Natural stimulants and energy boosters

Let’s face it: If you’re tired, you aren’t going to get anything done.

Even if you’re awake and well-rested, sometimes you still feel tired. There can be many underlying causes for your fatigue, such as gut issues, metabolism and poor sleep, but here we’re just covering the remedies available for fatigue. This post should not be used by people with sleep issues.

No energy without stimulants or energy boosters

Napping is actually good for you.

Anyway, some of these are stimulants, others are herbs and other supplements that may act as stimulant or otherwise reduce your fatigue. This entry will be updated as I gain experience with newer compounds.

What constitutes “natural?”

“Natural” as I use it here means non-pharmaceutical and not scheduled. The substances listed here are not designer drugs in any form, many of these come from biological sources or organic versions can be found. These “natural” energy boosters include sources of caffeine and nutritional support for the systems which are responsible for feelings of fatigue and wakefulness.

Availability and ease of access is another criterion for this list. If you can get it in a store or find it online, it’s here.

A subjective difference

To me, I believe there is a HUGE difference between the effects of stimulants and stimulant-like substances. Some people just say it all gives you energy, or at least it would leave you with that impression.

True stimulants to me are those that have an effect that if you take enough of it it can cause heart palpitations and trembling and general uneasiness. Those would be your sources of caffeine and nicotine.

Stimulant-like substances may include herbs like rhodiola, ginseng, eleuthero, ashwagandha, and so on. These do not act directly on the central nervous system based on what I’ve read, but they do have varying effects on physical energy, feelings of wakefulness and fatigue.

Natural Stimulants

Anything and everything that contains caffeine, caffeine-like compounds or nicotine.


Ah, the good old standby of coffee. Drinking coffee is a serious bargain with the devil. Imbibing any sort of caffeine means you borrow your energy from the future in order to use it up now, and coffee’s ubiquity and social-acceptableness are some of what make it more sinister. Your adenosine receptors, once they’ve been used and abused by caffeine, need time to recover to their original capacity. Think of it as a caffeine refractory period: you need some cool-down time to be able to feel its effects fully. Instead of having a cool-down period, most people tend to just drink more coffee to compensate for that and then they dig themselves into a rut.

The plus side of coffee is that it’s easy to get, easy to make and cheap to buy. If you pop some l-theanine or theanine with green tea, you probably don’t have to worry as much. Remember however that theanine, as tempting as it may be to consider it, is not a magical caffeine antidote. The devil will collect what you owe.

It is possible to use all caffeine in moderation. It has been recommended to have no more than 20-200 mg of caffeine per hour in order to create a good balance between caffeine metabolism and intake.

Duration: 1 or 2 hours followed by a probable crash

Wakefulness: 5/5 – decreases with lack of sleep and tolerance buildup

Energy level: 3/5

Yerba Mate

In bottled or teabagged form, mate is okay. Relative to coffee it’s a mildly stimulating brew with a bitter leafy taste. That’s because it’s holly leaves. I mean, a variety of holly. It’s harder to come by compared to coffee and tea even though it’s increased in popularity in recent years.

Now, get yourself a mate gourd to drink it in the traditional way. Or use a coffee press. Let it steep in hot water, drink some of the hot brew, then add hot water and steep some more. You’ll feel pretty energized in a way that you won’t with coffee. But don’t overdo it, it’s easy to overdo and get the jitters. Typically when brewed in this manner it’s shared with friends and would be interesting enough to share with open-minded and cultured-type ladies.

Duration: 1 or 2 hours followed by crash, usually a gentle let-down

Wakefulness: 4/5

Energy level: 2/5 – more of a social/mental energy than physical


A similar brew to yerba mate which I’ve reviewed in a past entry, guayusa is gently stimulating, has a warmer flavor and aroma and is relatively hard to come by, even moreso than yerba mate.

It can be drank from a gourd as it is similar to mate, however I prefer not to as it is a very powerfully stimulating brew, and easy to overdo. I had jitters and erratic heartbeat after consuming too much.

Imbibed in moderation, maybe out of a coffee press, guayusa is a great beverage. According to official literature, it contains some amount of naturally occurring l-theanine, but again, I have never seen the numbers specified as to how much.

Duration: 1 or 2 hours followed by gentle letdown

Wakefulness: 3.5/5

Energy level: 2/5 – seems to be like an intermediary of yerba mate and green tea: physical and mental

Tea (camellia sinensis)

Everyone and their mother knows about tea. Not only is it caffeinated but it is a primary source of l-theanine for most people wo don’t take it in supplement form. Tea in teabags tends to be too weak for those used to stronger stimulation, so for those who are serious they should purchase a loose-leaf source of tea and brew in a proper teapot or a coffee press to separate the leaves from the water. It’s cheaper and of better quality.

