On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

Foods to Eat for Energy that Aren’t Coffee

It’s all too common for people to grab a cup of coffee in the afternoon as a pick me up to help them get through to dinner time. We’ve come up with alternative options for people tired of the same old cup of joe.

Foods to Eat for Energy that Aren’t Coffee

Lots of people find they need a pick-me-up some time during the day, and many turn to coffee to do the trick. But what if the goal is to ditch coffee altogether, or at least reduce it? Non-coffee drinkers can often use a boost too. There are a number of ways to get "perked"- pun intended - without drinking coffee. Other sources of energy that offer a little pick-me-up sans coffee utilize the senses to wake up the brain - a burst of flavor, a vitalizing scent, stimulating textures and temperatures can give an extra boost.

Foods that Boost Energy

Citrus Fruits

The aroma of citrus fruit alone is alerting. A just-peeled orange, lemon or lime gives a scent that is fresh and invigorating to many people. Chilling the fruit before eating it adds another stimulating element when bitten in to. The squirts of juice help too - it's like a party in the mouth.

And don't forget the power of the pucker - something sour - like the lemon or lime can be especially reviving. Cut a lemon, smell it, and maybe even take a bite to say good-bye to any sluggish feelings. Squirt some juice into water to stay more alert and hydrated. Bonus benefits: citrus fruits are loaded with Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant and also provide folate - an important B vitamin. They're a great source of pectin - a soluble fiber that helps with feeling full, blood glucose control, cholesterol lowering, and more - and are rich in potassium and water.

Apples or Pears

Something crunchy and juicy might just do the trick. When eaten whole, there's some serious chewing going on, and chewing can be stimulating. The juicier the better because this means no mindless munching, attention is required! Choosing a Granny Smith apple takes advantage of the pucker factor mentioned earlier. The somewhat gritty texture of pears offer another layer of stimulation to the tongue. Bonus: These fruits provide some sugar, but not too much, and fiber for staying power, as well as other vitamins, nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals.

Go Nuts!

Seriously, crunch and munch to stay alert- but not too much! Keeping the amount to one small handful is important because of their relatively high energy content. Their crunchiness and concentrated calories together can result in an energy boost. Pistachios provide the highest amount of protein, and have the added benefit of slowing down snacking simply as they typically need to be shelled. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Bonus: healthy fats and plant-based protein are a boon to any diet.

Dark Chocolate

It is an excellent choice to get a "boost" with its combination of theobromine (a stimulant similar to caffeine, but weaker), lower sugar, and fat. It's also easy to keep in a desk drawer or take on the go. This is also a great food to eat mindfully, taking time to enjoy the flavor, texture and aroma, and letting it melt in your mouth some so that the amount (about 1 ounce) is truly satisfying and the temptation to eat more is reduced. The darker the chocolate, the higher the theobromine content. Bonus: polyphenols and flavonoids - plant compounds that appear to have a wide range of health benefits.

A Few Non-Food Ways to "Perk" Up


Because even mild hydration can cause fatigue, drink some cool water regularly to refresh and hydrate.

Chew Gum

It's an oldie, but goodie. Research has shown that chewing gum has stimulatory effects. Peppermint or spearmint flavors may enhance this further as the scent and taste of mint is often described as invigorating.


A short walk or climbing stairs for a few minutes is an alternative way to battle any sluggishness. To really ditch the coffee habit requires a little planning. Having some of the items listed here on hand might mean the next time a coffee-craving strikes, there will be something else to reach for.


USDA Nutrient Database: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list, accessed 1/15/16.

Allen AP, Smith AP. Effects of chewing gum and time-on-task on alertness and attention. Nutr Neurosci. 2012 Jul;15(4):176-85. Epub 2012 Apr 3, accessed 1/15/16.