Caffeine Is Killing Your Workouts!
This is a blog I wrote for the Journal of Human Performance a few years back. I decided to post it on my blog again today. As I am preparing for a trip to teach group fitness in Cuba next week, I have had plenty of last minute things to get handled. I am currently writing some very exciting upcoming blogs and haven't been able to get a fresh one completed for this week, so I share this with you instead. Please see the bottom of the article for my most recent views on coffee!
Coffee. It’s one of the most glorified, profitable, consumable products on Earth. People use coffee as a tool to enhance their mood, increase ‘energy’, and be social. Athletes often consume pre-workout energizers and caffeinated substances including coffee to enhance their efficiency in the gym. This article is written for athletes to think critically of how coffee affects their health and how it might not be that perfect quick fix for better workouts
Do you use a pre-workout coffee to burn fat as fuel and spare carbs, to shed weight, or to pump out a tough workout? Have you told yourself you can't get through the day without it?
If you needed alcohol or other drugs, legal or otherwise, to get through your day or workout, wouldn’t this seem absurd? So why is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug, that raises blood pressure, stresses the body, exhausts the adrenals, affects brain chemistry and hormonal balance, seen as normal?
In extreme cases caffeine can put you at risk for strokes, heart disease, psychological disorders, severe gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, as well as many other diseases. Coffee contains a large quantity of acids, volatile substances, alcohols, carcinogenic molecules, and is the most heavily sprayed consumable product in the world.
Considering most doctor visits are due to symptoms of stress related diseases, why do we continue to artificially stress our body through caffeine consumption? Living optimally healthy as an athlete requires physical (fitness and nutrition), mental, and emotional wellbeing and coffee sets us back in all three departments. Let’s investigate that a little further.
Generally we exercise to improve our health and fitness, but by having a coffee pre workout we basically take 10 giant steps backwards in terms of how efficiently our body works, and we severely stunt our long-term gains from sport and fitness.
Plain and simple, the diuretic, dehydrating effect that coffee has on our body water stores sets us back MASSIVELY. In terms of performance in the gym, water is crucial for energy production.
The liver, which metabolizes 99% of what we ingest, takes a massive hit from running into overdrive metabolizing and detoxifying coffee. Next caffeine diverts blood from the stomach and creates an acidic food fermentation factory, leaving us with gas, bloating, constipation, and awful digestion.
Nutrition absorption from the GI tract is crucial for athletes as our gut is the foundation for our immunity and proper assimilation and elimination of our food. Thiamine, b vitamins, calcium, magnesium and iron are ESSENTIAL minerals for an athlete to absorb through digestion in the GI tract as they are required for muscle contraction, relaxation, and provide energy to carry out exercise, and yet we wash them away with our coffee during a shortened digestive process.
Calcium is fundamental to bone strength and health, and the more coffee we drink the more we put ourselves at risk for Osteoporosis. These minerals are also responsible, and necessary to clear Homocysteine from the blood. When not cleared properly Homocysteine increases the stickiness of blood platelets and our blood pressure, putting us at a much higher heart disease risk.
The reality is that there just isn’t enough space in one article to cover all the science behind the awful things ways that caffeine affects all he organs and systems of your body.
Mental & Emotional
Given what we know about the adverse effect of coffee, why do we continue to use it?
To make a very scientific process simple, caffeine keeps our endorphins firing, providing us with ‘alertness’ and ‘energy, which is really just artificial stress (think fight or flight syndrome). Dopamine levels rush to our brain and give us feelings of pleasure and elation.
When we stop consuming caffeine, or grow tolerant to it, the dopamine receptors in our brain are left empty and people feel a letdown state of depression. Addiction to coffee, and other substances (sugar, nicotine, and other drugs) are abused to maintain dopamine levels.
With addiction comes the cycle of up’s and down’s, leading to extreme emotional instability. So we have a coffee to pump out a workout, then three hours later are grumpy, exhausted, tired, and our lifestyle, friends, and family suffer.
Our body functions at the rate in which we let it recover and reenergize itself, and is not meant to ride the caffeine rollercoaster, and be run into the ground with substances. When we are tired and lacking energy in the gym this is a sign that a lifestyle factor is lacking (sleep, nutrition etc.). When we pump ourselves full of caffeine we lose out on our deepest level of sleep, the S4 level, where muscle repair and rebuilding happens, therefore never giving our body enough rest to rebuild.
People argue that a cup a day can’t do much harm, I disagree. I believe it’s just a matter of time before a coffee drinker sees the effect caffeine is having on their body, and their workouts. I urge you to ask yourself; if you can’t exercise at the level you would like to without caffeine, are you really getting the healthiest, long term, sustainable gains you are looking for?
There are coffee alternatives such as teas, herbal coffees, herbs, and most importantly lifestyle factors such as proper sleep, nutrition, and fitness that can help you eliminate caffeine from your life.
Since writing this article a few years back my view on coffee hasn't changed much. I try to enjoy a coffee every now and again for pleasure, but find myself with gastric upset, I lose my appetite (which leaves me eventually lower in energy and light headed), and I ALWAYS end up crashing later on. I believe that if you are a coffee drinker and MUST continue to drink coffee please try and consume an ORGANIC coffee from a sustainable source. As mentioned in the article, coffee is one of the most sprayed (pesticides etc.) consumable products in the world, when we choose organic we eliminate those pesticides. Also, by choosing coffee from a sustainable source you are contributing to ethical farming, and preserving our rainforests. And be sure to just have ONE CUP! If you go ahead and measure the small amount that one cup of brewed coffee is, you might be quite shocked. On average this one cup has 95 mg of caffeine, which I believe is not enough to cause the various issues descibed above (so it's ok 🙂 ).
I do drink caffeine, I drink Earl Grey tea everyday. A cup of Earl grey can contain 50-90 mg of caffeine, whereas a Grande of coffee from Starbucks has 330 mg of caffeine!!!! (For the brewed coffee). I also drink a product called Xtra that contains various herbs and vitamins that are naturally stimulating for the body, and don't lead to adrenal fatigue (In fact, they support adrenal function). I also will drink a cup of yerba mate here and there. Yerba Mate has about 90 mg of caffeine, BUT contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and antioxidants. It's delicious, and the kind I drink is from Argentina.
I wake up at 5 am most days, go to bed at 10 pm, and have energy to train between 4 and 8 clients a day, as well as do my own workout daily. This would never have been possible in the past as a coffee drinker (I was suffering from adrenal fatigue….but that's another blog post!!).
Up next on the list of blog posts:
2) Restrictive Dieting.
They are going to be good ones!!