha tea has 30-40mg of caffeine plus antioxidants that help you remain focused. Matcha tea also contains an uncommon amino acid called L-Theanine, which directly affects the brain and can promote a state of well-being, alertness, and relaxation. It also helps prevent cognitive decline with age. Some teas have L-Theanine, but if you are familiar with green or black teas, matcha has 5 times more. The monks used to drink this to feel vibrant yet calm during their meditations. Now, that’s deep.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is a vinegar that has fermented apples and is high in B Vitamins (which equals energy). It is known to increase alertness. Sugars are broken down to produce beneficial bacteria.

Apple cider vinegar is also a Probiotic. A lot of people are unsure of what probiotics are or what they do. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria in the gut. Imagine that with every single food you put in your body, there is a certain five-star worker that is at breaking it down to be digested exquisitely (for now, imagine little green Oompa Loompas….just do it). Well, those guys are your bacteria.

If you don’t have a lot of “good” bacteria, then the five-star workers are limited and you have more like one- or two-star workers, or even a bunch of negative-star workers (like the kid getting stuck in the chocolate tube because he didn’t listen to Mr. Wonka), basically being lazy about helping you out with your digestion.

It’s true. Bad bacteria can actually be doing a lot of harm and preventing your body from getting the nutrients available in all the good foods you eat.

How do I increase the good bacteria in my gut? Probiotics! Probiotics are found in fermented foods that are not heated (this destroys beneficial bacteria). Yogurts, sauerkraut, and…


Another one of my favorites! If I could hit “like” right now, I would do it twenty times. Or, this is when there should be a “love” button. Kombucha is made with sugar, water, and black tea. The sugar actually turns into the beneficial bacteria during the fermentation process. There are many different flavors and you can also find some loaded with chia seeds (excellent for increasing energy levels). You can buy Kombucha at most grocery stores and definitely at your nearest health food store.

Dark Chocolate

Photo by Lee McCoy, via Flickr.
Photo by Lee McCoy, via Flickr.

This is another of my favorites, and I have this in small doses during the week. Dark chocolate – without milk or sugar (sorry, no golden ticket here) – has a small amount of caffeine in it, which helps heighten mental alertness. Dark chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which boost energy levels.

The darker the chocolate, the less sugar added (but to be sure, always get organic, with nothing added). I like mine as dark as possible – 80% or more. I love buying chocolate that supports the local farmer, and paying a bit more for this really makes a difference. Most of the time, a small proceed goes back to the farmers that help harvest the cacao.

Flax Seeds

Photo by sean dreilinger, via Flickr.
Photo by sean dreilinger, via Flickr.

I love flax seeds. I love fiber. And that’s what it has. It also contains B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, which all help with mental acuity. Flax can not be digested easily, so putting them in a blender mixed in with a health shake or grinding them is recommended. They also should be eaten with something else to aid digestion, so you can try them on oatmeal, cereal, salads or yogurt. (I normally use the health shake route.)

Mini Energy Boosters to Add to Your Daily Regimen

  • Vitamin B12 and B6 complex – maintain energy levels and mental alertness and regulates body for day/night cycles
  • Take vitamin D, D3, and calcium together for optimal immune health and optimal energy levels
  • Coconut water – hydration and focus
  • Bee pollen – energy (mix with water or shakes)
  • Ginseng – energy (can have as tea or a supplement)
  • Euthero root – energy (a type of ginseng plant that can be added to tea or shakes)
  • Almonds – vitamin E and magnesium (sustained energy)
  • Spinach – contains iron and improves concentration levels
  • Red bell peppers – vitamin C (keeps you energized). Yellow peppers provide the most and have three times more vitamin C than oranges (190mg). Also good for eye health.

Health Shakes

Note: Put liquids in first, and add a few items, turn on blender, then continue adding items.

Beet Vortex

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup organic milk or Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • 1/2 beet
  • 1 whole banana
  • 2 tbsp flax seeda
  • handful of frozen berries
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp organic peanut butter or sunflower seed butter
  • ½ tsp organic coconut oil
  • 1 stalk celery

Blue Moon

  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 whole banana (½ more for added sweetness)
  • handful of organic goji berries
  • fresh chopped parsley and mint to liking
  • ½ cup organic milk or Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tsp raw organic maca powder (superfood, excellent for energy)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon

Green Machine

  • ½ cup fresh parsley and mint
  • handful of alfalfa sprouts or broccoli sprouts
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 whole banana
  • ½ cup chopped kale
  • 20 droplets of chlorophyll (using a bottle dropper)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp organic unfiltered honey
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • (add water as needed)

What types of foods or drinks do you like that keep you alert and energized throughout the day?