Generally I find a little difference between green tea and black tea. Green tea and black tea both seem to promote a focused, calm wakefulness and alertness compared to coffee, with black tea being the slightly stronger of the two in terms of stimulation. Green tea is a good compromise between focus and stimulation as it seems to contain more theanine.

When drinking freshly prepared tea from loose leaves, I tend to drink the entire liter in the span of an hour. I feel very stimulated yet relaxed by it in this way, and this is my preferred mode of stimulation. The let-down is gentle, and almost unnoticeable save for the fact that you just don’t feel hyper-focused.

Be careful with drinking large amounts of black tea or over-steeped green tea: the tannins tend to cause nausea and upset stomach.

Duration: 1-3 hours with gentle, almost unnoticeable letdown

Wakefulness: 3/5 to 4/5 – depends on size and frequency of drink

Energy level: 2/5 to 4/5 – May be physical and/or mental due to caffeine and theanine content

Energy drinks

Fuck these. They cost a lot more than coffee or tea, they have a lot of stuff that you don’t really need, and they are filled with a lot more things that cause more harm than good. Plus all those extra cheap carbs will kill your gains, bro.

The insulin crash from the sugar negates any energy you get out of it too. The only exception I may hold is for the Neuro line of drinks that have come out in the last couple years. But again, save your money and your health: all of the above brews are much more cost effective if not better for you.

Duration: 1 hour (2 if you’re lucky) followed by sugar crash

Wakefulness: 3/5 – subjectively short lived.

Energy level: 2/5 – tends to be more physical than anything. seems to contribute to feelings of anxiety rather than focus or stimulation.


Cocoa is filled with caffeine-like metabolites called methylxanthines. These are all handled by the liver. Typically I wouldn’t call hot chocolate a stimulating beverage because it’s filled with sugar and causes you to secrete insulin and pull glucose out of your blood. Plain, bitter dark cocoa powder mixed in warm to hot water is “stimulating” but not in the way you expect from caffeine: it seems to do little for wakefulness, but does seem to increase physical energy, stamina and mood.

See my entry on “bulletproof” cocoa.

Duration: 1-4 hours with no obvious crash

Wakefulness: 2/5

Energy level: 3/5 – mostly mental/mood oriented energy, some physical in that your body feels more warmed-up and ready to go. possibly due to nitric oxide.


Smoking’s bad, m’kay. But rumor has it that tobacco itself is not all that bad… it seems that it’s just the pre-packaged cigarettes that carry all of the health risks if this is to be believed. Either that or genetics.

Officially, no one has really proved anything outside of the mainstream idea that all tobacco will kill you dead.

Potential carcinogens and unneeded addictions aside, there is nicotine available in e-cigarette vaporizers and patches which seem to be free of the negative aspects of inhaling the vapors of carbonized plant matter. Nicotine does seem to have some mental benefits in terms of ability to focus.

My experience has been with e-cigarettes and tobacco in pipes, cigars and hand-rolled cigarettes. Please note that I am not a smoker nor am I addicted. Usage has been limited to short stints. This is not to say that it can’t be habit forming for others, so use your own discretion. I am not responsible if you make a regrettable decision because some guy on the Internet said nicotine was cool.

My experience with nicotine sources, whether smoked or vaporized, has been that it has an acute effect on focus, which can last for upwards of a couple hours. Wakefulness is only affected a little bit; it doesn’t help me if I am sleep deprived.

Note for smokers and potential smokers and e-cig users: A mild but probably undesired side effect of nicotine and caffeine combined is that nicotine increases the metabolism of caffeine. It’s best avoided if you would like the duration of your caffeine experience to be untampered.

“Changes in rate and pattern of caffeine metabolism after cigarette abstinence.”

During abstinence [from smoking], 24-hour urine ratios of dimethylxanthines to caffeine and mono-dimethylxanthines to dimethylxanthines were reduced, suggesting that cigarette smoking accelerates both demethylation steps. Other metabolic pathways were unaffected.

Duration: 1-3 hours of focus followed by gentle letdown – potential for craving or addiction in most people who don’t titrate their nicotine properly

Wakefulness: 2/5 to 3/5

Energy level: 2/5 – mostly mental and focus-oriented, some physical. similar to cocoa in one regard. good for social mood and/or getting things done

Natural Energy Boosters

Some of these are vitamins, others are herbal. Each have been evaluated based on their ability to affect wakefulness, feelings of stimulation and a subjective rating on energy level.

Red ginseng root

See my post on this one. Red ginseng root, the real whole root, is quite a potent energizer. It’s been cultivated in eastern Asia for centuries and touted for its beneficial effects to health. It seems that its method of action is by increasing nitric oxide content of the blood, similar to cocoa.

Most ginseng supplements do not compare to whole ginseng. You must acquire whole mature ginseng roots to reap all of the benefits this herb has to offer.

