The Ultimate Bulletproof Coffee Alternative

The Ultimate Bulletproof Coffee Alternative

Are you looking for a way to increase focus and productivity without the jitters?

Who isn’t?

One of many options to try adding into your routine may include Bulletproof Coffee.  If you haven’t already read my post on the history and science behind Bulletproof coffee, check it out.  It will explain its origins, development, and benefits, as well as why it may not be for everyone.

However, while Bulletproof Coffee may be quite a craze, it may not be that healthy of an option for many.  From caffeine intolerance, frequent mold in coffee beans (AKA Mycotoxins), to not wanting additional saturated fat in your diet, there are a variety of reasons why Bulletproof Coffee may not be a great option to give your day a boost. However, I understand we have busy lives and frequently looking for something to jump-start our day.

In this post, I will introduce you to an amazing bulletproof coffee alternative that will boost your energy and focus without the caffeine, jitters, or excessive saturated fat.

If You Don’t Tolerate Caffeine, You’re Not Alone

There are a variety of reasons to explore a bulletproof coffee alternative.  Many people do not tolerate caffeine well, don’t digest saturated fats well, or simply do not need to add more saturated fat to their daily routine.

For me personally, my body runs very efficiently when I regularly incorporate healthy fats into my diet.  I experience steady energy, no undesirable GI symptoms, and have eliminated the highs and lows associated with sugar or excess carbs.

However, my body absolutely does not metabolize caffeine.  It’s so bad, that if I drank a regular cup of coffee in the morning, I would not sleep that same night and I would still have a caffeine buzz the next morning.  It wrecks me for 2 days because one sleepless night is followed by feeling like a zombie and a half sleepless night the next night leads to another day feeling half a zombie. The only solution is grinding through the drowsiness of a sleepless night because having more caffeine will just continue the cycle.

So, unfortunately, I really can’t drink coffee, not even decaf.  I love the smell, taste, and effects.  For one day.  But training one great day for 2-3 terrible and I mean really terrible days of fatigue and zombie-like focus is not worth it.  Even too much dark chocolate can cause issues.

True life example…

While in Kauai I surprised Ky (my lovely wife and co-founder of this blog if you didn’t already know) by booking a botanical garden tour with chocolate tasting. She loves chocolate and the botanical garden tour which highlighted talking about many local flowers, herbs, and spices used in cooking, looked interesting and right up her alley.

On the tour, we tasted 8 different dark chocolates from around the world.  The experience taught you the taste difference between different percentages of dark chocolate and when sourced from different regions of the world.  It was a really great experience.  A great experience until that night when I laid staring at the ceiling wide-eyed as can be thinking, “you have to be kidding me.  Did 8 samples of dark chocolate do this to me?

Yes, it did.

I ate clean that day with all foods I was familiar with. Eating just 8 small chocolate samples can cause a sleep disturbance when you have the genetic variance that limits your ability to metabolize caffeine.

Needless to say, not being able to metabolize caffeine is a super bummer.  I love the taste of coffee and chocolate.  However, I’m grateful to be married to one of the best dietitians you’ll ever meet because she had an awesome solution that she presented me with at Christmas a few years ago – Mayan Nut Coffee Alternative.

Why Should You Consider More Healthy Fats

Some of the concern with bulletproof coffee comes from our continued fear of fats and lack of understanding that healthy fats do not cause us to be fat.  Sure, it seems strange to be pouring oil and chunks of butter into your coffee, but change can be good.  I gave Ky a really hard time years back when she told me I had to try some MCT oil before work or a workout.  However, I can attest that I have felt better and often been more productive when incorporating some MCT oil in my day.

Though I do occasionally add butter (not as much as I used to), I think the verdict is still out on who or what subgroups of people would and would not benefit from having additional butter in their diet.  To take a one size fits all approach and say that all people should be adding some butter to their coffee or tea is ridiculous.  Furthermore, that would be the exact opposite approach to what we endorse here on FWDfuel- individualized approach to meet your specific individual needs.

Fortunately, there are a few champions in the movement to educate society that fat does not make you fat.  One of those champions, Dr. Mark Hyman, has an excellent post that discusses some of the myths concerning fat and explains what actually makes us fat.  He goes as far as saying, “eating fat can make you lean” and “good fats can heal”.  I appreciate reading his blog post because he highlights research to support his statements.

