CAFFEINE- PRINCIPLES of performance
How do you like your coffee? Most people like their coffee when it works for them. Here is how to maximize the benefits of coffee and caffeine, avoid the negatives, and get your coffee to like you back.
I like my coffee like I like myself: strong, sweet, and too hot for you
Coffee is the second most consumed beverage in the world and caffeine is one of the most researched substances ever. Thomas Jefferson called coffee "the favorite drink of the civilized world."
Yet, caffeine is surprisingly misunderstood. Many people either unduly fear caffeine or worse, abuse it. This is how you get the most out of caffeine to boost your training and enhance your performance in life.
But first here are some key ideas and facts that will help you know how to use this age-old stimulant in the best way.
Caffeine does not give you energy:
Yup you read that right. Caffeine works differently than you may have thought. Instead of giving you energy directly, it blocks the fact that you are tired. This is the science behind it.
Your Central Nervous System (CNS) produces adenosine throughout the day as it carries out bodily functions. When levels of this neurotransmitter increase in your body, you begin to get tired. Caffeine blocks these adenosine receptor sites, and instead makes you produce adrenaline and cortisol. This is what amps you up. Having that adrenaline and cortisol released into your system is what gives you that extra boost that we all rely on so much.
Why is that important? Well if you wanted to go to sleep would you drink a Red Bull? No of course not. That would jolt you up! Opposite of what you want. So that the key is Timing. We will talk about this later, but there is a time and place for adrenaline and cortisol. Here is another important fact you should know.
In order to not overindulge, it is important to understand how long caffeine stays in your system. The half-life of caffeine is 5-8 hours. That means that if you had a cup of coffee at 12 o’clock, between 5-8 o’clock you would still have half a cup of coffee left floating around in your blood.
That is why it can take 2-5 days for your body to be completely caffeine free. Think of caffeine as a friend that likes to overstay their welcome. He’s fun but sometimes he just wont go home! He needs to leave so you can get some sleep. The safe standard is not to exceed 500mg of caffeine per day and 800+mg of caffeine per day is considered a high dose. IF you are not dependent. Big IF. more on that later...
Think of caffeine as a friend that likes to overstay their welcome. He’s fun but sometimes he just wont go home!
FYI, an average cup of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine. Coffee is not the only source of caffeine. Here are some average amounts of caffeine found in common substances:
Caffeine is not evil:
Let’s clearly establish that. With all the enormous amount of research done on coffee and caffeine over the decades if not centuries, it’s safe to say caffeine is good for you. Just because it can be harmful if abused, doesn’t make it the devil’s deadly drink. Even water can kill you.
In fact, studies have shown that caffeine can improve sports performance by as much as 12% in field sports coordination, and 10% in endurance competitions. Not surprisingly, many athletes and businessmen report greater mental clarity and focus as well.
So how can you apply this information to get the most out of your caffeine?
First off, experiment. Every individual is different in how they respond to caffeine. You have to see what works for you. Anecdotally, if you are dark haired, dark skinned, and dark eyed you may be less affected by caffeine. If you are light haired, light skinned, and light eyed you may be more affected by caffeine. That is not a hard and fast rule though.
Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
Remember we talked about how caffeine causes your body to release adrenaline and cortisol? That “have your fun friend over” energy? Well it’s all about timing. When do you want energy? When you are awake and when you work. Especially when you workout!
So it makes sense to drink coffee in the morning before work, and have caffeine as a pre-workout supplement. A good principle to follow is to limit consumption to 1-2 cups of coffee a day, and stop drinking by 12-2pm. That way your sleep wont be affected by that friend that overstays their welcome and keeps you up when you need to be sleeping.
What about caffeine as a pre-workout?
Great idea. Nothing wrong with that. Just make sure that your workout deserves it! Again, it would be a shame to have all that energy you took for your workout affect your sleep. Especially if you tend to workout later in the day make sure you have an intense enough workout so that you “use up” or tire out your friend so he will let you sleep.
Also note that depending on the individual, caffeine hits your system with peak power anywhere from 30-60 min after consumption. So time things right.
What if you don’t use up all the caffeine in your system before bedtime?
It’s ok don’t be scared. Here is a trick from the great Strength Sensei Coach Poliquin. Take some Vitamin C to help your body metabolize the leftover caffeine in your system at a faster rate. Another option is to use a non- caffeinated pre-workout that will boost your attention and sharpen your focus. Brain Restore is an excellent non-caffeinated supplement that will increase dopamine and acetylcholine but not raise adrenaline and cortisol levels. You can have a great workout without affecting your sleep. Win win.
Here is another tip related to timing. You’ve probably heard of something called the Circadian Rhythm. This is the natural cycle or timing of being alert in the morning and tired at night.
However life in this modern world can wreak havoc on this natural sleep clock. Anything from TV and device blue lights to just stress can keep us up and alert when we should be sleeping. So what happens? We wake up dragging. This is a great time to use coffee and caffeine!
By consuming caffeine (1-2 cups, don’t be greedy and overdue it!) you can jolt your system with java and artificially reboot your circadian rhythm. You will then be alert early in the morning and sleepy at night.
Coffee and love are best when they are hot.
How do you know when you have had too much coffee?
Simply put, when you have lost the passion. If 1 or 2 cups of coffee was all it took to light your world up, but now it takes 3, 4,….5…. Yeah you’ve lost the passion. It’s a sign you need to take some time away from caffeine. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
So, take a week and gradually wean off caffeine. Then stay off for a month or 2. Wo! don’t freak out. If 1 or 2 cups of coffee doesn’t do it for you anymore then you aren’t getting what you deserve. You deserve better not more. Go for quality not quantity.
Don’t worry after that little break your passionate love affair with coffee will be hotter than ever! When you go back to caffeine, experiment. Find that sweet spot where you feel alert and productive but not wired and anxious.
Caffeine is strong stuff. It is a wonderful substance that makes life enjoyable. It makes your brain, body, performance, and even your relationships better. Respect it. Love it. Drink it.
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Clark, Nancy. “The Facts about Caffeine and Athletic Performance.” ACTIVE.com, Active.com, 12 Aug. 2005, www.active.com/articles/the-facts-about-caffeine-and-athletic-performance.
“National Coffee Association.” NCA, www.ncausa.org/about-coffee/history-of-coffee.
“Caffeine for Performance.” NASM Blog, 21 Jan. 2019, blog.nasm.org/nutrition/caffeine-performance/.
Stevenson, Shawn. Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. Rodale Books, 2016.