Many years ago, I used to rely on a cup of coffee or black tea to start my morning. I found it hard to imagine ever being able to get going differently! But things changed over the years and I replaced my morning cuppa with herbal tea (peppermint is my favourite – very refreshing!) or a juice smoothie. Some of this change was a conscious decision to introduce healthier foods into my diet. However, some came about because I started to become aware of the effect of coffee on my body and moods. I began to notice that after drinking a cup of strong black coffee, my heart would race, my mind jumped all over, I felt itchy inside my skin, my stomach churned and I would get irritable really quickly. Then a few hours later I noticed how my mood and energy levels would quickly slump, until I drank another cup of coffee (or ate a chocolate bar!).
Here at the retreat, we made a conscious decision not to serve caffeine – no coffee, black tea or white tea. The only exception we made was green tea, which we do offer as part of a wide selection of herbal teas. In this article, I will look at some of the reasons why you might choose to say no to caffeine and give you ideas on natural ways to boost energy, instead of reaching for that cup of coffee or tea.
What is caffeine and where it is found?
Caffeine is derived from various plants, where it is contained in the leaves, seeds or nuts. This includes the coffee bean and leaves from the tea plant.
Caffeine is a stimulant. It has a direct effect on the central nervous system – the part of your body that controls most of the functions of the mind and body. Wikipedia says it is a legal psychoactive drug! Basically, caffeine speeds up the messages between the brain and the body.
In Spain, coffee is usually served as quite a small cup, often thick and strong! It is a popular national drink. How coffee is served affects the caffeine content and the amount of caffeine in each product varies. We show below the average caffeine content per 100 ml:
- Coffee: cappuccino (100mg), flat white (87mg), expresso (194mg)
- Tea: black (22.5mg), green (12.1mg)
- Chocolate: dark (59mg, high cocoa solids),
- Soft drinks, like cola (9.7mg)
- Energy drinks: Red Bull (34mg)
- Medications. It can be used to combat drowsiness, so you can also find it in cold remedies. You are likely to also find it in headache tablets.
- Diet pills. The amount varies, so read the labels.
You can see quite clearly, that the highest amount of caffeine is found in coffee. Different countries have different patterns of caffeine consumption, and it also differs by age-group, with younger people more likely to be getting their caffeine from chocolate or soft drinks and older people more likely to get it from coffee (or tea in the UK!). If you want to know more about caffeine intake, from a scientific standpoint, this PDF summarises the published scientific studies from around the world: caffeine intake and its sources. A review of national representative studies.
If you wish to reduce your caffeine intake, or keep it to a lower level, then swap out the coffee and replace with green tea. Although soft drinks do have lower caffeine content, they often have a much higher sugar content, which you are also better avoiding.
Decaffeinated versions for most products are also available in many shops now.
Why say no to caffeine?
The effects of drinking (or eating) caffeine occurs quite quickly: you can start to feel the effects between five and 30 minutes after consumption. Effects can last for up to 12 hours. We are all unique, so the effects of caffeine vary from person to person and does depend on how much you drink and how often.
One reason why we chose not to serve caffeinated products was because they can stop you understanding your body´s natural signals. So, the next time you reach for an expresso, or other caffeinated product, check in with your body and notice how it feels, what is going on.
The common effects experienced in the body after drinking caffeine include:
- Alertness: some people might want to be more alert, but be aware that the effects can last for up to 12 hours, so it is best to avoid drinking caffeine late at night if you want a good night´s sleep. There are other ways to increase your alertness or find more sustainable natural energy sources for your body.
- Need to urinate more frequently. Caffeine is processed in the liver and exits through urine. Caffeine seems to have a diuretic effect, i.e. it removes water from your body.
- Increased heart rate
- Increased breathing rate
- Lack of concentration
- Increased amount of acid in tummy
Be aware that caffeine can affect some medical conditions. If you experience pain in your body, caffeine can make the pain seem worse. Everyone reacts differently, so I suggest that if you do feel pain regularly, then try reducing caffeine, swap out for decaf brands, to see if it helps your pain.
As we mentioned above, caffeine is a stimulant, a drug. This means we can get addicted. It also means that we might start to use caffeine to self-manage symptoms. For example, if you feel tired, many people reach for a cup of coffee. However, fatigue is one sign that your body needs a rest – it might be that you are working too many hours, not getting enough sleep. It might instead be because you are eating (and drinking) the wrong things. (By “wrong” I mean food and drinks that cause your body to work harder).
To see for yourself how much caffeine affects you, we suggest that you cut it out for a short time, say one week.
If you can´t say no completely, then consider whether you can reduce your caffeine intake. Drink green tea instead of coffee and cut down on the energy drinks (limit it to one per day).
When you suddenly stop drinking or eating caffeinated products, the effects of caffeine withdrawal can be strong. You might feel really irritable, drowsy, and you can experience headaches. For some people the headaches might become like a migraine, so nausea can also occur.
Before coming to the retreat we recommend that you cut down the amount of caffeine that you drink for a few days, so that you are less likely to get a headache at the retreat
It usually takes 24 to 48 hours for the body to adjust to the withdrawal of caffeine. Drinking one or two cups of green tea can help to smooth this process.
