That magical, dark liquid potion. That ambrosia of the slightly hyperactive gods.
I bloody love it. I mean, if I had to choose between giving up one of my children or giving up coffee, there would likely be an inappropriately long pause.
I have two children. There is only one coffee.
My love affair with the Go Juice, has been long. I started drinking coffee at an entirely inappropriate age, that I definitely would not encourage.
I love the taste. I love the smell. I love the deep velvety colour. I love the sound of it passing through the filter. I love the wisps of steam that play on the surface. I love the clarity it creates in my brain. I love the small jolt of motivation it provides.
I. Love. Coffee.
I have sweaty palms now.
Coffee, like many food and drinks, has gone on a fairly cyclic journey of pedestalisation and demonization.
It’s good. It’s bad. It dehydrates you. It doesn’t dehydrate you. It’s the devil’s juice. It’s a gift from the gods.
My love of coffee clearly comes from the enjoyment of the beverage itself and of the effects it has on me.
But what, if any, are the benefits of coffee consumption?
- Increasing your coffee consumption (to a point) has been shown to lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Coffee consumption has been shown to have a positive and protective effect on neurodegenerative decline, lowering age related cognitive decline issues, such as Alzheimer’s.
- Coffee drinkers may be less likely to develop Parkinson’s, and those with Parkinson’s may gain better control of their movements.
- It looks like coffee drinking can significantly reduce the risk of colorectal and colon cancer, and may also decrease the risk of prostate cancer.
- Moderate coffee consumption may be associated with decreased risk of stroke, the fourth leading cause of death in women.
- Coffee appears to have a protective quality for the liver.
- Reduces inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage.
- It protects against photoageing, the damage caused by excessive sun exposure.
- And so much more. I could write several posts just compiling these benefits.
Many of these benefits are irrespective of whether your coffee is caffeinated or not.
Of course, as we have said time and time again, the difference between medicine and poison is in the dose. More doesn’t always equal better.
And we also have to take into account our own individual tolerances.
I’ve done a number of genetic, DNA tests, and all come back with the fact that I am a hyper metaboliser of caffeine.
I have the A/A variant type of the CYP1A2 gene. This means that my sensitivity to caffeine is low, that it has shorter half-life in my system, and that I don’t suffer as much from the negative effects that others suffer from. It also means I have a better performance enhancing effect when I use coffee before a workout.
Kelley does not have this genetic variant.
Kelley drinks Mellow Birds, and drinks it at such a low dosage that you would be forgiven for thinking she had forgotten to add any coffee at all.
Whilst coffee, for me, makes me feel battle-ready and able to take on anything, for Kelley, it leaves her shaking in the corner like an inmate from a Victorian Gothic asylum novel. Think Bram Stoker vs Starbucks.
As we can see, everyone is different, so do your own dabbling.
Now although I can neck a cup of Joe in the evening and still drift off to the Land of Nod quite happily, there is no doubt that coffee will have an adverse affect on my sleep quality.
As far as I can find on the interwebs and medical journals, there is no benefit of coffee for sleep.
And because of this, I now no longer drink coffee after 2pm, and generally not even after midday. Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, but possibly up to 8 hours for some. By stopping at 2pm, I’m primed for a slumber by 10pm.
So why, if coffee is so great and I have the genetics to handle it am I cutting back?
I’ve drunk coffee for so long and at times in such ridiculous quantities that my whole system has become slightly blunted to the effects.
Add to this my pathological need to get my cup of tar in the morning. Any kind of crutch for life is a weak link, in my opinion.
By reducing my intake, I will increase the benefits I get from coffee, whilst at the same time reduce my needy dependency.
The morning kickstart
The most obvious time people drink coffee is first thing in the morning, and it does indeed play a vital part in my morning routine.
But I was not using coffee optimally, and the chances are, neither are you.
You see, as the day wears on and we tax our brains with the complicated tasks we fill our days with, the brain produces Adenosine, a metabolite that makes us drowsier over the course of the day. It basically tells us when we have used the energy in the brain and when to rest it. Sleeping flushes the adenosine out, reducing it’s concentration in the brain.
Coffee wakes us up because it binds to the adenosine receptors instead of the adenosine itself. It acts almost like an antidote.