While eating fat from quality food sources can be healthy, the question is, should I add more saturated fat to my daily routine outside of the fat we’re consuming in foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, oils, etc?  If you’re adding MCT oil, a fat that is easily metabolized and serves as great fuel by stabilizing your blood sugar and burning slowly, do we really need to add butter?

With 14g of saturated fat per a serving of MCT, it is highly debatable.  Together, a tablespoon of grass-fed butter and MCT oil consists of about 21 g of saturated fat in a cup of Bulletproof Coffee (7 g from grass-fed butter + 14 g from MCT Oil).  As already stated, much will depend on your unique genetics, lifestyle, and so on, but just to take a closer look, here is the breakdown on an average serving of MCT oil:

Serving Size: 1 Tablespoon (15 mL)
Servings Per Container: about 32
Amount per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 100
Total Fat 14 g 18%
   Saturated Fat 14 g 70%
MCT Oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides)
   (from coconut/palm kernel oil)
14 g

There are likely too many factors involved to give a blanket yes or no for all people.  Genetics, stress levels, volume of daily physical activity, and many other factors likely determine the answer to this question on an individual basis.  That is why here at FWDfuel we stress, for optimum results in any nutrition strategy whether its trying to fight fatigue, gain/lose weight, or simply maximize performance, everyone’s approach needs to be individualized!

Why You Should Consider a Bulletproof Coffee Alternative

I’ve been drinking my own variation of bulletproof coffee since my wife Kylene (the best functional sports dietitian in the country!) first introduced me to the concept about 2 years ago.  Unlike David Aspry, I do not have an obsession with caffeine.  In fact, I’m in the minority of people who actually do not process caffeine (due to a genetic variation confirmed with my genetic testing thanks to 23 and Me and Promethease, I’ve discovered I do not have the genes to metabolize caffeine effectively).

If I have a regular cup of coffee in the morning, there is zero chance I will sleep that night and in fact may have difficulty for the next two days.  I really love the taste of coffee and envy the people who can have a cup at night and go to bed an hour later.

In addition to not processing caffeine well, I do have concerns that daily intake of caffeine may be harmful such as encouraging dehydration, disturbing digestion, encouraging adrenal fatigue, and increasing the risk of various other health issues such as stress fractures due to bone loss.  I’ve seen multiple young adult runners in my PT practice with stress fractures questioning why they were unable to put in the running volume of some of their peers.

While likely a combination of factors including inadequate caloric intake and genetic variations, I do think their caffeine intake may of contributed as well.

Throwing fuel on the fire is the concern of high amounts of mold in coffee.  Known as mycotoxins (a poisonous (toxic) secondary metabolites produced by many filamentous fungi belonging to the phylum Ascomycota Bennett), coffee is frequently tainted with high amounts of Ochratoxin A, considered one of worst mycotoxins, which is also known carcinogen that can have harmful health effects for many.[1]  In fact, one study found that 45% of coffee samples have Ochratoxin A.[2]

Why should you care if there is frequently mold in your coffee?  Because fatigue, brain fog, and a variety of other health issues are frequently attributed to mold toxicity and few physicians know how to screen, test, or diagnose mold toxicity.  Dr. Jill Carnhahan, a functional medicine physician, has a great post explaining the concern over mold in your coffee, mycotoxins, and what you should do if you’re a coffee lover.

A recent study noted, “In order to minimize the health risks resulting from the consumption of tea or coffee infusions contaminated by toxigenic fungi and mycotoxins, it is imperative to monitor the presence of these contaminants.”[3]

Do you need to run and throw all your coffee away?  Well, if you have zero fatigue, brain fog, or health issues and feel good drinking it, probably not.

However, it is essential that you feel just as good when you’re not drinking it.  Feeling fatigued when not drinking it is just covering up a health issue with the coffee and something is not right.  Also, I do think caffeine/coffee can serve as an ergogenic aid (AKA something that improves performance) during athletic competition with intermittent consumption.  However, the effects are not as optimal if you consume caffeine on a regular basis and performance can actually decline if you do not metabolize caffeine well and decide you want to just add it on race or game day.

The Better Alternative to Bulletproof Coffee is…

Because of the negative effects of caffeine, as well as concern over heating hot beverages in plastic, I’ve created the following concoction that I think is better than Bulletproof coffee.  Yes, I said better.

So, as a nod to the one who inspired me to think of food as “functional fuel” that turns genes on and off and effects our body in every way, lets give it a name: Functional Fuel Coffee (Check out my rock star business partner and wife Kylene on her Instagram under the name FWDfuel).

