Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Jun

10 Healthy Morning Pick-Me-Ups That Aren’t Traditional Coffee or Tea

goodmorningNow, I don’t need coffee in the mornings. You won’t hear me complaining or freaking out or freebasing Folger’s Instant off a soup spoon if I don’t “get my morning coffee” (well, maybe a small grumble if it’s the wrong morning), but I usually like to have one in the morning. It does the trick. It tastes good. It gives me a little leg up. That’s a common current running through this community – we don’t need the morning pick-me-up, but we sure do enjoy it. Not everyone likes coffee or tea, though. And some people (like me) are just curious enough to want to try every other possibility available. It’s just fun to try new options.

Not every selection is buttressed by reams of clinical evidence. At the very least, it can’t really hurt to try and even if it doesn’t help wake you up, the other proven health benefits probably make it worthwhile. Let’s jump right in…

Coca Tea

Coca tea has quasi-legal status in many countries, including the United States. No one sells it here (legally), and you can’t buy it in any stores, but it is possible to order online. Despite its reputation, coca leaf is not cocaine. To condemn coca leaf for its cocaine content would be to reject blueberries because they contain sugar. Powdered and isolated cocaine is a perversion of a legitimately beneficial herb with many different alkaloids. Coca provides smooth energy, perhaps partially because it promotes an increase in the use of fat as energy substrate during exercise while sparing the breakdown of amino acids from muscle. And yes, “exhaustive extraction” from a gram of coca tea (the amount in a tea bag of standard size) nets about 5 mg of cocaine, about 1/8 the typical recreational dose of powdered cocaine, but brewing it in your kitchen produces far less. Traditionally, people would jam a wad of coca leaves and an alkali source (lime or sodium bicarbonate to enhance alkaloid availability) in their cheek and chew on it for an hour. You can empty out a bag of tea, add some baking soda, stuff it in your maw, and get similar results. Just be careful if you get drug tested, as coca tea can result in a false positive for cocaine for at least three days.

Yerba Mate

Another South American hot herb drink with stimulating properties, yerba mate’s primary active compound is none other than caffeine. It’s got about the same amount as tea, less than coffee, plus other compounds (but none with proven stimulant qualities except for maybe theobromine). Caffeine is clearly the main player, and we all know that caffeine works. There are correlational studies linking yerba mate to esophageal and oral cancers, but that’s partially explained by the temperature at which the tea is commonly served. Hot beverages in general have been linked to those same cancers, not just yerba mate. Depending on how it’s processed, yerba mate often contains significant amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a potential carcinogen that’s often found in other roasted plant-based infusion drinks (like coffee). That’s because most commercial yerba mate is dried and smoked using burning wood for up to a day – barbecued, basically. Yerba mate that’s air dried without smoke, like this one or this one, should have fewer PAHs.

Hot Chocolate with Cayenne

That cayenne powder shot I mentioned a few weeks back certainly wakes you up, but it’s not very pleasant and it involves consuming a large amount of very spicy powder in a single go – only the rare bird with a daily capsaicin habit will be able to use that one consistently. Instead, make real hot chocolate with good, bitter cacao powder and spike it with as much cayenne as you can handle. The cocoa has stimulating alkaloids (like theobromine) and the cayenne resembles a more pleasant, delicious version of pulling a nose hair to wake up. Spicy food also increases thermogenesis, especially paired with coconut.

Whey Protein Isolate (at Night)

Okay, so it’s not a quick fix when you’re feeling run down in the morning. You have to plan ahead and down it at night. But it works. Consuming the alpha-lactalbumin in whey (or milk) before you go to sleep increases tryptophan production at night which leads to increased wakefulness in the morning. Plus, drinking whey isolate at night also boosts morning energy expenditure (hey, maybe that’s part of the reason why you’re more alert – you’re utilizing more energy!), improves cognitive performance, and elevates mood. Who wouldn’t want to start the day with all that going on?

