My love affair with caffeine began in grade school. I vividly remember drinking a small raspberry latte from Dunkin Donuts one winter night in 7th grade, and it was all downhill from there.
I’m assuming that was the closest I’m (legally) going to get to the feeling Neo must’ve gotten from taking the red pill in the Matrix. I don’t think I slept that night… But I did find my way back to the coffee shop the next day, and the next, and… you get it.
In the 12 years that have passed since that faithful day, I’d bet anything that I’ve had some form of caffeine in my system for nearly 99% of that time. I’m not exaggerating, which is sad.
But my addiction followed the path that many of yours likely did: I was so floored by how awesome life became after drinking just a little bit of the stuff, and my naive mind went “well, more must be even better!”
And then the cruel hand of tolerance slaps you in the face, and you find yourself stuck on a perpetual wheel of needing caffeine just to function like a normal human.
In high school, it got to the point where I needed a full pot of coffee just to get out of bed in the morning. This was right around the same time the original formula of Jack3d, a popular pre workout supplement filled with now-illegal stimulants, hit the market. I willfully triple-scooped that bad boy on a daily basis (I remember telling my friends “I think I can see sounds”), and still needed an energy drink just to get me through basketball practice after school.
Clearly, this is extreme, and shows you the extent of my addictive personality. But the sentiment stands: once you surpass that tolerance threshold, you become a slave to caffeine. It dictates your energy, you mood & your productivity.
It’s time for me to get off of this hamster wheel. And for someone like myself with physique and/or performance goals in mind, there’s even more reasons beyond the obvious to “quit the sauce.”
The sad truth is that caffeine doesn’t have any type of noticeable performance benefits when it comes to lifting weights or even for fat loss. Read this article by Menno Henselmans for the full breakdown. Endurance training may be a different story, but cardio isn’t exactly my thing.
Caffeine acts as a Central Nervous System stimulant, which has many potential psychological benefits: it can increase arousal & reduce the perception of pain & effort during exercise. This may seem great, but these effects are largely predicated on your tolerance to caffeine in the first place.
Sadly, the level at which where tolerance begins to form is less than 100 mg, since abstaining from a dosage even this low produces symptoms of withdrawal. Even the smallest coffee that Starbucks offers will nearly double that value, and any habitual caffeine connoisseur would likely consider that amount “a light appetizer.”
While you’re on your way to a higher habitual intake, sleep quality is suffering as a result. Caffeine has a half life of about 5-6 hours, which means that even if you have that short (not even a tall!) Starbucks coffee with 180 mg caffeine at 8 am, you’ll still have ~45 mg in your system at midnight. Let that sink in.
I also hope I don’t need to tell you that having a CNS stimulant in your system is not conducive to good sleep. However, the detrimental effects on sleep seem to go beyond just having caffeine in your system in the first place. It appears that doses above this tolerance threshold may reduce the amount of time you spend in stages of deep sleep.
Caffeine also has a negative dose-response on your testosterone:cortisol ratio. This ratio is a marker for anabolism (muscle growth), and if you want to improve your body composition, you need to increase this ratio to favor testosterone. High-dose caffeine can therefore literally reduce your gainz.
Add on top of this the unwanted side affects that come along with heavy habitual use: increased anxiety, shaky hands, cold sweats, etc.
Another thing I’ve noticed, and this is completely anecdotal, is that my appetite tends to scale upwards with the amount of stimulants I consume. If I stick around 300 mg (~ 2 cups of coffee), it seems pretty regular. If I go way over (double that amount or more, which is all too easy to do), I want to eat a house.
You may be saying “I thought caffeine was an appetite suppressant?” Maybe, maybe not. I think for me personally, it very well may be, which is part of the problem. I have a huge appetite to begin with, and if I load up on caffeine, I’m basically putting a band-aid on the problem. But when that caffeine wears off, it’s the equivalent of ripping the band-aid off; my appetite returns in full force, which now feels even worse by comparison.
Again this is just a theory, but there seems to be some data that indicates caffeine consumption may stimulate appetite. Just take that with a grain of salt, since it was in rodents and may have been confounded with effects from withdrawal.
Speaking of withdrawal: that’s going to suck, and suck HARD (phrasing). I’ve tried to quit before, but I chickened out when the going got tough. I’m just going to have to suck it up and keep reminding myself of the benefits on the other side. Better regulation of mood, better sleep and (for me at least) a more stable appetite.
Now, I’m not chastising any of you for liking coffee or anything like that. I love it, and that’s part of the reason why quitting is so hard. If you find that you have your habitual intake at a moderate level & the benefits outweigh the costs, go for it. If you train in the morning, it even has beneficial effects in terms of your Circadian Rhythm.
But for me, I’m finally pulling the plug. I don’t see any benefit in being on caffeine’s string anymore, and I clearly can't moderate my consumption enough to warrant a habitual intake. Remember: no gray area. The silver lining: once I do reduce my tolerance, I can afford to have the occasional energy drink and revel in the red pill effect all over again.
What’s your relationship like with caffeine? Have you ever tried to quit before? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.
Enjoy the content? Check out my other blog posts, and be sure to look into the Bayesian Bodybuilding PT Course. I’ve learned more about health & fitness in less than 12 months in that course than I have in the last 12 years of my life combined, including information just like this.
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