Green tea contains caffeine
Green tea contains caffeine, but at a low level, so it can give you a little boost if needed. It can help to alleviate detox headaches. Green tea is also a well-known source of antioxidants, so as well as providing caffeine, it also brings other nutrients to the body. If I do feel like it, sometimes I have a cup of peppermint and green tea (use two tea bags). If you have fresh mint in your garden, add it in. Or a slice of lemon. We suggest that you keep the amount of green tea that you drink to a minimum too. Everything in balance!
Natural ways to boost energy
Instead of reaching for caffeine, try these natural ways to boost your energy:
1. Food and drink – diet
What you eat and drink gives your body energy. Instead of thinking about how to boost your energy, you might instead like to consider how to give your body stable, slow release sources of energy, to avoid the highs and lows. By avoiding the lows, you will not need to depend upon caffeine or other stimulants. Plant based foods are ideal for this.
- Chickpeas (garbanzos) are one of the most widely grown and consumed legumes in the world (second to soya beans). They are a nutrient dense food, providing your body with protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates plus vitamins and minerals. The starch found in chickpeas (the carbohydrate) is digested slowly by the body, which helps to stabilise blood sugar levels and means that you avoid peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels generally means more stable energy, so less highs and fewer lows. As chickpeas are also high in fibre, you feel fuller, more satiated, for longer, so are less likely to want to snack. Try this month´s recipe: chickpea and aubergine bites.
- Beans. There are many varieties of beans – some of our favourites here at the retreat include pinto, red kidney, black bean and white bean. Like chickpeas, beans release their energy into the body steadily and slowly, so are a good source of natural energy.
- Brown (wholegrain) rice is full of fibre and is high in manganese. Your body uses manganese to convert protein and carbohydrates, which provide energy for your body. Brown (wholegrain) rice has a low glycaemic index, which means that eating it does not spike your blood sugars. If you are interested in learning more about glycaemic index and sugars, read our earlier article: sugar – the highs, lows and the alternatives.
- Millet is a seed, sometimes also referred to as a wholegrain. It is another good carbohydrate source, in a similar way to brown rice and has a low glycaemic index value. The carbohydrates are released slowly into the body. It is also a great source of vegan protein – eating protein can help you to feel fuller for longer. You can read more in our article: all about millet
- Swap your potatoes for sweet potato. Potatoes do have some good nutritional qualities, however as a carbohydrate, our body uses the energy fairly rapidly. This means we are more likely to experience a low, a dip in energy, soon after eating potatoes. Better to swap to sweet potatoes, as the carbohydrates here take longer for the body to digest, meaning slower energy release.
- Drink juices and smoothies. Both making a juice and blending a smoothie will break down your food into tiny particles. This means your body has to work less to digest the veggies, giving you more energy for other things! Be aware, juices and smoothies made completely from fruit have a high fructose content, so might spike your blood sugars. Best to stick to vegetable juices, with a small amount of fruit for a lower fruit (fructose) content.
Sometimes, no matter how healthy your diet it, you still need something to give you a quick burst of energy.
- Dates. If you feel like you need a quick pick-me-up then consider eating a date or two. Dates contain a high amount of sugar, so it will give you an immediate energy boost. Just keep the number of dates to a minimum. It was mentioned recently in the press that Novak Djokovic, the well-known tennis player, is “plant-powered”. He can often be seen to eat a date or two in between sets.
- Fruit: fresh and dried. Fruits contain a sugar called fructose, which is a short-term source of energy. High sugar fruits include pineapple, melon and orange. Try eating a lower fructose fruit like berries, kiwi, nectarines and green apples. Banana´s are also high in fructose, however they contain some important minerals (like potassium, magnesium and manganese), which can help keep you going.
- Nuts. A small handful of nuts, like almonds, can give your body some vital nutrients. They provide a stable source of energy, with little impact on blood sugars. Try our energy ball recipe
- Seeds. Pumpkin seeds, with sunflower seeds (and maybe some dried fruit), makes a great mid-afternoon snack. They too provide energy, without a dramatic influence on your blood sugar levels. (The only thing to watch is how much dried fruit you consume).
2. Make sure you get enough sleep!
Most of us need at least eight hours of good quality sleep, every night. Get yourself into a good nightly rhythm, switching off mobiles and electronic devices at least one hour before bed time. Read more in our two earlier articles: getting a good nights sleep and tips on getting good quality sleep.
3. Stop those “thought” energy drains
Sometimes our minds can race with thoughts of things we have to do, places we need to go, remembering conversations with people or events that have happened. This can act like an energy drain, depleting our resources. Meditation can help with this, so too can working on your mindset in our life makeover workshops. You can also check out our life makeover article: Seven key energy drains and how to stop them.
4. Practice Yoga
Yoga is relaxing and can help you to centre yourself, meaning that your energy is more focused (instead of being scattered). As a regular form of exercise, it is also great for helping to maintain your energy. Read our article about how vinyasa flow yoga can help with energy.
5. Do what you love
If you regularly feel exhausted when you get out of bed, consider whether you are doing something that inspires you. If the thought of another day doing your usual activity means you need to sit down, then consider making some changes. This is a huge topic in itself and one that we explore in some of our life makeover workshops. Finding a coach to support you can also make a difference.
Book a detox and weightloss retreat
This article is part of our detox and weightloss series. If you are interested in reading more articles from this series, click on the health and wellbeing blog page and select the category “detox and weightloss”.
La Crisalida health and wellbeing retreats are open all year round for you to detox, lose weight or simply relax and find your inner balance. Come to the retreat and try a detox and weightloss retreat. If you want to give up caffeine, we are here to help and support.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).