But, upon waking our adenosine should be pretty low. Much of the grogginess of sleep may be from low electrolyte levels. We lose water and electrolytes through breathing, sweating and that midnight pee. Even more so if you mouth breathe (see this post on mouth taping and nasal breathing).
And we should already have a healthy dose of Cortisol, the stress hormone, in our system to help us feel alert, especially if you add some natural sunlight into your eyes.
In effect, you are wasting that first dose of bean juice goodness.
This is why I now start my day with an electrolyte drink rather than a coffee. And I feel the effects are noticeable.
This is my first step in reducing my overall caffeine intake.
When I first decided to cut my caffeine intake down, I figured a 3:1 ratio would be a good starting point, with three weeks of coffee consumption followed by one week of Redbush (Rooibos) tea and herbal infusions.
This was a bad idea.
A big part of the coffee thing for me is the ritual of the brew. The pop of the coffee jar, the scent of the grinds, the bubble of the kettle, the plunge of the Aeropress. (My palms are sweating again!)
No amount of chamomile tea can compete. Nettle and blackberry leaf, be gone!
So, I quickly switched to 3 weeks of caffeinated coffee, followed by 1 week of decaf.
This was a bad idea.
By day 3 of the decaf week my head throbbed and my neck muscles felt like they were made of twisted metal cables.
Caffeine is a natural vasoconstrictor, meaning it causes blood vessels to narrow. When we withdraw from intaking caffeine, those blood vessels dilate and more blood flows into the brain, causing pain.
Added to this is the fact that more adenosine receptors are available, and that these act as pain modulators. Caffeine binding to these receptors can lessen pain, so when we reduce the caffeine we can increase that sensation of discomfort.
And then add to this the fact that constant caffeine use will actually increase the number of adenosine receptors (which is why you need increasingly more coffee to get your hit), and we are left with the perfect storm for a headachy, grumpy Glenn.
The approach to reducing my caffeine intake that I have settles on is simple.
Generally, my first cup of the day is a decaf, after my electrolyte drink of course.
I had settled on a max of three cups of coffee a day (outside of special requirements), so I was already cutting my coffee down by a third.
I stuck with this for a few weeks, with no mind spangling headaches.
After this, I pretty much now alternate my days between decaf and caffeinated, making sure the days in which I feel like I need a pick me up, fall on caffeinated days. I generally have specific days of the week where I focus on deep work, like today in order to write this. These are full strength coffee days.
The same goes for when I want to benefit from coffee’s performance enhancing properties, for example, on particularly high octane metabolic conditioning sessions.
But I’m not religious about it. If I feel the need, I’ll have two consecutive days of caffeinated, sometimes more.
Overall, my caffeine consumption has massively reduced, and the effects I get from my brew have been far more noticeable.
On the DEFCON 1, shit hitting the fan kind of days, I will still neck a quantity of coffee strong enough to wipe out a small village.
But, now I have a little trick that I use to gain the extra focus the coffee brings but avoid the negative jitters associated with it.
I combine a cup of caffeinated coffee with the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine naturally occurs in things like green tea and black tea. It is often used for anxiety (the main reason I use it), but it has a synergistic effect with caffeine, adding to the cognitive improvement properties but reducing the agitative aspect of the caffeine. It tends to work best on a 2:1 L-theanine to caffeine ratio. Your average cup of jitter juice is about 80-100mg of caffeine, so you would be looking at a 200mg dose of L-theanine.
As with all things, approach supplementation tinkering with caution. What works for me may be detrimental for you.
My ultimate aim is to have a period of time where I have completely cycled off from caffeinated coffee entirely. This, I hope, will reset the whole system to an extent. My use of caffeine from this point onwards will be much more strategic rather than an impulsive necessity.
For complete weaning from caffeine, I would slowly replace the remaining cups of caffeinated coffee with decaf, week on week, slow enough to avoid withdrawal headaches.
When I reach ‘caffeine-zero’, I will sustain this for a number of weeks and observe how I feel and perform. From here I can add strategic, targeted caffeine when needed. From accounts of other coffee addicts who have done this, it’s like taking a banned PED and a magical potion all in one.
We’ll see. You may find me bingeing at a 24hr Costa before the month is out.
For more wondrous coffee ideas check out these posts:
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