FWDfuel coffee consists of the following ingredients:

The Mayan Nut tea tastes like coffee but has zero caffeine.  Yes, it is not decaf which often has 1/3rd the normal caffeine a normal cup of coffee has, it is actually zero caffeine.

Not into the taste of black coffee?  Add a bit of almond or soy milk with some organic honey (best option is to use an ultra-pure and nutrient dense Manuka honey such as Comvita Manuka Honey form New Zealand).  Absolutely delicious and chocked full of vitamins and minerals.

Even more, its nutritional value blows the socks off of coffee.

Compared to Bulletproof Coffee, here are several reasons why Functional Fuel is a better option:

  • Higher nutritional value with greater mineral content
  • Elimination of the use of putting a hot liquid in a plastic container through use of a stainless steel frother
  • Elimination of caffeine
  • Decreased saturated fat

Outside of some potassium and a small amount of omega-6 fatty acids, there is very little to be gained from drinking coffee.  According to the USDA coffee contains no nutritional value of significant content.  Mayan Nut on the other hand, has as close to a taste of coffee as I have found (maybe with a bit more of a nutty flavor which I love, especially when you add maca root) and nutritional value which has lead some to say it is arguably a super-food.

Futhermore, unlike other coffee alternatives which may use grains, Mayan Nut is gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of most allergens and all pesticides.  It is also high in high in potassium, fiber, calcium, iron, antioxidants, zinc, protein, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. [4]

Here is a closer breakdown of the two:

Coffee vs Mayan Nut Nutritional Value [5,6]

Amount per common serving
Calories
2.4
50.0
Fat
0.0 g
0.0 g
    Omega-6 fatty acids
3.6 g
0.0 g
Total Carbohydrate
0.0 g
11.0 g
    Dietary Fiber
0.0 g
3.0 g
Protein
0.3 g
1.0 g
Vitamins
Vitamin A
0.0 IU
11.2 IU
Niacin
0.6 mg
0.2 mg
Folate
0.0 mcg
8.0 mcg
Pantothenic Acid
0.6 mg
0.1 mg
Choline
2.0 mg
0.0 mg
No other vitamins of significant measurable value in either beverage
Minerals
Calcium
2.8 mg
20.0 mg
Iron
0.1 mg
0.4 mg
Magnesium
6.5 mg
24.0 mg
Phosphorus
6.1 mg
20.0 mg
Potassium
70.7 mg
175 mg
Sodium
0.7 mg
2.0 mg
Zinc
0.0 mg
0.3 mg
Copper
0.0 mg
0.1 mg
Selenium
0.3 mcg
0.0 mg
Other
Caffeine
94.8 mg
0.0

How to Prepare Better A Better (Caffeine Free) Morning Beverage

When preparing my cup, I use a stainless steel electric kettle with borosilicate glass which heats up in less than 2 minutes to heat the water then pour it over a stainless steel tea infuser.  By doing this you eliminate use of the microwave which I try to do as much as possible AND, you don’t have your beverage being cooked in a plastic coffee maker or any of the single cup machines which are full of cheap plastic components.  Why does it matter if it was heated in plastic?  More on that in just a minute…

A better way to mix your beverage!

After heating up your water and pouring it over your tea diffuser holding your Mayan Nut, let it sit for ~3-5 minutes.

From there here is the next key to success…

When people are taught to mix their coffee, MCT, and butter, they are encouraged to put it into a blender.  Does this help make the best mixture?  Yes.  Are most people using a blender with a plastic pitcher and pouring hot liquid into it?  Yes they are.  Plastic is the devil and its especially bad when heated.

So, when making Functional Fuel, we use a stainless steel frother to mix MCT oil and maca root.  It still mixes nicely without the risk for messing up your endocrine system due to leaching chemicals from a plastic container.

Why Hot Beverages in Plastics is a Terrible Idea

OK, so I already stated that plastic is the devil, can disrupt your endocrine system, and we should never use it with hot beverages.  What else is there to know?

Well, according to a great article by GQ on Why Sperm Counts are Dropping, plastics are the main environmental toxin responsible for a continuous decrease in men’s sperm counts with the current trajectory of the human race literally heading towards extinction if we don’t start to change things.

Know any couples with fertility issues?  Unfortunately, I would say almost a third of my friends have had a very difficult time and need interventions such as medications to IVF.  Even more unfortunate is that these interventions are not always successful.  Environmental and dietary changes are likely a large part of the solution.

