Fun to reread this article that I wrote almost a year and a half ago and my opinions haven’t changed much. People ask me about coffee all the time and I ask them for their genetics and for them to stop drinking it for 30 days and then reintroduce. I used to be nailed to caffeine. Now I love coffee but could take or leave caffeine. Most of the time I am drinking straight decaf but I have a bag of high octane if I want to get crazy and toss in a scoop. It doesn’t affect my sleep and my energy levels are consistent throughout the day. If I ever go to a coffee shop I usually get one third or even one quarter caffeinated because they tend to load it up to keep people coming back. Yes, I know my labia is showing. If I cared about how ridiculous my requests were at food and beverage establishments I would have stopped leaving my house years ago.
But, I think more than alpha people hate decaf most people love coffee because it is a ritual. For me, I wake up, sit, and then boil water and pour it into the French press. It is quiet. It smells like morning and the house isn’t moving yet. It is one of my favorite moments of the day. Americans have lost nearly all our rituals. Most of us don’t say grace, we eat in front of the TV, and we run around all day staring at our cellular devices. We need more rituals that help us slow down, and maybe that is why we love coffee so much. Or maybe you couldn’t function without a Starbucks drive through – that’s probably different.
without further ado…
Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant in the methylxanthine family, and human beings go GAGA for it, to the tune of 170mg per person per day. Most people I have met adore a frothy cup of joe and/or a gnarly pre-workout. The first time I took NO Xplode I was 15 and thought it was a gift from Zeus and subsequently pounded some variation of the stuff every day for a decade. Definitely not my best idea.
Because I was an addict and the athletes that get the performance pop (albeit not very substantial) from caffeine are intermittent users not dependent degenerates.
It is impossible to dog coffee and caffeine. There are a plethora of positive effects induced by caffeine, and we will highlight them in this article, but when looking at these positives, we must also have a respect for how this psychoactive substance works.
When your brain is doing its thing: thinking, managing, collecting, and interrupting loads of internal and external data it spews out a compound called adenosine. Adenosine has an inhibitory effect on the CNS – when it becomes abundant, it says we have…to…slow…down. Caffeine induces wakefulness by blocking the receptors for adenosine, or as Stephen Braun said, it is like, “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.” Caffeine also potentiates or induces sympathetic nervous system activity. If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that the sympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system is the fight or flight side, and the parasympathetic side is synonymous with the phrase “rest and digest.” Truthfully, this is a very watered down explanation, and there are actually two sub-branches of the parasympathetic nervous system, but for our purposes here, it is most important to highlight that human beings are meant to live primarily in a parasympathetic state. Not in a constant state of stress.
Caffeine: The Addiction
Caffeine is absorbed in the GI tract, diffuses everywhere, and is metabolized by the liver. Caffeine has a half-life of 3-5 hours and clearance times vary highly from person to person and is even affected by other drugs. For example, nicotine increases clearance 30-50%, whereas oral contraceptives double it. So, if you are a female who smokes, takes birth control, and likes to party, it’s literally a crap shoot whether your liver works or if you will ever sleep. Caffeine also has less than pleasant withdrawal symptoms for dependent users. It is not crack or meth, but still….
Negatives or positives – keeps you awake, could be a burden on the liver (probably a loose could here), CNS sympathetic driver, and it can increase urine volume and make you poop.
This is the pervasive mind-set of short term fun vs. long term health and that is your decision. I care little for how many Red Bulls you’ve had or how much money you spent at Spearmint Rhino. I am writing this article for the people who want to use caffeine as a tool not as a crutch to see the sunrise in Rio.
Caffeine: The Holy Grail
What about these positives you speak of?
- Caffeine potentiates postsynaptic neurotransmission in the sympathetic nervous system
- Caffeine increases resting energy expenditure
- Caffeine increases mental energy
- Caffeine enhances cognitive functioning
- Caffeine elevates mood and relieves anxiety (for some)
- Caffeine increases neuromuscular coordination
- Caffeine enhances physical endurance and the quality of physical performance (a little)
This list actually goes on for a while, and one cannot deny the health and anti-oxidant effects of coffee. But one also cannot deny that we live in a sympathetic/stress-response dominant society. This is why some people may be able to handle a ton of coffee on vacation and sleep fine, but back on the job, if they have any coffee after 3pm, they are relegated to watch infomercials on the couch all night.
Thus, annoyingly like most everything I put out, caffeine tolerance and consumption is highly individual.
I truly believe that intermittent use is by far the best policy. Use caffeine as a tool. I have heard multiple different protocols, such as take one or two days a week completely off, or one week a month sans coffee to allow your brain and body to completely reset and recover adenosine receptor functionality. The key here is that no one recommends intravenously feeding the stuff to yourself everyday all day, but even then, some people who are naturally laid back and have zero life stress may be fine and those genetic folks who can metabolize caffeine may actually be better off. However, Sally the worrier might have one cup of coffee after taking the blue pill and lose her god-dayum mind.
Know yourself. Be honest with yourself. Are you addicted? Is coffee helping you perform, or are you just treating withdrawal symptoms with a steady drip of complacency?
What Sports Could Benefit From Caffeine Supplementation
Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting, Sprinting, Hammer Throwing, Car Heaving. Basically anything where you need to get jacked and do something for a very short time period and then stop. Treat caffeine like the drug it is, and use it like NOS in your car. Don’t progress yourself to three scoops a day. Take one or two scoops on days when you really have to lift some heavy shit or impress the new chicks that joined your gym, then on less intense days, refrain. Training is training. Competition is competition. I think if you control your caffeine use, you will last a lot longer and recover a lot faster. Also, if you have to train in the evening, I would be very choosey about when you use the stuff. Try to find the consistent energy from inside because at the end of the day, at most you will get a 4% pop in performance from a large pile of the white powder. On game day this may be the difference between winning and losing, but dependence may also cripple your ability to shift parasympathetic and thus recover from life.
Mixed Martial Arts:
This is one sport that I think caffeine could be really helpful. Not so much in training, but on Fight Night. Caffeine reduces perceived fatigue, and these guys generally don’t have fights every weekend or even every month, so controlled use of this stuff for competitions or key sparring bouts could really benefit them, and testing positive for caffeine is going to be pretty hard to do, as you wouldn’t even come close to that regulated amount if you weren’t a dependent user.
Nope. Games are too long, and there are too many of them. Imagine if an NBA player had to crush pre-workout before every basketball game. That guy just isn’t going to have any longevity. They play at night and the benefit far outweighs the risk. Or take an NFL game that lasts for three to four hours, is it realistic for a linebacker to crush some gnar gnar before every series. No. Well maybe, but adrenaline is adrenaline – let it do its job and keep your brain fresh.
Endurance Sports and CrossFit:
Maybe, and definitely for one event competitions, but definitely not for multiple event competitions on multiple days. Generally, I have found endurance sports enthusiasts and CrossFitters to be stress junkies, addicted to the wheel more than performance increases, and the biggest traits they lack are parasympathetic recovery and control. If this pisses you off and you immediately say, “Well so and so has been doing it for…,” watch that as it will lead you down the road to overtraining and your self-worth being dependent on how well you can exercise. The irony hurts.
Caffeine has positives, it also has negatives. It is a drug – respect it and if you are going to use it – use it, don’t just kind of use it all the time.
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- “What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain.” Lifehacker. N.p., n.d. Web.