If you’re like me, you have no idea how you would keep up with life without caffeine (my preferred vessel is coffee).
While you can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine daily — 200–300 mg if you’re pregnant — you probably don’t want to become dependent on it to get you through your day for weeks or even months on end.
This is because you can become desensitized to its energizing effects and you can experience increased sleepiness and lack of concentration if you become dependent on caffeine and then go without for as few as 12 hours (1, 2).
I’m not saying you need to give up your caffeinated beverage of choice completely, but it’s certainly wise to cut back if you feel you’re becoming dependent.
Besides, there are more effective things you could be doing — if you’re not already — to keep your energy levels high throughout the day so you can handle all of life’s responsibilities.
Here are seven ways to boost energy without excessive caffeine.
1. Don’t skimp on sleep
This one seems obvious, but it’s also the biggest mistake.
Most people grossly underestimate the health benefits of getting regular, sound sleep.
Therefore, one of the best things you can do to optimize your energy — and health — is to prioritize sleep.
Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time — including on weekends — keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, and avoid blue light exposure from devices like your phone well before bedtime.
2. Turn to your diet
The food you eat can either optimize your energy levels or drain them.
A diet rich in ultra-processed foods like fried foods, processed meats, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages — think the standard American or Western diet — can make you feel sluggish and actually worsen your sleep (5).
This is because these foods lack the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that your body needs to transform the food you eat into usable energy and keep your gut healthy.
You don’t need to transform your diet tomorrow, but you’ll be surprised by the energy boost you get from cutting back on ultra-processed foods or adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
3. Try adaptogens
Adaptogens are certain herbs that increase your body’s resilience to stress, anxiety, and fatigue while increasing overall well-being in nonspecific ways.
Ashwagandha, holy basil, eleuthero, Rhodiola rosea, and cordyceps are some of the most well-known and studied adaptogens.
Along with increasing your body’s response to stress to reduce fatigue, a number of studies indicate they also enhance mental and physical performance as well as bolster your immune system, which tends to weaken in response to prolonged stress (6).
You can supplement with adaptogens individually or opt for a supplement that contains a combination of several adaptogens.
In either case, adaptogens exert their benefits slowly over several weeks of supplementing them daily, so don’t expect any immediate results.
4. Get moving
Most people view exercise as only a tool for weight loss, but its benefits extend far further to increased energy and reduced fatigue.
A review of 81 studies involving more than 7,000 people found that exercise was associated with significant improvements in fatigue, energy, and vitality (7).
Combining aerobic or cardiovascular training with weight training yielded the greatest benefits for increasing energy.
It’s possible that you experience more energy after just a few workouts, but this study suggested that exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 6 weeks was necessary to experience these benefits.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend performing 150–300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking fast, doing water aerobics, or riding a bike (8).
These guidelines also recommend performing muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups — the legs, core, chest, back, shoulders, and arms — at least two days per week.
5. Cut back on alcohol
I enjoy a nice glass of red wine just as much as the next person but consuming it in excess or too close to bed can disrupt your sleep and drain your energy.
Although alcohol can increase sleepiness, alcohol actually prolongs the time it takes for you to reach deep sleep and decreases the time spent sleeping through the night (9).
Consequently, this leads to daytime dysfunction problems like fatigue or malaise, concentration problems, mood disturbances, and daytime sleepiness (10).
Therefore, if you choose to drink, avoid drinking too much at one time or too close to bedtime.
6. Eat vegetables high in nitrates
All vegetables are rich in nutrients that support optimal energy levels, but certain ones are rich in dietary nitrates.
Vegetables rich in nitrates include spinach, arugula, beetroot, and lettuce (11).
When consumed, the nitrates from these vegetables are converted into nitric oxide, which confers a wide range of health benefits, including increased energy.
This is because nitric oxide acts as a potent vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing them to widen and increase circulation.
This allows blood, nutrients, and oxygen to travel throughout your body more effectively and efficiently.
The nitrates found in vegetables are different than the nitrates found in processed meats like bacon, cold cuts, and hot dogs.
The nitrates in processed meats — usually sodium nitrate — can form N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamines, which are linked with cancer.
However, the nitrates from vegetables don’t form N-nitro compounds and are therefore harmless and beneficial for your health, including energy levels (12).
7. Try l-theanine
Even if you don’t plan to give up caffeine, you may desire to reduce your consumption to limit dependence.
Cutting back may temporarily make you feel less energized and focused, but you may need less caffeine if you combine it with the amino acid L-theanine.
Together, L-theanine and caffeine have a greater positive effect on cognitive performance and energy than either ingredient alone (13).
L-theanine also helps mellow out caffeine’s stimulating effects to counteract some of its adverse effects like anxiety and jitters that some people experience.
Try swapping your coffee or energy drink for a cup of green tea to test it for yourself.
Alternatively, you can purchase L-theanine alone and take it with your caffeinated drink of choice.
The bottom line
Caffeine is a powerful and effective remedy for many of life’s energy vampires.
However, relying too heavily on caffeine can dampen its energizing effects and increase your dependence on it to achieve a normal state of energy.
Thus, if you’re looking for ways to boost your energy without excessive caffeine, aim to prioritize your sleep, avoid or limit ultra-processed foods, or give adaptogens a try.
Regularly exercising, cutting back on alcohol, increasing your intake of nitrate-rich vegetables, and trying L-theanine alongside a small dose of caffeine are other evidence-based ways to restore your natural energy levels.