So why are plastics so terrible?  Well largely because they’re a major endocrine disruptor.  What does this really mean?  Our body’s ability to produce, filter, and manage hormones is severely hampered.[7]  These days, the harm has been shown to have effects in utero to developing fetuses.  Phalates, the chemical name for different plastics, has been found in semen, amniotic fluid, cord blood, and breast milk.  The research has shown this effects fetal organ and male reproductive system development.[8]

So, the harm from plastics is impacting us from the day of conception.

Adding to this, is the terrible effect plastic has on the environment.  Recent research has predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic floating around in our oceans than fish.[9]

You don’t have to be an ultra granola tree hugger to think, “this probably isn’t good, we might want to do something about this.”

Are there more harmful effects of plastics than disrupting the endocrine system, fetal organ development, and the environment?  Absolutely.  Plastics have been suggested to be highly linked to the increase in cancer, asthma, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimers, and much more.

So, what should we do?  When we can, reduce our use.  Use reusable glass water bottles, paper bags, etc.  You know the drill.

But, mixing our hot beverage in a plastic blender is one habit that definitely needs to change.  I can’t stress this enough.  Buy a  frother and mix it by hand.

The Path to Feeling Amazing

While some can consume coffee every day and feel great, the need to drink coffee every day to function is a sign of major issues.

We should be able to feel mentally alert and full of energy without caffeine.  Caffeine should often serve as a performance aid to our day or our training and competitions, not a requirement to function.  While there is strong support that caffeine can help improve performance for many athletes, it is not a one size fits all approach.  Many athletes will actually notice a decline in performance and difficulty with recovery if they do not have the right genetic profile.

Furthermore, caffeine can add to inflammation, dehydration, and long-term fatigue as well as early aging through overworking the adrenal glands.

So, if you haven’t already read our take on Bulletproof Coffee, check it out.  It’s an interesting creation but I think we can do better.  I mean much, much better.  From how we prepare our beverage to what we put in it, let’s make our morning beverage healthier.  And, with zero caffeine, Functional Fuel makes for a great evening or night-time beverage to enjoy while also enhancing your focus as you finish up your work without disrupting your sleep or further blowing out your adrenal glands.

If you love the taste of coffee and are looking to enhance your energy and focus without the negative effects of caffeine or moldy coffee, give some Functional fuel a try.  With a secret weapon in the superfood maca root which we discussed in our post The 4 Unbelievable Benefits of Maca Root, this beverage concoction can be a game changer.  I know it has been for me and I’m excited for you to give it a try.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3683511
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7759018
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4280543/
  4. https://www.bluezones.com/2018/04/maya-nut-traditional-mayan-superfood-and-coffee-alternative-you-need-to-know-about/
  5. http://nutritiondata.self.com/
  6. https://www.coffeeandhealth.org/topic-overview/nutrition-information/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30090590
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23333934
  9. https://www.news24.com/Columnists/Robert_J_Traydon/the-shocking-truth-about-plastic-and-how-its-killing-us-20180426
  10. Brown E. What is a long chain fatty acid.  Available at: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/longchain-fatty-acid-9597.html.
  11. St-Onge MP, Jones PJ. Physiological Effects of Medium Chain Triglycerides: Potential Agents in the Prevention of Obesity. J. Nutr. 2002;132(2):329-332.
  12. Kinsella, R, Maher T, Clegg ME. Coconut Oil has Less Satiating Properties Than Medium Chan Trigylceride Oil. Physiology & Behavior. 2017;179:422-426.
  13. Onghena M, Hoeck EV, Negreira N, Quirynen. Evaluation of the migration of chemicals from baby bottles under standardized and duration testing conditions. Journal of Food Additives & Contaminants. 2016;33(5):893-904.

About The Author

Michael Bogden

Michael is a residency and fellowship trained sports physical therapist. A life long advocate for exercise and nutrition, he unexpectedly ran into issues with fatigue and recovery which significantly hindered his training. After working closely with his wife, Kylene, a dietitian trained in functional nutrition, he learned an entirely new approach to eating and living a more holistic lifestyle. This dramatic life change lead to remarkable improvement in his overall energy and performance. In 2017, with the help of a Functional Sports Nutrition approach, he improved his half marathon PR by 5 minutes. These improvements inspired him to create the FWDfuel blog with Kylene in order to spread the word so that others could experience the same success.

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