>Thoughts on Caffeine

>As any endurance athlete knows, caffeine is a legal performance enhancing drug, and can be used to help you reach your potential in races and workouts. However, too much of a good thing, and it becomes a bad thing. This happens all too often with triathletes and caffeine…

Here’s the typical story of how it goes: someone needs a “pick me up” for a workout, so they have maybe 50-100 mg of caffeine. The workout goes well, and they store that in the back of their mind. Pretty soon, they start wanting that “pick me up” before every workout. Fast forward a couple months, and then it gets to the point where they need caffeine every morning just to function in daily life. An addiction has been formed. The caffeine doesn’t make them “superhuman” anymore, it just gets them to the same baseline level of function that they were at several months earlier, without any caffeine. Their daily energy levels peak and valley, simply based on the timing and quantity of their caffeine intake. Some workouts are great, others are awful. They think the awful workouts are awful because they’re tired, so they have even more caffeine, which just ends up making the problem worse. It becomes a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

I was caught in that downward spiral… until about a month ago. On a Monday, after a long weekend of training, I just decided to stop relying on caffeine for daily living and typical workouts. I eliminated my morning tea, and caffeinated gels on any workouts during the week. At first, there were 3-4 days where I felt like crap – no energy, headaches, depression, irritability, etc.. But then, the fog lifted. All of a sudden, I felt great every morning when I woke up, no need for tea. My energy levels throughout the day became steady, with no peaks/valleys, and because there were no “energy valleys”, I stopped having bad workouts. When I was consuming 100-200 mg of caffeine a day, I would typically have about 2-3 workouts a week that were just awful, simply because they fell during an “energy valley”. In the month since I stopped relying on caffeine, I’ve had a grand total of 1 bad workout, and it was because I had just finished a 3 day race and I was pretty worn out.

I still use caffeine on my long weekend workouts and for racing (and I recommend you do as well). Using it for just 2 days per week (Saturday and Sunday) does not seem to form an addiction, so I have no withdrawl symptoms when I’m not using it during the weekdays. And just as importantly, now, when I do use it, it doesn’t just return me to “baseline normal” – it really does act as a performance enhancer. I’ve been crushing my weekend workouts lately, and I know that part of the reason is that I’ve become much more intelligent and disciplined about caffeine intake. I recommend you do the same.

Until next time – keep training hard, and resting harder.
Doug MacLean

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