End of January 2015, are you still on track for your new years resolution? For some it might be losing 5 pounds or stop drinking, for me it is to quit caffeine and write my first blog ever on caffeine effect. I’m still on track to post my first blog ever but did I totally quit caffeine? Not really and here is why.
Maybe you don’t know it but caffeine is highly addictive for certain people. And that applies to me. Caffeine is everywhere. Apart from the obvious, coffee, it can also be found in colas, energy drink and a lot of sports bars and gels. A cup of coffee can have up to 200mg caffeine, Gu gels vary from 20mg to 40 mg, one of my favorite Pocket Fuel Cold Brewed Coffee Gel has 70mg and Clif shots have a more decent potency with their double espresso at 100 mg. Caffeine can also be hidden in the form of other ingredients such as yerba mate, kola nut, green tea extract, just to name a few.
Caffeine is a plant alkaloid similar to what is in cocaine, nicotine, morphine. All of these being classified as stimulant. The difference is that it is legal, like nicotine. Why? It does create a dependance but it is not life threatening, it can however be life disturbing when you don’t have your cup of joe in the morning. For me, if I did not have access to coffee for a couple of days that would mean seriously bad migraine.
So what makes caffeine so special. A couple of things you might be interested to know without getting too much into the rocket science. First and foremost caffeine stimulates catecholamines. What it means is that it releases adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine, and also indirectly cortisol. This hormonal mix creates the fight or flight response and it is believed that this is why it decreases RPE or perceived effort. It also lowers the threshold for muscle excitation. Adrenaline stimulates lipolysis and glycogen utilization, your whole body metabolism gets primed. It is not surprising to see caffeine in most weight loss supplements, as it also decreases appetite through the mechanisms I just mentioned. Most studies show very favorable effect for caffeine. It reduces the time trials in endurance sports in general and increases time to exhaustion during strength training. Who would have known that something so ubiquitous would have such nice effect? Yet I feel it is pretty underutilized.
But studies do vary in their results. And it has something to do with the subjects and how naive were they to caffeine. Because the more used to coffee you are, the less effective it is, you get a blunted output of cathecolamines. Therefore most studies use 24-48 hours with no caffeine or even up to 4 days to desensitize subject. It probably works, but it might not be enough for certain people and it is also probably why such high doses of caffeine are needed, that is 4-6 mg/kg, 30 to 60 minutes before exercise or 200 to 300mg of caffeine for me. For some people it can take up to a month to get rid of the habituation and then caffeine can only be used once or twice a week to really see the benefits.
Another important point is that most of these studies use a placebo but between you and me it is pretty hard not to know that you just had the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee. And as I will explain in another post the placebo effect is a really strong one. If I convince you that caffeine works and have a cup of coffee before your ride, you WILL go faster. Crazy.
So why did I decide to quit caffeine? So I could try it as an ergogenic during training and racing and really know if it was working. It took me a month to get off it. For some people going cold turkey might work but it did not for me, for the reason I mentioned earlier. I gradually decreased my amount to finally go caffeine free coffee. I really like the taste of coffee and it is some sort of ritual so I still have it in the morning in the decaffeinated form. I use this decaf bean from Bulletproof. They claim that they use a mycotoxin free bean and they use the Swiss water process to take out caffeine, which is a chemical free process compared to decaf you can get at Starbuck and the likes. It is more expensive though…
So now here I am caffeine free! And I feel like I’m in rehab, some days it is hard. But being caffeine free made me realize how sleep deprived I was. Also, I realized how caffeine was making me nervous and gave me the jitters. Now I have a large cup of coffee usually on Saturday morning before my big ride of the week, it is probably at about 150 to 200mg. Sometimes I do the Bulletproof thing, which is no longer a secret as Runner’s world and The New York Times published articles on this. It consist of coffee, a tablespoon of butter and MCT oil. Good stuff. After that I feel like superwomen. 6:30AM Saturday morning and I am ready, I start jabbering so much that my husband asks me what is wrong with me, I feel euphoric, I am hot and sweaty (literally). Hop on the bike and I hammer those pedals. Zone 3 feels like zone 2, my watts are up the roof, it is working. After 2 hours, I feel a little bit of a slump, I go for another dose (Pocket Fuel Cold Brewed Coffee Gel, 70 mg). I’m a junky. I crank up the music in my ear buds and smile for the rest of the ride. Is the effect real? Is it placebo? Maybe a little bit of both…
Here it is my first blog. Hope you like it!