4 Healthy Coffee Alternatives for Workout Energy

In this episode, I share four healthy ways to get energy without drinking a cup of coffee before your workout.

Ben Greenfield,
November 7, 2016
Episode #310

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It’s no secret that I’m mildly obsessed with my morning cup of coffee. From fretting over the coarseness of the grind to dialing in the absolutely perfect water temperature to using stainless steel filters, pourover method and, of course, my very lucky, customized “Man In The Arena” Theodore Roosevelt coffee mug, there’s just something I can’t resist about a piping hot morning cup of flavorful joe.

But when it comes to my pre-workout supplementation strategy, things get a bit different. I’m really not a fan of dumping a host of sympathetic nervous system “fight-or-flight” triggering compounds—including caffeine—into my body before I go pound the pavement or hit the gym. Why? I just don’t like the jittery “fake energy,” overstimulated feeling I get from using central nervous system stimulants pre-workout, and would rather not mask fatigue, push through an overtrained body when I’m tired and should perhaps instead be taking a nap or doing yoga. Plus, I just don't want to overstimulate my adrenal glands with excessive caffeine. After all, my morning cup of coffee is pretty dang large, and repeating that process in the afternoon could possibly become excessive, although my guest in the podcast episode “63 Cups Of Coffee A Day & More: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life" might argue otherwise.

So when I read this most recent study, “Effect of Coffee and Caffeine Ingestion on Resistance Exercise Performance,” I didn’t necessarily go out and grab the nearest cappuccino. Sure, the study points out something I’ve highlighted in my previous Get-Fit Guy article “Can Caffeine Help You Workout?”—the fact that the equivalent of two cups of coffee (and even decaffeinated coffee with caffeine added to it) has the ability to improve performance during a hard resistance exercise protocol. But the study got me thinking about ways that one could perhaps reap the same exercise enhancing benefits without necessarily taxing the nervous system with too much caffeine.

I came up with four healthy pre-workout alternatives to coffee.

Peppermint Oil

I first reported on this peppermint oil “trick” in my article “Mint-Chocolate Water, Upper Lip Peppermint Sniffing, Peppermint Fat Bombs & More: How Peppermint Can Enhance Performance.” Peppermint oil has been extensively.studied for its benefits in athletic performance.

One recent study included 30 healthy male university students randomly divided into an experimental group of oral administration of peppermint oil and a control group. The study aimed to determine if ingestion of peppermint oil modulated physiological parameters and exercise performance after 5 minutes and 1 hour. The authors measured maximum isometric grip force, vertical and long jumps, spirometric parameters, visual and audio reaction times, blood pressure, heart rate, and breath rate.

Another study examined the response of 12 male students after 10 days of supplementation with peppermint oil in water. This study also supported the effectiveness of peppermint essential oil on the exercise performance, gas analysis, spirometry parameters, blood pressure, and respiratory rate in the young male students.

Finally, a third study in 2001 demonstrated that the impact of peppermint odor during exercise in 40 adults improved running speed, hand-grip strength, and number of push-ups verses the non-odor exposed control subjects.

In yet another study, menthol’s cooling effect was assessed by evaluating cycling performance in 12 males in a tropical climate. The athletes “drank 190 mL of either aromatized (i.e., with 0.5 mL of menthol (5 gr/mL) or a non-aromatized beverage (neutral temperature: 23°C±0.1°C, cold: 3°C±0.1°C, or ice-slush: 1°C±0.7°C)…” and researchers concluded, “Cold water or ice-slush with menthol aroma seems to be the most effective beverage for endurance exercise in a tropical climate.”

So how should you use peppermint to enhance your workout? I’d recommend you start simple: just smear a bit of peppermint essential oil on your upper lip before your next hard workout. By the way, that last study about the cooling effect of a mint ice slushy brings me to my next tip: pre-cooling.


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