Let the rest of the world quit caffeine. You’re an athlete, and your consumption is completely justified. This favored stimulant can markedly improve your performance, among other benefits. “When consumed in moderation, caffeine can increase energy, increase athletic performance, raise metabolism, burn fat, and increase oxidation of fatty acid,” says Maggie Michalcyzk, MS, RD.
Up to 400 mg a day—the equivalent of about 4 8-ounce cups of coffee—is considered safe for most healthy adults. (More than that can lead to a rise in blood pressure, among other problems.)
But what if you don’t like the taste of coffee, or just want a break from it? There are several other safe ways to get your caffeine fix—none of which involves those shady little bottles of “energy” sold at the drugstore register. Try these healthy alternatives to perform at your peak.
This South American plant delivers up to 250mg of caffeine, depending on the variety. Guarana extract clocks in at 250 mg caffeine per 1,000 mg; powder boasts 220 mg and seed boasts 47 mg. Its benefits extend beyond bestowing energy. “Guarana can help improve focus, boost heart health, provide pain relief and can even improve the appearance of skin,” Michalcyzk says.
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This South American tea delivers about 85 mg of caffeine in one cup—a hair less than the 95 mg in the same amount of coffee. “It also has antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and has even been known to protect against some infections and have immune-boosting powers,” Michalcyzk says.
Yerba mate is traditionally served in a gourd, but a mug will do. Pour hot water over the dried leaves and add lemon juice, milk, or burnt sugar for taste. Swap your coffee latte for a steamed yerba matte with milk and a little sugar.
Matcha has just 25 mg of caffeine, but it’ll energize you and improve your health in other ways. “Because it’s derived from plants, it has antioxidants and can help boost your metabolism and regulate your blood sugar,” Michalcyzk says. That means it could reduce inflammation and muscle damage from killing it in your last training session.
To drink it, whisk the delicate powder into hot water and serve with lemon.
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Green-light granted to just say yes: A square of dark chocolate delivers 12 mg of caffeine per ounce. “The more pure the chocolate is, the higher the caffeine content,” Michalcyzk explains, so stick with the dark stuff, rather than milk or white chocolate.
“Dark chocolate is known to increase both alertness and mood, and it also has anti-inflammatory properties,” Michalcyzk says. Have a bite after a training session to ease sore muscles. Eat it plain or drizzle onto berries, pears or pretzels for a sweet rush.