A Guide for Proper Consumption
For Performance, Productivity, and Health
The frustration is real when you’re confronted with all of the conflicting opinions and research about caffeine and coffee.
One side claims long term coffee drinkers suffer from adrenal fatigue (exaggerated long term activation of your stress response) and end up sick and dependent on the drug. The other side says coffee is one of the most antioxidant rich superfoods on the planet and fights against things like dementia and cancer.
Here’s the thing, they are both right. (And for the record, I'm on team superfood)
The first argument is really referring to the caffeine in coffee. Caffeine is the most widely used drug and is by far the most widely abused drug. It functions in the same way as other stimulant drugs such as cocaine, just with a milder effect. How does Caffeine work you ask? Let me explain with simple pictures.
Adenosine is a compound that binds with receptors in the brain that causes you to become sleepy. The more Adenosine binding, the more tired you feel. It just so happens, caffeine looks a lot like Adenosine and can bind with these receptors, thereby preventing the Adenosine from binding and having its “sleepy effect”.
Here are the actual structures of both:
But for those of us who are still traumatized from organic chemistry, here is an easy to digest representation:
When you wake up, Adenosine concentration is very minimal, but throughout the day Adenosine begins to increase in the body and it starts to bind to receptors in the brain. This is when the crash starts…
Thankfully, somebody who was both smarter and more brave than myself, found out if they ate a certain bean it gave them energy (and didn’t kill them, as I’m sure happened all the time back in the day when eating random plants was a thing). Although they didn’t know it at the time, said bean contained caffeine which was essentially impersonating Adenosine.
Because caffeine isn’t made naturally in the body, it can’t stick around forever. The half-life of caffeine is about 6 hours; so in 6 hours you feel half the effect. At this point, half of the receptors are now open to Adenosine, who is patient waiting to reverse the caffeine high. But, in our infinite wisdom, we chuck some more caffeine into the system.
However, at some point we must rest. To achieve this, the brain creates more receptors and in theory gives Adenosine more of chance to reset the system by creating that sleepy sensation. After all, most of our recovery happens during deep sleep.
Now, because there are more binding sites, it takes more caffeine to get the same alert effect. This means more caffeine. But now, when caffeine wears off, we now have a tsunami of Adenosine, who’s effects of sleepiness is even greater due to more binding sites.
You can see how this story could get out of control. The more caffeine we drink, the heavier the crash becomes, so we drink more coffee/redbull/soda/tea/etc. The brain literally changes, and this is the definition of addiction.
To avoid this, when you feel like your tolerance is starting to increase to the point of needing to drink more than 2-4 caffeinated drinks (8 fl oz = 1 drink = 50-100 mg of caffeine) per day I suggest a 1 week caffeine purge. I know, this is difficult, and you’ll need good planning and strategies in place to make this work, but for long term health it’s a must.
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here (someone should invent an emoji for that saying). There are plenty of benefits to caffeine when used properly. On top of making you alert and improving productivity, caffeine, specifically in the context of coffee or tea, has been shown to have the following health benefits:
- Protective against neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimer’s and parkinson’s
- Helps boost memory consolidation
- Can help increase stamina and decrease post workout soreness. Also, when mixed with carbs, caffeine has been shown to replenish glycogen stores faster after exercise.
- Studies have shown coffee to reduce risk of several types of cancer including colon, skin, throat, and prostate cancer.
- And the list goes on, and on, and on.
But one important tip for morning coffee drinkers. Don’t drink your coffee within one hour of waking. This is because your body’s natural circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle) needs time to adjust. The hormones being release in this first hour will drastically decrease the caffeine’s effect, and you’ll need more of it. Instead of reaching for coffee first thing, try these tips:
1) Drink a large, cold glass of water. Additional sea salt in your water will also help prevent dehydration.
2) For the last 90 seconds of your shower, turn off the warm water and stand in cold water.
3) Physical activity for several minutes in the morning. i.e. stretching, walking, calisthenics
Only after you’ve given your body the chance to become alert on its own, can coffee really have an efficient effect on the body.
So basically, to much of a good thing can be bad sometimes. Duh. And caffeine is rarely consumed by itself. Make sure your caffeine isn’t being packaged with lots of added sugar, or crazy preservatives, etc. If you follow these rules, your coffee and tea can become a healthy and productive staple in your daily routine!
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