Despite several seasons of Gilmore Girls suggesting otherwise, it’s a truth universally known in the wellness world that coffee dependency is No Good (particularly for anxiety). Which I will say is a big issue for those of us who are decidedly not morning people. What’s a coffee alternative that will keep us from wanting to punch our co-worker in the face when she pipes up with “Happy Tuesday!” at 9 a.m.?
If you’re looking to ditch coffee (or drink less of it) and still have energy to face the day, dietitians tell me that the most important thing you can do for yourself is make sure that you’re powering through those morning hours with breakfast in your belly.
“Eating breakfast everyday is a huge factor in boosting energy, focus, alertness, and productivity in the mornings,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, and owner of BZ Nutrition in New York City. “Skipping brekkie usually leads to sluggish feelings later on that contribute to food and sugar cravings, irritability, and overeating later in the day.”
So make sure that you keep your stomach full, and start off right with one of the following energy-boosting coffee alternatives.
1. Make your latte a matcha
Matcha is the personal morning go-to of Zeitlin—if you’re looking for a coffee alternative, this is your best bet. You can play it really straight as tea by brewing it in hot water, or you can have it latte style with unsweetened almond milk (or whatever alt-milk tickles your fancy).
“There is some caffeine in matcha, but what really gives the drinker the morning boost is the amino acid in it called L-theanine,” Zeitlin says. “L-theanine has been linked to improving mood and when coupled with the caffeine, it produces alertness and focus that doesn’t wear off as quickly has the jolt for your morning Joe can.”
Looking for more intel on matcha? Here’s how it’s different from green tea:
2. Replace black coffee with black tea
If you’ve always been no-frills with your Starbucks order, the fix is super simple. Black tea like an Earl Grey or English Breakfast can make for a healthier switchover.
“Black tea has about 50 mg of caffeine in one eight-ounce cup, which will give you that energy boost without those coffee jitters,” says Zeitlin. “Studies have linked black tea to helping lower blood pressure, so you can head into that morning meeting a bit more calmer and still feel alert and energized.”
3. Swipe an energy bar
I see that skepticism in your eyes, but remember how Zeitlin said eating food in the morning can go a long way towards ensuring you have good energy for the day? A protein bar can apparently do the trick.
“I love to recommend energy bars that provide fueling protein and fiber as quick ways to energize in the morning,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She’s partial to KIND protein bars (specifically the Almond Butter Dark Chocolate bar) because she says they offer up the ideal trifecta of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Here are some other healthy protein bars that do the trick.
Looking for more protein bars? Check out these RD-approved picks:
4. Sip on a smoothie
All parties agree that a protein-based smoothie can work well as an alternate for the first thing you sip on in the morning. “A smoothie can also provide quick energy for the morning,” says Gorin “The key to blending an energizing smoothie is including ingredients that will stick with you for a few hours. I typically use a base of plain Greek yogurt, a nut butter, and fruit such as banana and berries.”
Zeitlin adds that a common mistake is having too much sugar and not enough protein, which can cause a crash and burn effect one or two hours later. “Using a good quality plant-based protein will boost your energy, increase your focus, and keep your energy up throughout the morning,” says Zeitlin. (She likes Manitoba Harvest Hemp Yeah!, $14, but any protein powder you like works!) She also recommends cutting down on things like honey, maple syrup, or agave to help keep sugar levels on the lower side and energy levels consistent.
5. Get egg happy
Again, Zeitlin said that eating something in the morning can help ensure lasting energy all day long, sans coffee. And if you’re not a smoothie or a bar person, allow me to present the holy trinity of an energy-boosting breakfast: eggs, whole wheat toast, and a piece of fruit.
“You get fueling protein that will stick with you, and when you pair the eggs with whole grains such as a piece of toast you also get fiber,” Gorin says. “Add an apple or pear for additional fiber, and you’re ready to go!”
In this format the most difficult part on the menu is the eggs. Even with that, you probably have a minute to hard boil half a dozen at the front end of the work week and have yourself set up from Monday through Friday. (You’re welcome for the hot tip that kept me from starving for my first three years in New York. )
The bottom line is, it’s easy to crave for your coffee when you wake up feeling like you were hit with a freight train. Now you have other options than reaching for that cup of brown, liquid caffeine. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean some Salted Caramel Mocha off of my keyboard.
Need some extra early morning tips? This is how exercising early in the morning will give you the energy boost you need. And once and for all, here’s the deal on if decaf coffee is healthier than regular coffee.