Protein and Fat

If you’re going to eat something in the morning, make sure it has protein and fat. A few eggs, maybe a bowl of Greek yogurt, a steak, whatever. Your breakfast should be protein- and fat-centric. Eat some fruit or something if you feel like it, but don’t go too heavy on the carbs. They offer quick but short-lived energy that often contributes to the midday crash (and excessive snacking), whereas protein and fat (especially combined) provide sustained energy you can coast on through to the afternoon.

Coffee Bean

I know I said “that aren’t traditional coffee,” but I’m talking about adding entire beans to your morning smoothie. Eating beans is definitely a non-traditional way to consume coffee and since consuming the entire bean means consuming every last physiologically relevant coffee compound available, it’s a different feeling than a regular hot water extraction, and you don’t actually need as many beans as you’d need to brew a pot. A tablespoon or two of good quality coffee beans will do. I find the stimulation from whole beans far smoother than brewed. Not that coffee gives me the jitters on a regular basis, but it never does when I eat the whole bean.

Medium Chain Triglycerides/Coconut Oil

Consuming MCT oil or coconut oil provides instant substrate for ketone production. You don’t need to eliminate all carbs, fast for 24 hours, or limit protein. You just eat a tablespoon or two and get “mild, sustained ketonemia” that contributes about 9% of the brain’s energy requirements. It’s also a well-known promoter of diet-induced thermogenesis. Basically, MCTs and to a lesser extent coconut oil provide a nice whack of free fatty acids ready to be burned for energy – if you’ve got the proper metabolic machinery set up to take advantage of them. If you’re a fat-burning beast, it’ll wake you up. I experienced the energizing potential of MCT oil firsthand when I made mayonnaise with two or three tablespoons of it and consumed the entire batch in a sitting. A “nervous” energy pulsed through me almost right away, almost a queasiness. Honestly? It was unpleasant and it was just too big a dose of straight-up MCTs. A tablespoon is a better dosage to start with.

Rhodiola Rosea

If you find yourself dragging in the morning, noon, and night because of mounting stress, consider rhodiola rosea. It’s an adaptogenic herb that’s been used for hundreds of years to combat stress-related fatigue. Rather than a quick fix, however, rhodiola rosea is all about the long game. Taking it once might not do much. Taking it once a day for a couple weeks could bring you back to baseline and reduce mental fatigue, which feels incredibly energizing when you’ve been floundering in the basement for so long. Be consistent with it if you’re going to use it, as I am with Primal Calm.

Sparkling Mineral Water with Salt and Citrus

As you know, I’m not a big “8 glasses of water a day minimum or else you’ll shrivel up” kinda guy. Just listen to your body, drink when thirsty, and you’ll be fine. That said, if you wake up feeling run down with an almost imperceptible inkling of a headache emerging and a dry mouth, I find that a tall glass of sparkling mineral water, a healthy shake of salt (sea, Himalayan, Celtic, Hawaiian, your choice), and the juice from one lime or lemon (give it a good roll on the counter first to break up the cells and liberate the juice) will have you feeling better, faster, than anything else on this list. Or off it. Even if you’re not dehydrated, water-soluble, easily-absorbed minerals are a great way to start the day.

An “All of the Above” Smoothie

Yes, it’s possible to combine all of the above ingredients into a somewhat palatable smoothie. I haven’t yet discovered the formula, but it must exist as some Platonic ideal. Right?

That’s it for today.

And if anyone does figure out the perfect recipe that incorporates all the mentioned ingredients into a palatable (or at least edible) smoothie, please let us know in the comment section. I’d love to try it.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. There’s also l-glutamine, but it has to be taken on an empty stomach in order for it to reach the brain. Otherwise, it just adds to your blood sugar.

    Wenchypoo wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  2. I’m partial to what was identified to me as Yogi Tea, and while there is a commercial brand of that, I’ve brewed my own for a while – my recipe seems quite similar to this site’s:

    http://youryoga.com/blog/2011/06/yogi-tea/

    I don’t crush the cardamom pods, but do use a scissors to split them open and allow the seeds to spill out.

