Updated: Sep 5
No question about it: many Americans feel pushed beyond their limits at work. Add to that family and other responsibilities, which can intensify as we head into the holidays. I've certainly fallen prey to being so busy it's hard for me to focus on the task at hand. Part of my solution to fatigue and stress has been moving to a career that allows me to focus on one thing at a time (multitasking isn't actually a thing human brains do well, at least not my human brain).
I haven't entirely given up energy drinks, though: I've tried all the beverages below, and here are my personal experiences. (Note that I am not a medical professional. You should talk to your doctor before trying any new supplements).
Au Naturel: Herbal Tea and Green Smoothies
I list this first because I know it's probably what I should do. Sigh. Last year I read Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight, and Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration. It helped me understand why beverages like herbal tea, kombucha, and green smoothies made me feel healthier and more hydrated than Diet Coke, coffee, or even water. I know many people who have entirely given up caffeine and other stimulants for healthier lifestyles. I love herbal tea and kombucha in the evenings, and green smoothies are a great meal replacement when I'm on the go. But, while I admire the virtuous sparkle in the eyes of those caffeine-free titans, I'm a mere mortal who's not ready to give up my caffeine habit yet.
An Everyday Joe: Coffee
I still start the day with a cup of low-acidity coffee, by far the most popular stimulant in the U.S. Black coffee (not all the creamer and sweetener in your favorite latte) is rich in antioxidants and other health benefits. I loved my french press until I saw research that the diterpenes (oils) that make pressed coffee taste so good may raise bad cholesterol. Yikes! I switched to good old brewed coffee (like my dad always makes) during the winter. During the summer I still use my french press for easy, overnight cold brewed coffee (which is also gentler on my stomach).
Unfortunately, even low acidity coffee can upset my stomach and gives me spiky energy that can make me jittery and irritable before letting me down with a crash in the middle of the day. I'm thankful for convenience stores that always have hot coffee ready to go when I'm on a road trip the middle of nowhere. But I would like to eventually swap coffee out in my daily routine for one of the options below. Not yet, though...I still love the smell and the association of coffee with quiet early mornings. Hmm...perhaps decaf.
The International Approach: Black, White, and Green Tea
Though less popular than coffee in the U.S., many people I know start the day with black tea, including, of course, many people from Asia and Europe. Chai is a delicious spiced version of black tea. The tannins in black and green tea can both upset my stomach, though, and the buzz is similar, though less intense, than coffee. My stomach does better with white tea, which is from the same species as black and green tea, and also full of antioxidants. I'll often have a cup mid-afternoon.
Me Gusta: Yerba Mate
Yerba mate is my partner's caffeinated beverage of choice, and I often turn to it after my mid-day coffee crash. I find the taste bitter and grassy (we use the unroasted variety), so I usually add some mint leaves, lemon peel, ginger, dried mango, or cinnamon. Mate has many of the same benefits as coffee and, in my experience, provides more sustained, less spiky energy. It also doesn't bother my stomach. Do talk to a healthcare professional before consuming regularly. Just like with coffee, there can be negative side effects. In fact, drinking very hot yerba mate may elevate your risk of cancer.
Yerba mate is consumed as part of a social ritual in much of South America, and it introduced me to a useful device called a bombilla--a reusable metal straw that can replace a tea bag. I also use a bombilla with other loose teas, including guayusa (below).
The Winner: Guayusa
I've recently begun drinking guayusa, and I love it! It has both caffeine and theobromine (the active ingredient in chocolate). It gives me sustained energy, focus, and actually makes me feel happier. According to Healthline, guayusa has many health benefits and no known side effects (other than the usual precautions with any caffeinated beverage that contains tannins).
Any of these options, including guayusa and yerba mate, are widely available in specialty grocery and tea stores and online. My favorite online tea distributors include Davidson's Organics and Mountain Rose Herbs. Since many of these beverages come from sensitive ecosystems like the Amazon Rainforest, I like to buy from companies that respect the people and land where their products are grown. The active ingredients in these beverages are often incorporated into energy drinks and tea blends, but I prefer to buy pure, loose teas and mix in sweet herbal ingredients to make my own blends (I don't need more sugar or artificial additives in my diet). If you do want to try yerba mate in a convenient canned form, I recommend Guayaki. Still looking for your perfect energy companion? Check out this article about coffee alternatives from Healthline with even more options.