zen habits : breathe

7 Food Hacks to Stay Alert Without Caffeine

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Scott Young of ScottHYoung.com.

Are you a zombie without your morning cup of coffee? Instead of using caffeine to stay awake, you can tweak the food you eat to get more energy. By making small changes to your eating patterns you can prevent morning grogginess and mid-afternoon slumps.

Why Go Without Caffeine?
I don’t drink coffee. Occasionally I’ll drink caffeinated teas, but not as a necessity. While caffeine doesn’t have the worst negative side-effects other performance-enhancing drugs do, it isn’t without flaws. Here are a few reasons to cut down on the cups:

  1. Caffeine addiction. Usually I think of withdrawal symptoms with ex-smokers and heroin addicts. Yet many hooked on caffeine suffer for the first few weeks trying to cut back. Why make yourself dependent?
  2. Dehydration. Caffeine is a diuretic, so you end up losing water after drinking a cup of coffee.
  3. Post-Caffeine Crashes. The energy boost may be great, but what happens when it wears off? Continually upping the dosage might not be the best long-term strategy.

Tweaking Your Food to Get More Energy
Food is fuel. If you don’t fill your body with the right fuel, or don’t refuel regularly, it won’t take long before you hit empty. Here are a few dietary tweaks I use to ensure my energy levels stay high throughout the day:

  1. Switch from 2-3 Meals to 4-5. Blood glucose is a crucial factor in your energy levels. If you only eat lunch and dinner, your body is going to have huge spikes followed by large crashes in energy. Digestion requires a big percentage of your energy. If you’ve ever felt sleepy after a big lunch, you’ve probably experienced this firsthand. Splitting up meals smooths out your blood glucose levels and eases the drain from digestion.
  2. Low-Glycemic Foods Before Bed. Mornings can be difficult because your body is starved when you wake up. Eat low-glycemic index foods in small amounts before bed. Low-glycemic index foods are whole grains, vegetables and some fruits. Since I started this practice regularly, I’ve found it much easier to wake up after the first alarm clock ring. (Hat Tip: Tim Ferriss)
  3. Eat Fruit on an Empty Stomach. Fruit takes less time to digest that denser foods and can be processed in 20-30 minutes instead of 1-3 hours. Eating fruit on an empty stomach allows it to quickly pass through your system and give your blood glucose a boost.
  4. Go Meatless. Maybe you love steak too much to go vegetarian. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce the amount of meat in your diet. Meat is high-protein, high-fat and difficult to digest, requiring far more energy than vegetarian substitutes. Meat tends to have many other hormones and pesticides that can impact your energy levels.
  5. Get Your 8 Glasses. Your body is over two-thirds water and needs H20 for your major functions. Keep a water bottle at your desk when you work, and refill it regularly. When you exercise, bring a bottle instead of just sipping at the fountain. On a grittier note, a good rule of thumb I’ve heard is to look at the color of your urine. If it’s anything darker than a pale yellow, you’re probably not getting enough water.
  6. Eat Whole Grains. I’ve already mentioned the importance of low-glycemic index foods for energy. The glycemic index measures the rate of digestion in the body. Carbohydrates that break down quickly produce a dramatic spike in energy levels with a quick drop-off. While these foods may be good when recovering from a marathon, they’ll result in crashes later in the day. Going with whole grains ensures a steady supply of energy.
  7. Avoid the Mid-Afternoon Sugar Craving. Afternoon snack time is a big source of problems for your energy. Often by 3:00, your body is low on blood sugar and starved for some added energy. This is also the time when you are most likely to guzzle down more coffee and eat a high-sugar treat. Avoid the temptation and pick a fuel that will last. Go with low-glycemic fruit or whole-grains instead.

Scott Young writes about productivity, learning and habits at his website. Some of Scott’s most popular articles include: Double Your Reading Rate, How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying and Unique 80/20 Rule Uses.

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