For many, energy drinks provide a pick-me-up in the afternoon or keep them going during a night shift at work. But over the years, ample research has revealed that energy drinks are, in fact, not good for your health. Luckily, there are many delicious and healthy beverage alternatives out there that can help you stay awake without compromising nutrition.
With that in mind, why not consider a healthier substitute for energy drinks? Here’s my dietitian-recommended list of alternative beverages to support your energy levels.
Top 11 Healthy Alternatives for Energy Drinks
If the fact that energy drinks aren’t good for you is a hard pill to swallow, don’t worry, as there are plenty of healthy alternatives that you may enjoy.
1. Green Tea
When most people think of tea, they think of it as coffee’s less exciting, boring sister. But in reality, black and green teas can be a lot of fun, though they contain quite a bit of caffeine. Green tea can help maintain your energy levels while bringing certain healthy substances to your body.
A high-quality green tea has plenty of antioxidants and minerals that may clear your skin, assist with brain function, and even support healthy weight management. Plus, a box of green tea is much more affordable than a box of energy drinks, so you’ll also be saving money.
Green tea may also aid in your weight loss plan. Its antioxidants may protect the brain from aging and support cognitive function. Green tea is easy to drink without having to add any milk or sugar, and it doesn’t have any calories. However, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, green tea might make you jittery.
Bottom Line: Unlike energy drinks, green tea doesn't have any calories, synthetic additives, or artificial sweeteners, and it can help give you a lot of antioxidants that may help with focus.
2. Yerba Mate
Pronounced “yehr-ba mah-tay,” this antioxidant and nutrient-rich superfood can be consumed like tea. Yerba mate may help with mental focus, energy, and performance and also support specific conditions as it is high in antioxidants like xanthines, saponins, polyphenols, and more.
The superfood comes from South America, but it is now very popular worldwide because it is a great alternative to energy drinks. It can be brewed as strongly as coffee, but it isn’t as acidic or addictive, so you don’t need to worry about falling into an unhealthy habit.
Yerba mate is easy to prepare, inexpensive, and can be found at grocery stores. You can consume it hot or cold; it is rich in antioxidants, and it can assist with energy and mental focus.
However, because it is a stimulant, it is recommended to speak with your doctor before adding this beverage to your diet to ensure it is safe for your specific health profile. It should not be consumed in high doses for extended periods, and it could cause an upset stomach.
Bottom Line: While it shouldn’t be consumed multiple times per day, a glass of yerba mate may provide energy support once you hit your usual afternoon slump.
3. Fresh Juice
Not be confused with the containers of orange or apple juice you find at the store. Juices that are freshly squeezed and not from concentrate can help with energy without caffeine. Depending on how much free time you have, you can even make your juice at home with a juicer and tons of fresh fruit and veggies.
A common misconception is that caffeine is needed to help your body produce energy. But in reality, our bodies make energy from the foods we consume, so it’s important to stay away from sugary snacks, as a crash usually follows these. When looking for a healthy fresh juice, look for one that contains ingredients like leafy greens, as this means you’ll be getting vitamins A, K, and C and iron. Citrus juices can also be very tasty and support immune function because they are high in vitamin C.
The antioxidants in fresh fruit juice can help promote a balanced immune response and help maintain energy levels. Nutrients may be better absorbed from the juice.
However, lots of the fiber is removed when a fruit or vegetable is juiced, and it can be high in calories. Fresh juice can also be expensive.
Bottom Line: Fresh juice, and not juices from concentrate, can be packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients and can give you some energy support.
When consumed in moderation, coffee can be good for you. In small amounts, it’s still considered better than sugary energy drinks and may have the potential to support brain function and the nervous system.
So, instead of pouring a cup of coffee multiple times daily, try to have one cup in the mornings without added sweeteners or creams high in calories. It is much healthier to eliminate any added processed sugar and replace it with honey or agave syrup. While you may not be crazy about black coffee or a healthier version of coffee at first, be patient, as it can take months to form a new habit.
Coffee can support energy levels, it tastes delicious when mixed with your choice of milk, and it can be consumed cold or hot.
However, high caffeine content can make some people feel anxious or jittery, it can cause digestive issues, and it’s easy to become addicted to coffee. Also, if you don’t make it at home or work, it can get expensive.