    I use three black tea bags, I think the recipe I had from earlier had more like a tablespoon of black tea.

    The cloves I boil for 3:33 because that’s easy to push on the timer. I sometimes let it sit overnight or let it sit all morning.

    Don’t add the milk. When you want to serve it, fill a coffee mug 2/3 full of tea, add milk, and warm it up. I started with adding honey to taste, but cut that out as unneeded (but it is a bit better tasting with the honey).

    Source your ingredients from a neighborhood Indian-themed store, the “specialty” stores will sell cardamom pods for 8x the price.

    Steve T wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Thank you, this sounds good

      kay wrote on June 4th, 2014
  3. Im not a big fan of traditional breakfasts (unless its bacon, then i eat bacon). So oftentimes I’m eating leftovers for breakfast like last nights pulled pork, or steak or something. It saves time in cooking, plus its always good.

    Steph wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • My breakfasts are often unconventional too, such as a can of sardines and a cup of homemade veggie soup. Or full-fat cottage cheese with hemp hearts, chopped walnuts and fresh blueberries–delicious! The rest of the family all turn their noses up at my breakfast choices and reach for the cereal. I do like eggs with bacon, ham or sausage, however, and eat them several times a week. It took a while to get used to eating eggs without toast, but since going Paleo I have no problem skipping the bread.

      Shary wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  4. I am not familiar with a lot of the technical terms used on this site. Is regular whey protein powder that I would buy from my local GNC/ nutrition store the same as the whey protein “isolate” mentioned above?

    Sarah wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • It probably is not. Unless it says 100% whey protein isolate it is probably whey protein concentrate or a combination of the two. There’s nothing wrong with whey protein concentrate, however a lot of people don’t tolerate it very well, getting stomach upset or other digestive problems.

      Diane wrote on June 3rd, 2014
      • Thank you!!

        Sarah wrote on June 3rd, 2014
        • Whey Protein Concentrate is around 70-80% protein.

          Whey Protein Isolate is higher, around 90-95% protein.

          Store bought protein – like GNC/Supermarkets – tend to be WPC or like Optimum Nutrition, will be a ‘proprietary’ mix so they can prevent copies, but will still contain the basic WPC/WPI/Casein and some degree of carbs.

          John wrote on June 5th, 2014
  5. Just a tiny warning: If you take a prescription medicine for ADHD (ie. a stimulant, maybe even with non-stimulant medicine like atomoxetine) there’s the possibility of (quite an uncomfortable) interaction with rhodiola rhosea.

    mrfh wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Earlier this year I tried binging on St. John’s Wort to see if it would have any affect on my mood. I’m not sure how much I was taking – just little handfuls of gelatin capsule here and there. It says on the bottle to avoid excess sunlight.

      Aside: reminded me of Mark’s idea for “crapsules” :) thus reminded me of my idea for fattresses. Fat is comfy and good insulation. It’s nature’s rubber. What about a fat-filled mattress or pillow? If it can be done well, I think it’d make a quality product.

      I hadn’t had much sun exposure for a while so I was pale and then spent a lot of time walking around in the sun and within less than an hour was starting to get burned and within hours got a bad sunburn. It felt different from a normal sunburn. My skin seemed to feel uncomfortably tighter and drier.

      Sometimes I play around and experiment with extracts. I’m hesitant to stick with long-term medicinal plants and foods because I want to know that they’re doing something and worth getting so often I’m not on any specific plant protocol.

      I haven’t been consuming as much caffeine lately since I want to avoid dependence. I’ve been snacking on some cacao nibs and molasses (for minerals) as a bit of a smooth, subtle pick-me-up and probably good mood promoter. I bet the chocolate and cayenne would work well and be a boon to keeping the cardiovascular system clean if one can consume it comfortably. Too much makes me feel nauseous but I love hot cayenne sauce (such as Frank’s Redhot) and sometimes get cravings and just drink some, same with Lea and Perrins, and often other stuff with vinegar. I drank almost a whole bottle of Lea and Perrins earlier this year one night. It went down excellently. But keep in mind the LP bottles aren’t sealed well so they tend to leak unless stored vertically and may make a mess if you’ve got one in your backpack or handbag or something.

