A Coffee-Lover's Guide to Energy Alternatives
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND
I love coffee. I love the taste of coffee, the smell of coffee and the ritual of making it every morning. Coffee helps to kick-start my brain and body in the morning. Regular consumption of coffee is associated with lower risks of heart disease and stroke, improvements in type-2 diabetes, obesity and depression. It also protects against neurodegenerative diseases and lowers risk for many cancers.(1) Impressive stuff! Unfortunately, you can get too much of a good thing. Too many cups in one day, or consuming them too late in the afternoon can lead to problems, such as headaches, anxiety, palpitations, and difficulty sleeping. What other options do you have when you need to keep pushing forward, but you know another Starbucks Venti or large at Timmie’s isn’t the answer? Enter Matcha.
If coffee is the world’s most popular drink, tea is a really close second. Tea, from the plant Camellia sinensis, is consumed as black, green or Oolong tea versions across the globe. Matcha is a full-leaf green tea, ground and pulverized into a bright green powder. Compared to conventional green tea, it’s much richer in polyphenol compounds called catechins, potent antioxidants that protect your cells' membranes and DNA from damage. (2) Epigallocatechin gallate (short-form EGCG) is the most well-researched of green tea’s polyphenols and matcha contains 3x more than conventional.(2)
It’s important to note the general population gets two-thirds of its daily polyphenol intake from coffee and tea, making matcha another great tool for ramping up your daily intake (especially if you cut out coffee, as your intake will fall). Stress, inflammation, compromised immunity, weight gain and poor health can increase your need for antioxidants. The caffeine content of matcha is about 30-40mg per cup, much less than 150-200mg in the standard cup of coffee, which can provide a more calming alertness. A recent study found matcha-based drinks were superior to bars for attention and working memory.(3)
What if you want a complete break from caffeine? There are other options to support energy.
If you want a complete break from coffee and tea, but you’re already struggling with a busy schedule and mounting deadlines, what then? This is a scenario where adaptogen herbs may help improve your capacity to cope with stress. Let’s take a closer look at three popular alternatives.
Korean GinsengKorean Red Ginseng- Panax ginseng, is the most studied of the ginseng and the most potent with respect to its ability to potentially enhance physical performance. It helps to support energy during times of stress however the research shows it needs to be taken for at least 4 weeks to show effects.(4) If you’re looking to “feel” the ergogenic boost of a herbal supplement, Korean ginseng is probably your best bet. Organika's is harvested from Korea at the optimal harvest time of 6-year-old roots for maximum potency.
American Ginseng (BC White Ginseng) - Panax quinquefolius, is another form of ginseng that helps to support energy via a different mechanism; better blood glucose control. Rather than the stimulating feeling of Red Korean ginseng, taking American Ginseng 40-60 minutes before food has been shown to lower your blood sugar response to food.(5) This can be really helpful for people who struggle with energy (and ultimately blood glucose control) during stressful periods or when trying to lose weight.
Ashwagandha also known as the "Indian ginseng" - Withania sominfera, has been used for centuries in traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India to support stamina combat fatigue. Ashwagandha can benefit you during periods of stress for its ability to relax the nervous system, lowering inflammation and supporting immunity, while also promoting deep sleep.(6) It also helps support memory, a nice little bonus when you’re logging long hours at the office.
Remember, it’s important to address the fundamentals of proper recovery. Your nutrition, your sleep, and your ability to manage your stress, are the foundations for optimal recovery and resiliency. If those are a mess, no amount of supplementation will help.
If you feel like it’s time for a break from coffee, matcha green tea can be an excellent alternative; drink it as a tea or added into a supplemental mix. If you want to go 100% caffeine free, adaptogen herbs like Korean and American ginseng. Ashwagandha can be very helpful to increase resiliency during times of stress. Just don’t forget to address your recovery fundamentals along the way to cover all your bases in the long-term.References: (1) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0033062018300392 (2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2855614/ (3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28784536 (4) https://www.crcpress.com/Nutritional-Ergogenic-Aids/Wolinsky-Driskell/p/book/9780849316265 (5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10761967 (6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10956379
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS