T Nation

Yerba Mate - Lesser Known Stimulant

For those of you looking for caffeine alternatives - here’s Yerba mate:

It’s a herbal tea from South America, where it was traditionally used pretty much for the same purpose like coffee.

Like coffee or a strong tea, only better. You feel awaken and alert, but there are no jitters.
It’s less strong than coffee, more strong than tea, but more subtle. It gives you energy but it doesn’t mess up your mental clarity.
I prefer it over caffeine, coffee and tea any day because it’s not jittery - well, at least not at the dosage I tried (one teabag per cup).
Apparently it has all kinds of nifty anti-oxidants and anti-cancer things and MAO inhibitors, according to various studies.

Like black tea, only without all those fluffy flavors. It’s actually kind of raw and bitter, but in a different way than black tea. Compared to tea, it tastes more “manly”.

Where to find it
So far, I’ve seen it at Whole Foods and Vitamin Shoppe. Costs about the same like an average black or green tea (less than $10 for 25 teabags).

I was big into Yerba Mate before I found Spike. The buzz was distinctly different than caffeine, it was was relaxing at the same time being stimulating. Interesting stuff.

My father was born and raised in Uruguay. There and in Argentina, you will see people strolling around doing everyday things with their Mate and Bombilla. Mate is great stuff, if you drink it in the traditional fashion the initial taste is very strong, but it becomes more mild with every refill of hot water from your thermos. It becomes an artform to prepare the yerba to your taste, and of course, there are many different brands that satisfy different people?s needs.


"Mate contains xanthines, which are alkaloids in the same family as caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, well-known stimulants also found in coffee and chocolate. Mate also contains the chemical elements potassium, magnesium and manganese [1]. Caffeine content varies between 0.3% and 1.7% of dry weight (compare this to 2.5?4.5% for tea leaves, and 1.5% for ground coffee).

Mate products are sometimes marketed as “caffeine-free” alternatives to coffee and tea, and said to have fewer negative effects. This is often based on a claim that the primary active xanthine in mate is “mateine”, erroneously said to be a stereoisomer of caffeine (as it is not chemically possible for caffeine to have a stereoisomer). “Mateine” is an official synonym of caffeine in the chemical databases.

Researchers at Florida International University in Miami have found that yerba mate does contain caffeine, but some people seem to tolerate a mate drink better than coffee or tea. This is expected since mate contains different chemicals (other than caffeine) than tea or coffee.

From reports of personal experience with mate, its physiological effects are similar to (yet distinct from) more widespread caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, or guarana drinks. Users report a mental state of wakefulness, focus and alertness reminiscent of most stimulants, but often remark on mate’s unique lack of the negative effects typically created by other such compounds, such as anxiety, diarrhea, “jitteriness”, and heart palpitations.

Reasons for mate’s unique physiological attributes are beginning to emerge in scientific research. Studies of mate, though very limited, have shown preliminary evidence that the mate xanthine cocktail is different from other plants containing caffeine most significantly in its effects on muscle tissue, as opposed to those on the central nervous system, which are similar to those of other natural stimulants. Mate has been shown to have a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue, and a stimulating effect on myocardial (heart) tissue.

Mate’s negative effects are anecdotally claimed to be of a lesser degree than those of caffeine, though no explanation for this is offered or even credibly postulated, except for its potential as a placebo effect. Many users report that drinking yerba mate does not prevent them from being able to fall asleep, as is often the case with some more common stimulating beverages, while still enhancing their energy and ability to remain awake at will. However, the net amount of caffeine in one preparation of yerba mate is typically quite high, in large part because the repeated filling of the mate with hot water is able to extract the highly-soluble xanthines extremely effectively. It is for this reason that one mate may be shared among several people and yet produce the desired stimulating effect in all of them.

In-vivo and in-vitro studies are showing yerba mate to exhibit significant cancer-fighting activity. Researchers at the University of Illinois (2005) found yerba mate to be “rich in phenolic constituents” and to “inhibit oral cancer cell proliferation”.

An August 11, 2005 United States patent application (document #20050176777 & #20030185908 & #20020054926) cites yerba mate as a 40?50% inhibitor of MAO activity. A monoamine oxidase inhibitor is a type of antidepressant, so there is some data to suggest that yerba mate has calming effect in this regard."

Cy Wilson has looked into this in one of his old T-Nation articles. Here it is:

Yerba Mat?: Good Stuff or Hippie Science?

Q: What’s the deal with this yerba mat? stuff? I thought it was just an alternative to coffee or tea, but some people are saying it has all sorts of benefits: allergy relief, increased mental clarity, improved sleep, appetite suppression, etc. What’s the real scoop, science dude?

A: The effects seen with yerba mat? are essentially stemming from the fact that it contains xanthines or derivatives thereof. Yerba mat? in particular contains around 0.2 to 2% caffeine, 0.1 to 0.2% theobromine (found in cocoa and chocolate), and 0.05% theophylline.

In regard to allergy relief, I suppose that since bronchodilation is a possibility with the xanthine types found in yerba mat?, it could provide some relief in terms of breathing.

As for increased mental clarity, this is because of the caffeine. Essentially, you can say that virtually all of the benefits seen with yerba mate stem from that fact that it contains xanthines. As far as research, a reduction in appetite is something that’s actually been documented with yerba mat?.

Overall, you?re better off consuming caffeine tablets as opposed to buying yerba mat?. Or you could get the same effects by consuming kola nuts, tea, coffee, guarana, etc. (5-9)

Tried it in various forms unimpressed for sure.

[quote]Dave2 wrote:
Cy Wilson has looked into this in one of his old T-Nation articles. Here it is:

Overall, you?re better off consuming caffeine tablets as opposed to buying yerba mat?. Or you could get the same effects by consuming kola nuts, tea, coffee, guarana, etc. (5-9)[/quote]

Well, Cy is an intelligent guy and I appreciate his knowledge, but that paragraph shows that he merely gave a quick reply without really looking at the problem.

Yes, Yerba Mate does have a serious dose of caffeine. Yes, it has been hyped all the way to kingdom come and back by all sorts of silly people who would be better off if they kept their mouths shut.

But the reality, if one actually tries it out instead of merely theorizing about it, is that it gives you clarity and energy without the typical caffeine jitters. I don’t know why that is - my assumption is that some other things contained in the Mate leaves interact with the caffeine in a way that reduces the “jitters”.

Remember, you’re drinking the whole thing, not just a caffeine extract from the mate leaves. There must be something else in there that alters the way the body reacts to caffeine.

In any case, based on my experience, it’s good for those people who like the energy of caffeine but despise the “jitters”. No, it’s not quite as strong as black coffee, not at the dosage I played with anyway. It doesn’t even come close to synthetic things such as Spike. It’s just a stimulant that’s more “user friendly” than most.

I did not expect it to be that way, originally I knew nothing about Mate (didn’t knew there was any hype at all), I thought it’s just another sort of fancy caffeinated tea on the shelf at Whole Foods, but when I tried it, I was like “whoa, no jitters, very cool!”

I tried it and didn’t notice anything more than I would get from coffee or any other source of caffeine.

In fact, I still have most of the container in my kitchen cupboard.