      Animanarchy wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Also heart meds–rhodiola can raise blood pressure.

      Wenchypoo wrote on June 4th, 2014
  6. 11 – Jump in the ocean and or take a cold shower. This is will get your blood flowing better than any natural stimulant in a liquid delivery system.

    jack lea mason wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  7. Of course, I read MDA while drinking morning coffee.

    Ben wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  8. I wish you had included Choffy on this list!

    maura wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Just googled Choffy–I’m going to get some, it sounds amazing!

      tkm wrote on June 3rd, 2014
      • drinkchoffy.com/maura

        maura wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  9. Great post Mark! I cannot have caffeine, it makes me shaky/ill. I find in the morning what helps pick me up is an upbeat song. I love music, dancing and singing and if I’m having a particularly sluggish morning I crank up my ipod while getting ready for work and sing/dance along. It REALLY helps to start my day on a positive note. I encourage everyone to try it! Grok on!!!

    Rebeccajean wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Love to get my blood pumpin in the morning… mini workout while jammin to tunes!

      Teresa wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  10. Has anybody had any experience ordering coca tea from that website? Does it actually come through, and is the website itself legit? I got started drinking it in Peru and have been missing it ever since I returned to the states, especially as I more recently moved to the high rockies (living at 8000 freakin ft). It would be nice to be able to get it again, as stayin active at this altitude, or anywhere on the 14000 ft mountains around me, can be a struggle.

    Mersh wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Never ordered from the website, but I remember drinking coco leaf tea in the Peruvian Andes in the 80’s. Great stuff. The first time it almost made me blow chunks and I was flying high. I crawled back to my room very queasy. After the first time though, it never happened again and I always felt great. At 14,000 ft. it really does help with the altitude.

      Nocona wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  11. No particularly health benefit but it’s nice and warm and fragrant: a splash of orange blossom water into a cup and add hot steaming water into it (honey if you’ve a mind to).

    Julie wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  12. I’m interested in the cayenne hot chocolate idea, but don’t want to introduce sugar into my daily morning routine, even primal sugars. Anyone tried anything like this? Any way to make it palatable without sugar?

    Currently I do black coffee and like it, but I’m interested in trying something with less caffeine.

    Mike wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • 3-4 drops of liquid stevia will do the trick nicely, or a tiny scoop of the powdered stuff. If you get the right brand, there’s no aftertaste (can remember which brand I used).

      Margaret wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Decaf with cayenne?

      Stacie wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Coconut cream has a natural sweetness to it – I put it in coffee sometimes. A little unsweetened cocoa would probably be pretty tasty mixed in.

      Mantonat wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  13. Yerba Mate is my jam! I’ve never been very into coffee but when I do drink it I get very jittery. Yerba Mata is one of the best natural highs/energy sources I’ve ever had!

    Erica wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • +1 on the Yerba mate front. I find it makes me very alert, but I never have trouble sleeping at night. I think the theobromine helps to balance out the caffeine.

      Smileyprimaljulie wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • I’m all for Yerba Mate as well. Love Paraguayan “La Rubia” organic yerba, Lived in Paraguay for years and this is my favorite stuff!

      Monika wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  14. That sounds like an intense smoothie! I’ll give the Cayenne Hot Chocolate ago. Does anyone use Jaw Bone or and app like Azumio to ensure they don’t wake up during a REM cycle? I would love to hear some feedback from people who do on how well either of those work. They seem like they could be really handy tools! Thanks

    Luke wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • I used to use my Jaw Bone Up for an alarm and it worked ok. However, I now have a light/chirping alarm clock and wake up much, much, much easier and more refreshed with it than with my wrist buzzing. I find my body naturally responds better to the light and gradually pulls me out of whatever sleep cycle I happen to be in around that magic time.

      I was very worried when I first transitioned over because I sleep incredibly heavily-to the point that the hubby has to respond to any and all kiddo needs at night because I just don’t wake up. However, this is turned out to be the best alarm clock I’ve ever had, hands down!

      Erin C wrote on June 3rd, 2014
      • Interesting I will to look into light alarms… thanks for the response Erin

        Luke wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  15. This is probably annoying but I feel just fine when I wake up in the morning. Best part of my day. I have never felt any need for a pick-me-up.

    Sharon wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  16. For a long time my go-to morning drink was Javavana Mate from Teavana. It’s made from Yerba, and it has chocolate hints.

    Since then I’ve moved on to single origin coffees from the Bulletproof guy, Portland Roasting Company, and Batdorf and Bronson. All very good. Sometimes I go with the butter coffee championed by Dave Asprey–grassfed butter and MCT oil blended into the single origin coffee. But lately I’ve started to enjoy just the taste of good, straight coffee. Now I just eat the butter and MCT oil on the side instead of having it in my coffee.

    All of these are great suggestions. I’m going to have to be more observant with my morning mood after I drink kefir at night. The kefir has whey, and I have whey protein isolate. Rarely do I combine the two. Will try tonight and see how I feel the next morning.

    Thanks.

    C L Deards wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  17. Have been drinking Crio Bru for a couple of years. I think I read about it in the comments here a while back. It tastes like the love child of coffee and cocoa without any of the coffee jitters, and it’s full of antioxidants. After I drink my beverage I dry out the grounds and reuse them in baked goods and mixed with herbs and spices to make tasty meat rubs! thttp://www.criobru.com/

    Sherry wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  18. According to Wikipedia, theobromine, which is found in choffy, increases blood vessel dilation = lowered blood pressure; increases pulse; relaxes smooth muscles to include bronchus thereby helping with asthma and coughing. Interesting reading. Gotta be proactive in all we do!

    Jane wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  19. Tim Ferriss, in 4-Hour Body, give a high fat shake that is composed of egg yolks, full raw milk, almond butter, chia seeds, cinamon and vanilla. Maybe you could improve on this base for the perfect drink :)

    Thomas wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  20. I find that a pint of cold water (sometimes with a squirt of lemon) gives me the kick I need. The combination of refuelling my body with water following a night of digestion, and filling my stomach with something plentiful also makes me feel less hungry. Breakfast is over-rated in any case!

    Aidan Reid wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  21. Yerba Mate’ is a holly. Another caffeine-rich holly is yaupon, grown widely as an ornamental in north Florida and many places in Texas. Various tribes in Florida drank infusions of the leaves — though that included ceremonial use of a very strong black one that had enough caffeine to bring on hallucinations and induce vomiting: the species name is Ilex vomitoria. Milder versions were adopted by settlers when tea and coffee were too expensive or just unavailable. I’ve seen the dried leaves offered for sale occasionally: probably not a big win over mate’ though.

    Mark. wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • In Texas, yaupon is a tree.

      Wenchypoo wrote on June 4th, 2014
  22. Rooibos anyone? Although it doesn’t seem to have any stimulant qualities, it is high in anti-oxidants and has shown promise as a promoter of healthy cholesterol. I just like the way it tastes.

    Mantonat wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • We drink a lot of that in our household. Very tasty!

      Nocona wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  23. I’m surprised no one has mentioned bone broth. Not that I drink it in the morning – I like my coffee.

    meepster wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  24. How much whey protein isolate should one take at night?

    Mike Grove wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  25. Interesting. I started several weeks ago consuming a whey protein drink before I go to bed rather than in the morning as I had been doing, may be my imagination but I do feel a little less anxious.

    George wrote on June 3rd, 2014
    • Casein is supposed to be a cortisol-killer.