Bottom Line: While a natural alternative to energy drinks, coffee should be consumed in moderation and ideally without the addition of sugary creams and sweeteners.
Matcha is a variation of green tea and has become a popular coffee alternative over the past few years. Matcha powder can be blended into milk or dairy alternatives, but to reap all the potential benefits, it is best to mix it with hot water.
Matcha contains antioxidants like polyphenols and can help regulate your energy and give your skin a glow. It is delicious when prepared correctly and is packed with many possible health benefits. However, it can be more expensive than other healthy alternatives in comparison to energy drinks. Matcha products that aren’t high-quality could also contain contaminants.
Bottom Line: Those looking for a healthier alternative to energy drinks will love the taste and potential benefits of matcha, especially when it is prepared correctly.
6. Dark Chocolate
While it’s not a beverage, a few squares of dark chocolate can help with maintaining energy and promote cognitive function. For example, dark chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which is responsible for energy production and balancing your mood after consumption.
Dark chocolate is also full of antioxidants, which can help lower stress, defend against free radicals, and may help brain function. A few squares of dark chocolate can perfectly accompany your afternoon cup of green tea or coffee.
Like all delicious things, dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation because it can be high in calories and in sugar, depending on the type you purchase.
Bottom Line: Dark chocolate is delicious and full of antioxidants, but it’s important not to go overboard, even though it’s easy. All you need is a few squares to assist you with your energy output when you’re tired.
7. Coconut Water
Coconut water is a juice found inside young, green coconuts. It's a clear liquid with impressive hydrating and nutritional properties that's popular among athletes and health-conscious individuals. In contrast to energy drinks that are high in sugar and artificial ingredients, coconut water is rich in electrolytes, potassium, and magnesium, which can support muscle function and maintain fluid balance in the body.
In addition to electrolytes, coconut water contains antioxidants that fight free radicals, which are one of the causes of cell damage. With its low-calorie count (45 to 60 calories per 8-ounce serving), absence of added sugars, and delicious taste, coconut water delivers powerful nutrients without causing crashes or side effects typically associated with energy drinks.
Bottom Line: Coconut water is a nutrient-rich and hydrating alternative to energy drinks, providing electrolytes and antioxidants without the unhealthy ingredients. Be sure to consume in moderation, though, as coconut water can have laxative effects for some people.
You’ve probably seen kombucha at the store, a fermented tea drink that has gained a huge following in recent years. It is produced by fermenting black or green tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast for one to three weeks.
Kombucha is high in probiotics, antioxidants, and nutrients that support gut health and overall wellness, making it an excellent substitute for sugary energy drinks. Because kombucha is a type of tea, it naturally contains a small amount of caffeine, approximately 10-15 mg per 8-ounce serving.
To get the best effects that can help with your energy levels, choose a kombucha product with few added sugars and no artificial ingredients. You can also make kombucha at home, giving you complete control over the ingredients and sugar content.
Bottom Line: Kombucha is a probiotic and antioxidant-rich alternative to energy drinks that provides a gentle yet potent aid to your body’s energy production from naturally occurring caffeine. However, always check the nutrition facts to ensure it doesn’t contain unhealthy added ingredients or sugars.
9. Ginseng Tea
Made from the roots of the ginseng plant, ginseng tea offers a natural energy aid without relying on caffeine or sugar found in traditional energy drinks. Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries in Chinese and Korean cultures, dating back to 196 AD. On top of its impact on your energy, ginseng tea may help stress levels and support your body’s metabolic function.
In a randomized controlled trial with 21 men and 69 women, ginseng helped fatigue and balanced energy. While more testing is needed to confirm these claims, ginseng may help maintain energy levels by stimulating the nervous system’s metabolic effect. It contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and ginsenosides, which may contribute to the plant's potential natural health benefits.
Bottom Line: Ginseng comes in two varieties, Asian/Korean and American, and gives you a natural energy source without the use of artificial substances. While more research is needed, traditional medicine has long recognized the possible therapeutic benefits of ginseng.
10. Chia Seed Water
Chia seed water is a simple yet effective alternative to energy drinks. Simply combining chia seeds with water yields a hydrating beverage rich in omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, protein, and essential minerals.
One serving of chia seeds contains only about 140 calories and about 4% of the daily recommended amount of carbohydrates. Compared to energy drinks, chia seed water is nutrient-dense and can help deliver a subtle yet effective aid to your energy levels.
