Dear caffeine, I love you.

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Ryan Day Coaching

Today’s topic – caffeine – is near and dear to my heart.

I LOVE caffeine, and coffee is my vessel of choice.  Every morning I look forward to getting up, grabbing my cup of coffee, and knocking out my most important tasks for the day.

There’s something so damn satisfying about the bundling of that initial jolt of energy, the warm taste of arabica, and productivity that just makes my heart sing.

In writing these first few sentences, I realized I could easily turn this into a love letter to a  bean, but that’s not why we’re here (lucky for you).  

The reality is that most people love caffeine and use it daily, for good reason.  It has an insane ability to wake you up, boost your energy, and improve your mood. How can you say no to that?!

Today we’ll explore what exactly caffeine is, how it works, and how you can use it to your advantage.  Grab your cup of coffee, and let’s get going.

Caffeine 101: Unmasking the Magic Bean

Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and various other plants. It stimulates the central nervous system, and when you consume caffeine, it sets off a cascade of effects in your body that help you feel more alert and awake.

Your body has these things called neurotransmitters, which are little chemical messengers that carry messages from one nerve cell to another.  Neurotransmitters bind to “receptors”, which allow them to communicate whatever message they’re carrying.

One of these neurotransmitters is called adenosine, which is responsible for promoting relaxation and drowsiness in your brain.  Caffeine’s primary mechanism of action involves blocking adenosine.

When caffeine steps in, it competes with adenosine for receptor sites, preventing adenosine from doing its usual job. The result? You feel more awake and focused. Pretty cool.

The Many Hats of Caffeine

Caffeine has a range of benefits:

Enhanced Alertness

The most popular reason for caffeine consumption. It’s your secret weapon against morning grogginess or that post-lunch energy dip.

Improved Physical Performance

Caffeine has been shown to improve most all physical endeavors, including strength, power, and endurance training.  This is why you find caffeine in most pre-workouts – the stuff works.

Cognitive Boosts

My personal favorite. Caffeine can enhance cognitive functions like memory, attention, and mood.  The amount of caffeine needed to get the cognitive boost varies person to person, but peak effects usually occur around 1 hour after consumption and can last 3 to 4 hours.

Fat Burning

I was reluctant to include this one.  Caffeine can slightly increase your basal metabolic rate, which determines how many calories you burn in a day. So technically, caffeine can aid in weight loss, and this has been shown in many studies, which is why I included it here.  

That said, caffeine alone is not going to make you lose weight.  You still need to eat, sleep, and exercise appropriately.  So please don’t go drink ten cups of coffee and three energy drinks every day trying to lose weight.

The Catch: Caffeine Drawbacks

As with many things in life, too much of a good thing can have downsides. Which is a shame, because coffee is so freakin’ good.

Sleep Disruption

This one is super important.  Sleep, along with exercise and nutrition, is one of the most important components of a healthy life.  To that effect, anything that impedes you from getting quality sleep should be managed.  Unfortunately, caffeine is one of these things.

Late-afternoon caffeine can interfere with your sleep, leading to restlessness and terrible nights of sleep.  More on this later.

Tolerance

Over time, your body can become accustomed to caffeine, requiring more to achieve the same effects. Generally speaking, 400mg of caffeine per day (~4 cups of coffee) is safe for most adults.  If your body builds up a tolerance and you’re still trying to reap the benefits of caffeine, you might find yourself repeatedly going over the safe zone of 400mg/day.

Jitters and Anxiety

High doses of caffeine can really elevate your heart rate and lead to nervousness, tremors, and anxiety. Coffee, specifically, can also cause some stomach distress. 💩

Dependency

Oh, the caffeine headaches. Regular caffeine use can lead to dependency, resulting in withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and irritability when you don’t consume it. I don’t personally suffer from these headaches, but I’ve heard they can be debilitating.  Lucky for us, there are ways to mitigate this that we’ll discuss in a second.

Caffeine Half-Life and Sleep Implications

Earlier we mentioned how caffeine can disrupt your sleep.  Here’s why.