      Wenchypoo wrote on June 4th, 2014
      • That’s redeeming of casein.
        Tea (specifically black for some reason) is supposed to keep cortisol in check too. I’m sure lots of consumables do but the tea and rhodiola seem to be the ones I’ve heard of most.
        Tea is also supposed to help with depression (generally makes me happier), according to a mini article I read, which pointed the blame towards its antioxidants and not xanthines.

        Animanarchy wrote on June 4th, 2014
  26. “we don’t need the morning pick-me-up, but we sure do enjoy it”… a very dodgy thing to say given what it implies

    Simon Fellows wrote on June 3rd, 2014
  27. Don’t eat carbs for breakfast huh? sigh

    Ray wrote on June 4th, 2014
  28. Ugh, I just bought some yerba mate to make a breakfast “elixir” I read about. The kind I bought didn’t have any instructions regarding how to brew it, i.e. how long, do you strain, etc, so I googled it and found the potential cancer link. So bummed. It was going to use it for a meal as I hate eating breakfast but I am trying to find something fast and easy to do for breakfast.

    That said, I am a predictable drinker. I drink black coffee for breakfast and lemon water the rest of the day. In the summer I brew a mean unsweet ice tea.

    Jensen wrote on June 4th, 2014
  29. I love kombucha in the morning. The B12 gives a nice boost!

    Shannon wrote on June 4th, 2014
  30. I´m too!!!

    Marko wrote on June 5th, 2014
  31. Intermittent fasting is the key for me. I don’t eat until high noon, when my digestive fire is peaking like the daytime sun. Occasionally, I’ll have a few shots of espresso in a black french roast in the morning hours. I love the aroma and the frothy bite.

    Bryan wrote on June 5th, 2014
  32. Actually Mark – the report on the cocoa leaf tea said ~80% of the available cocaine was extracted by the normal process of making tea. That’s not “far less” than the 5 mg – or did I miss something. Great article btw! Steve

    Steve wrote on June 5th, 2014
  33. Nice Article
    explaining so many think in details
    doing some sight of exercise before going to bed is also very helpful as it will help you to get a sound sleep and which will be in turn make you avtive
    Thanks

    David wrote on June 5th, 2014
  34. A big glass of water with a few lemon slices and a pinch of sea salt does wonders for me, when I’m running low on energy :)

    Heidi Rahbek wrote on June 6th, 2014
  35. LOL…I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’m not sure I’d want to try mixing all of those together in a smoothie! The first couple are definitely interesting.

    CoachWoot wrote on June 6th, 2014
  36. Isn’t it illegal to have coca leaves in the United States? So even buying them online would be illegal?

    Andrew wrote on June 8th, 2014
    • Take a walk on the wild side, Andrew. :>

      Animanarchy wrote on June 10th, 2014
  37. Coca tea isn’t cocaine free. If you are subject to drug testing, do not drink it. You will test positive for cocaine and/or benzoylecgonine (a metabolite of cocaine). It will result in a TRUE positive test not a false positive as Mark has stated in his article. A true positive will screen positive by some initial test commonly an immunoassay and is confirmed by a second, more specific test; generally gas chromatography mass spectroscopy. Most employers will not give you the chance to explain the source since cocaine is cocaine regardless of the source material. Probably too technical but I don’t want people to assume that it won’t cause employment problems.

    Susan wrote on June 8th, 2014
  38. I’m someone who enjoys drinking coffee in the morning, but doesn’t get much out of it. Cayenne pepper with hot chocolate is an interesting combination, but I may have to try it. If Cocoa Tea is not even legal in the U.S. and can result in a false positive for cocaine, I think I’ll try the alternatives before I do that.

    Jennifer wrote on June 14th, 2014
  39. Since coca tea got a mention here, what about a little paragraph or so on cannabis somewhere? I was thinking it’s legal in Mark’s state so if illegal coca being healthy is enough to justify writing about it, what about the benefits of the partially legal cannabis?
    Of course most people find out about this on their own but Mark and maybe the researching worker bees could probably do a good little blurb about it.

    Animanarchy wrote on June 22nd, 2014

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