Wakefulness: 2/5 – no substitute for a night without sleep, but pretty damn good as a stimulating non-stimulant

Energy level: 3/5 – A pleasant, sustained level of energy through the day, provided that I don’t eat anything that causes fatigue

Rhodiola rosea

An herbal compound from a flower that grows in central Asia and parts of continental Europe. It has been found in numerous studies to reduce fatigue’s effects at a physical level.

Subjectively, it does seem to reduce the time needed for restful sleep, generally just an hour or so off my average.

Wakefulness: 1/5 – non-stimulating but does seem to reduce needed sleep

Energy level: 2/5 – doesn’t work on CNS so is not as obvious as caffeine. lethargy is less likely when taken.

Maca root

See my recent post about maca. A plant native to Peru, maca root has been touted for supposedly boosting energy and balancing hormones in an adaptogenic sense.

Maca powder seems to be the most effective. It increases physical energy and for myself, it makes me feel sociable. It also seems to increase libido in a way that adding sources of zinc and selenium to the diet does.

Wakefulness: 1/5 – no notable effect on wakefulness

Energy level: 2/5 – Improves sense of well-being, more physical energy and talkativeness in social scenarios.


Ashwagandha is an herb used extensively in Ayurveda for male problems including libido and energy.

Subjectively is not stimulating, but seems to reduce the potential for fatigue as caused by stressful situations.

Wakefulness: 1/5 – does not really impact alertness in any significant way

Energy level: 2/5 – reduces a sense of fatigue brought on immediately after experiencing an acute stressor, like exercise or fighting. Gives an underlying sense of get-up-and-go.


Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is a simple non-essential supplement that boosts energy throughput at the mitochondrial level.

Subjectively, it’s no stimulant but works very well for what it does. It boosts energy and has a good effect on mood. If you are a lean or thin person, be careful with dosage, as higher doses (for me, ~500 mg in a day — the “recommended” dose) seem to cause a feeling of having energy sucked away. My guess is that this is an acute episode of hypoglycemia brought on by the improved metabolism. These go away when ALCAR dose is reduced or removed, so consider starting with 250 mg and go up or down based on how it feels. EDIT – Consider taking with choline.

Wakefulness: 1.5/5 – No obvious effect on wakefulness unless you’re dead lethargic yet well rested.

Energy level: 2/5 – Seems to reduce physical and mental lethargy, greases up the gears and removes the cobwebs of brain fog

Pill Scout is a nutrition enthusiast who strives to find the best substances to enhance the everyday experience.

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  • Shenpen

    L-Theanine, man, that is basically so powerful that one wonders how it is legal.

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  • Giovanni Dannato

    Coffee I find has a warming yang quality if it’s not used all the time, and thus not stealing from precious reserves. It can actually be great for libido, and physical energy. I find cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginseng, or cordyceps combined with very thick dark espresso bring out the best properties of coffee.
    The trouble is, a coffee high is more erratic and physical. Good for physical work, inferior for mental work.

    I swear by yerba mate, had some this morning. It gives a superb mental high for hours and only wears off gradually. It’s slightly yang and s great before workouts. It voids the bowels very efficiently in the morning, leaving the digestive tract less burdened for the rest of the day.
    It has an extremely drying influence. If you wake up with a puffy face, water retention, some mate solves it in 15 minutes. It’s an effective counter/balance to yin, sedative, phlegm inducing herbs like hops.
    Even more effective combined with bitter chocolate and pipe tobacco/cigars.

    A high quality loose leaf green tea brewed properly(not too hot or steeped to long) gives a superb spriitual high best for the most precise sort of mental work and quiet introspection. Best on an empty stomach.

    Much of tobacco’s horrible reputation comes from cigarettes. Both the ritual and effects of cigars, pipes give a huge boost to calm, focus, creativity. It’s not without coincidence that they’re associated with intellectuals in both fiction and real life. Best when one hasn’t eaten in some hours.

    Chocolate’s horrible reputation comes from Hershey bars that have 11% cacao. It’s possible to buy high quality brands of bitter baking chocolate uncut by sugar filler. The taste is quite bitter, but the effects are totally unlike that of candy.
    Not capable of giving a big mental buzz on its own, it combines extremely well with other mental drugs. Best on an empty stomach.

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  • theshido

    Ahh, guayusa. I bought some herbs from Maya Ethnobotanicals and, it being my first purchase, they included some samples with my order. Among them was about two cups’ worth of ilex guayusa from Peru. It’s better than anything I’ve ever tried – the taste, the effects, it’s all so good. It has a rich flavour that I find hard to describe, and the buzz is smoother than coffee in a way that suggests there may be theanine involved.

    I picked up some N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine from Powder City a while back too. Stuff is potent and no-nonsense without the long half-life of caffeine, which is perfect for a night shift at the bar followed by a good night’s sleep.