Have you been feeling tired or a little sluggish? Are your energy levels a bit too low before or after exercise? Have you been turning to coffee, tea, chocolate or energy drinks such as Coca-Cola for a quick fix? These stimulants are all purine derivatives, the most common of which is caffeine.* All purine derivatives have mild stimulating effects such as increasing the heart rate and alertness, and stimulating the respiratory centre. So if you are turning to any of these stimulants, you are tricking your system into believing that it has energy while in fact it doesn’t.
While caffeine has many benefits, it has also a few disadvantages. To begin with, it causes physical dependence. You might all have experienced the withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit caffeine: headache, poor concentration, fatigue and anxiety just to mention a few. These symptoms indicate that your body has become used to a certain intake of caffeine and your day-to-day functioning is negatively affected by the lack of it. If you drink coffee regularly, slowly but surely you will need caffeine to be efficient. Next on the list of disadvantages is insomnia. All brain functions produce a ‘waste’ called adenosine and when a certain quantity of adenosine is reached in the brain and spinal cord, sleepiness is triggered. Caffeine mimics adenosine, binds to its receptors in the brain and blocks them. This allows the brain’s natural stimulants, the neurotransmitters glutamate and dopamine, to operate more freely but it also puts a hold on the sensation of sleep. Depending on how sensitive people are to caffeine, their sleep might be more or less affected by caffeine intake especially if consumed late in the afternoon or in the evening. The many side effects of caffeine, of which we only considered 2, have prompted me to look for alternative sources of energy, which I’m going to share with you.
1. Drink plenty of water
Water? Are you kidding me? Au contraire, dehydration can make you feel fatigued. So to feel energised make sure you drink plenty of water and keep yourself well hydrated. Some people find water tasteless and difficult to drink it. If that’s the case, you can add a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice. This will not only give the water a more pleasant flavour but it will also add electrolytes to it. Electrolytes are essential substances such as calcium, sodium and magnesium, which are important for various bodily functions: muscle contraction, maintaining a regular heartbeat and bone strength just to mention a few. Alternatively, you can drink herbal teas or eat fruit and vegetables rich in water such as watermelon, cucumber and lettuce. Another option is to drink coconut water, which is rich in potassium, another essential electrolyte. The benefits of coconut water are described at length in another article. The important thing is that you keep hydrated!
2. Drink cardamon tea
Cardamon tea has detoxing and antioxidant properties, which contribute to energising the body. But how does cardamon tea work? The body accumulates toxins either through the food we consume or due to the environment we live in. Cardamon tea stimulates urination thus removing the calcium and the urea accumulated in the kidneys. This improves blood circulation and therefore increases energy levels. Cardamon tea contains many antioxidants such as vitamins, essential oils and phytonutrients which help remove free radicals in the body thus combatting cellular ageing and improving wellbeing. Drinking 2 cups of cardamon tea a day will therefore purify and energise your body.
3. Eat a variety of nuts
As shown in the table below, nuts are rich in both magnesium and potassium the deficiency of which is one of the main causes of fatigue. Potassium is an electrolyte, which among other things, is involved in the production of energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. Magnesium is a mineral, which regulates both the production of energy at a cellular level and sugar level in the blood through the production of insulin. Therefore, magnesium and potassium are essential to maintaining normal energy levels. Nuts could be easily integrated in one’s diet: for example, they could be added to a salad or eaten as a snack when feeling hungry or low in energy, thus substituting a caffeine containing drink
4. Eat asparagus regularly
Adding asparagus to your diet will ensure that you have a good intake of B vitamins, in particular folate, fiber and copper. Among other things, B vitamins transform food into fuel thus supplying the body with energy. Research has shown that adults with healthy levels of B vitamins had faster response rates and greater mental flexibility than adults with low levels of B vitamins. Fibers help maintaining a steady level of blood sugar. Copper contributes to maintaining a healthy cellular energy. Finally, asparagus is known for its diuretic properties thanks to the amino acid asparagine. The increased urination will help the body eliminate excess salts and will purify the kidneys from toxins thus energising the body. Asparagus is even better if eaten raw as it has a sweeter taste and it preserves more of its properties, so it could be added to a salad.
5. Eat goji berrier
Goji berries have a great concentration of vitamin C, are a good source of vitamin A, and have antioxidant properties. A study has shown that people who had consumed goji berry for 14 days reported significantly higher energy levels during the day, feeling less fatigued and their athletic performance was improved compared to a group of participants who were given a placebo instead. This is encouraging news for all athletes and sportspeople out there. Goji berries should be consumed fresh rather than dry to make the most of their properties.
I hope that this article has given you some ideas about how to substitute caffeine with healthier sources of energy when you need to put in an all-nigher to work on a project or you need extra energy before of after exercise!
* Caffeine is contained in coffee as well as in tea, guarana and in drinks made with the kola nut. Caffeine takes different names depending on the plant it comes from. When extracted from tea, it’s called theine, a significantly greater concentration of which is found in black compared to green tea. Similarly, the caffeine contained in guarana is called guaranine, which surprisingly has a higher concentration of caffeine than coffee itself. Other stimulants obtained from purine are theobromine, which is found in dark chocolate, tea, guarana and the kola nut, and theophylline, which is found in tea, guarana and the kola nut. Caffeine, theobromine and theophylline are all methylxanthines, which are all purine derivatives with stimulating effects on the body.