10 Ways to Get an Afternoon Energy Boost Without Coffee

Laurie Kamens | Jan 26, 2017 Healthy Living

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Between getting the kids to school, the commute, and never-ending emails, meetings, and excel spreadsheets, your mornings can be exhausting. So when the midday crash hits, coffee doesn't feel like an option so much as a necessity -- but, according to the experts, pounding another cup o' Joe is not the healthiest of choices. 

Though it can give the momentary pick-me-up you're craving, according to Maria Marlowe, CHC, an integrative nutritionist, coffee may be doing you more harm than good. "The caffeine in coffee increases your stress hormones, taxes your adrenal glands, and can throw off your body's natural circadian rhythm, which can disrupt your sleep cycle," she says. 

Furthermore, it seems that cherished cup of java is often responsible for a crash in the first place. "Caffeine gives 'false' energy because it's a stimulant," Marlowe says, "As you've probably experienced, you get a caffeine high after drinking it, but soon after you may feel even more tired than before, causing you to reach for another cup."

To help break this potentially damaging and habit-forming cycle, we've compiled recommendations for coffee alternatives from nutritionists to help power you through the day in a healthy way.  

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  • 1. Green Tea

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    "Green tea is the perfect alternative to coffee," says Dr. Kristen Bentson, the creator of YouAnew Lifestyle Nutrition. Chock-full of goodness, green tea does have caffeine, but also contains antioxidants to help prevent cancer, and is great for both dental and heart health.

  • 2. Nuts

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    Doubling as a midday snack, a handful of raw or sprouted nuts can come in handy when you're feeling that midday malaise. "Aside from protein and healthy fat, nuts are generally a good source of magnesium, a mineral that when depleted can cause low energy," says Marlowe. Nuts, like cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts, also contain copper and manganese, which help to maintain energy through to quitting time. 

  • 3. Water

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    You're always telling your children the importance of staying hydrated, and now it's time to practice what you preach. Dehydration can make you sluggish, says Marlowe, so she stresses the need to get 2.2 liters of water a day. "[Keep] a liter bottle at your desk and [fill] it at least twice daily," she recommends.

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  • 4. Dark Leafy Greens

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    It turns out eating your greens isn't just for rabbits, growing boys, and those watching their waistlines. Dark greens like spinach, kale, and chard contain essential B-vitamins that help the body convert nutrients to energy. They are also a good source of iron, needed to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream, too little of which can made you feel sleepy. "The effect won't be instantaneous, but eating them daily can help prevent fatigue," says Marlowe.

  • 5. Chocolate Sea Salt RXBAR

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    In addition to sounding delicious, these easy-to-carry snacks are made with egg whites, almonds, cashews, and dates, which provide balanced helpings of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. "We draw energy from calories, especially when those calories are in good ratios," said Dr. Bentson. "Fats and proteins are more slow burning and carbs are more fat burning, so it will give you a quick pick-me-up, and you won't get that crash after."

  • 6. Chia Seeds

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    Chia seeds are the Energizer Bunny of foods. Known for their ability to keep people pumped, chia seeds are high in fiber and protein. Marlowe recommends adding them to a smoothie or making a chia jam to mix in with oatmeal.

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  • 7. Goji Berries

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    There's nothing like a time-tested remedy, and nutrient-rich goji berries have been used in Chinese medicine to boost energy for centuries. And though Marlowe says they're rarely found fresh stateside, powdered or dried, they can easily be added to a smoothie. Plus, these little guys don't just improve your energy levels -- they're also referred to as happy berries and can improve your mood.

  • 8. Beans & Lentils

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    Recommended by Marlowe for their oodles of energy-boosting vitamins and minerals, beans and lentils contain B-vitamins, iron, manganese, magnesium, and copper. And there are endless ways to get your fill of the high-fiber, high-protein food, from dipping veggies in hummus, to adding beans to your salad, to enjoying a hot cup of lentil soup. 

  • 9. Maca

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    A more exotic option, this South American root vegetable naturally increases the body's energy and endurance, similar to the not-quite-as-natural effects of caffeine. "Add half a teaspoon to your smoothie for sustained energy without the caffeine jitters," Marlowe says.

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  • 10. Get Up & Move

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    You can't eat or drink them, but Dr. Bentson emphasizes exercise and movement as great ways to reinvigorate yourself. Finding time to go to the gym in the middle of a workday can be challenging, so she recommends basic yoga poses like downward facing dog or mountain pose as "a quick way to get movement." If those acrobatic options will draw too many stares from your coworkers, she recommends, "Any kind of stretching exercise in general improves your overall sense of well-being rather quickly."

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