Caffeine’s half-life is the time it takes for your body to eliminate half of the caffeine you’ve consumed. On average, this is about 3-5 hours (this varies from person to person).

So, if you have a cup of coffee with 100mg of caffeine at 2 PM, by 7 PM, you’ll still have 50mg in your system.

This is important to know because caffeine can disrupt your sleep if consumed too close to bedtime. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, it’s wise to avoid it at least 6 hours before bed. If you can drink coffee and go right to sleep – I envy you.

For most people, steering clear of caffeine in the late afternoon and evening is a good practice to ensure quality sleep. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Caffeine Fasting: A Break for Your System

Now, for my fellow caffeine addicts – how do we lower our tolerance to caffeine and reduce the likelihood of our bodies becoming dependent on it?

One of the easiest ways to do this is a periodic caffeine fast.

Also known as a “caffeine reset,” this involves taking a break from caffeine consumption for a week or longer. This practice can have several benefits:

Reset Tolerance: It allows your body to reset its sensitivity to caffeine, so you can enjoy its effects with lower doses.

Better Sleep: With no caffeine interfering with your sleep cycle, you’ll probably experience improved rest.

Reduced Dependency: Taking regular breaks prevents caffeine dependence, ensuring you’re in control.

How should you implement a caffeine fast?

Step 1: Figure out how much caffeine you consume each day. For this example, we’ll say you’re consuming 400mg.

Step 2: Slowly reduce your caffeine intake day-by-day or week-by-week until you’re at no caffeine. Starting at 400mg (or 4 cups of coffee), I’d lower to 300mg for 3 days, then 200mg for 4 days, then 100mg for 5 days.  

Step 3: Cut out the caffeine for 7 days.  This will give your body time to reset its tolerance and adjust to a life without caffeine.  After the 7 days is up, slowly reintroduce caffeine with 100mg per day and you’ll be shocked at the power of just 100mg after cutting it out for a week.

You can also try quitting cold turkey, but fair warning: it sucks.  Even when you slowly reduce your intake, it isn’t the most fun experience, but it’s still way better than going off cold turkey. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Caffeine Protocols: Finding What Works for You

Now you know what caffeine is, its benefits and drawbacks, and how to reset your tolerance.  Now let’s talk about how you can maximize its benefits.  

The Post-Wake-Up Shot

Remember earlier when we talked about adenosine and how it’s responsible for making you tired? Well, your body naturally clears out your adenosine during the first 90 minutes to 2 hours after waking up.

Delay your caffeine for the first 90 minutes, and you’ll experience a more pronounced effect from the caffeine AND a better night’s sleep from allowing your body to wake up by itself in the morning.

Now, if you’re like me and really look forward to that cup of coffee when you wake up, I’m not going to take that away from you.  Life is meant to be enjoyed, and if drinking that cup of coffee when you wake up makes you happy, knock yourself out.

The Performance Boost

Time caffeine intake (3-6mg per kg of body weight) to peak during your workout. Anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour before a workout is the sweet spot for most people.

If you’re somebody who exercises first thing in the morning, throw the 90-minute-delay advice out the window. The benefits you’ll get in your workout from drinking caffeine before your workout exceed the benefits of waiting 90 minutes to consume it.

The Brainpower Enhancer

Similar to above, consuming caffeine about an hour before you need peak mental capacity tends to optimize its effects. Another protocol I find works well is small doses (50-100mg) spaced throughout the morning to maintain focus.

The Controlled Habit

Caffeine can be an incredible substance. If you want to continue experiencing its performance-enhancing and mood-boosting effects, consider working in an occasional caffeine fast. I like to do them quarterly, and I know others that do them monthly.

Would I benefit from monthly caffeine fasts? Probably, but I like my coffee too much to go ¼ of my life without it.

Caffeine is a double-edged sword that can sharpen your focus or keep you up at night. The key is to harness its potential wisely. What works for one person may not work for another, so experiment with different approaches and find what suits you best.

If you have any questions or want to share your caffeine experiences, feel free to reach out. As always, I’m here to help.

Until next time, stay caffeinated (in moderation, of course). 🙂