Chia seeds have the ability to absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, forming a gel-like consistency that helps keep you hydrated for longer periods. Chia seed water can also be customized by adding various fruits, herbs, and natural sweeteners to create a delicious and healthy drink.
Bottom Line: Chia seed water provides sustained energy and hydration with powerful nutrients. While an excess of chia seeds can cause stomach discomfort, at a safe dose, it's a great alternative to energy drinks in the morning.
11. Greens Powder
Drinking a greens powder can support energy by providing your body with the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants it needs. There are any number of high-quality greens powders on the market filled with potent leafy greens and superfoods, making it easy to add nutrition to your smoothies, fresh juices, or protein shakes.
Live it Up Super Greens, for example, is incredibly easy to consume and is made with organic vegetables. From whole-leaf wheatgrass, spirulina, and broccoli to alfalfa leaf, peppermint, ginger root, and spinach, the ingredients in this powder are packed with vitamins and minerals known to help maintain energy without harming your overall health. Plus, Live it Up contains no added fillers or artificial sweeteners and doesn’t have a grassy aftertaste.
Additionally, many different ingredients in greens powders can help with digestion, support gut health and help reduce inflammation. However, super greens should be consumed regularly to achieve these possible benefits, and taking a greens powder is not a replacement for properly incorporating whole vegetables into your diet.
Bottom Line: In the long run, a beverage containing greens powder can benefit your body far more than a sugary, caffeinated energy drink.
Why Choose a Healthy Alternative Instead of an Energy Drink?
It’s really no surprise that energy drinks are unhealthy for you, even the sugar-free versions. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that even though energy drinks are very appealing to people who need a pick-me-up during the day, they can have a lot of negative effects on your health.
Because of the high sugar and caffeine content, energy drinks can cause stomach irritation, increased stress, aggressive behaviors, cigarette abuse, and even disrupt metabolism balance. There’s just no way a quick jolt of energy is worth these damaging effects!
Even though some energy drinks advertise unique ingredients that are typically healthy, like ginseng root, guarana seed extract, and vitamin B12, there’s really not enough of these ingredients to justify everything else in that drink.
The regular consumption of sugary, caffeine-filled energy drinks can impact your health even more. Another study suggests that energy drinks can negatively affect the nervous system, and many of these beverages contain ingredients that, if combined with drugs or alcohol, can cause major health risks. For these very serious reasons, it’s best to stick with a healthy alternative to energy drinks.
Few things are worse than falling asleep at work or school, so people often use energy drinks to power through. However, enough research has proven that these sugary, caffeinated energy drinks aren’t good for you.
Instead, it’s best to go for a beverage that can support your health long-term while still giving you the nutrients you need to stay alert. Options like coconut water, green tea, yerba mate, greens powders, or the others on this list are all healthy alternatives to energy drinks.
Frequently Asked Questions
We get a lot of questions about healthy alternatives. Here are some more questions and answers about alternatives for energy drinks.
What is a healthier alternative to energy drinks?
Instead of a sugary energy drink, try drinking fresh juice with greens powder, green tea, matcha, yerba mate, a glass of cold water, or even snacking on a few squares of dark chocolate to get you through your mid-day slump. Kombucha is another significant energy supporter that will not make you crash.
What can take the place of energy drinks?
Many people have realized that energy drinks are high in sugar and calories while posing a threat to your well-being and health. Instead of drinking an energy drink like Monster or Red Bull, opt for a cup of matcha, green tea, yerba mate, kombucha, freshly squeezed juice, or a beverage mixed with a greens powder. These will make you feel much healthier and less jittery.
How can I give myself energy without energy drinks?
Along with drinking a healthy alternative to energy drinks, consider exercising, having a snack filled with nutrients, getting a night of good sleep each night, connecting with nature, or taking a short power nap. Snacks that are low in sugars and high in protein, like nuts or hummus with veggies, can help give you energy from healthy calories without all of the caffeine.
How can I focus without energy drinks?
Even though you might think energy drinks are helping you focus, they are doing more damage than good. If you’re having trouble concentrating at work, get outside for some fresh air. Physical activity can help wake you up and promote circulation. Breathing exercises can support oxygen flow to the brain, making you feel more focused. Snacking on healthy foods or drinking a healthy alternative to energy drinks can also help you stay alert so you can complete your tasks efficiently.