How long have you been consuming caffeine?
I didn't start until I was 25 years old, but it eventually became a daily habit and continued for the next 7 years. I remember my mother being an avid coffee drinker when I was a boy and it always smelled so good! Once in a while, I would ask if I could try a small sip but the taste of the coffee never seemed to match the smell! This went on over the years up until my early 20's where I continued trying coffee thinking it would taste better and it never did. Fast forward to 25 years old and a friend of mine had me try a 0 calorie, 0 sugar monster energy drink. I really liked the taste and it had approximately 140 mg of caffeine, just under two cups of coffee. I felt a caffeine high from it and I was hooked. From 25 up until present day, my consumption increased and I found myself at times having 2-3 cans per day. Eventually, new drinks were released such as Reign or Bang Energy which had more caffeine per can, approximately 300mg. Little by little I found myself having a reign and then a monster and eventually, two Reign's and then a monster per day. What started out around 140 mg per day jumped to 600-700 mg of caffeine per day 7 years later. To give you a reference, a small cup of coffee is 8oz's and contains 90 mg of caffeine.
As I sit here and write this though, I am one week completely caffeine free. To be clear, I am not saying that you shouldn't drink caffeine or that it is unhealthy but I have been convicted for some time to quit as it wasn't serving me anymore. Some of the negative impacts I was experiencing was crashing during the day and wanting to take naps only to wake up from the naps wanting another energy drink to wake up again. This was messing with my evening routine and my ability to fall asleep at an appropriate hour preventing me from waking up refreshed. Caffeine was the first thing I consumed in the morning and it suppressed my hunger and appetite which led me to eating breakfast later than I wanted.
Other than consuming caffeine and experiencing the effects produced, I wanted to learn more about the effects of caffeine on the body which is what prompted this post so let's get into it!
Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant drug which according to the World Health Organization, is a substance that, when taken in or administered into one's system, affects mental processes, e.g. perception, consciousness, cognition, or mood and emotions. As it is metabolized, it stimulates our central nervous system, heart, muscles, and the vasomotor center in the midbrain which controls vascular tone/blood pressure. This all happens approximately 30-45 mins after consumption and the effects produced by caffeine will generally last for 3-6 hours. Caffeine prevents the body from slowing things down at a cellular level as it is an adenosine receptor blocker and phosphodiesterase inhibitor. Adenosine acts as the “brakes'' in the central nervous system. So when its effects are blocked (by caffeine), stimulation occurs. Maybe you have experienced some of these symptoms, but when you try to quit caffeine, the over-abundance of adenosine no longer being blocked by caffeine can cause vasodilation (headaches), shakiness and nauseousness, all classic symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
Phosphodiesterase is an enzyme necessary for the breakdown of the 2nd messenger protein cAMP within cells. As its “messenger” moniker implies, cAMP helps transfer signals within cells. If this messenger protein is not being broken down (caffeine prevents this breakdown), it will have a better opportunity to cause its stimulatory effects. With this in mind, one way that caffeine can have a negative impact is with sleep. When we lie down at night, from the moment we close our eyes and are actively trying to fall asleep, this is known as the sleep latency period. A normal latency period is approximately 15-20 mins long so falling asleep well past this window can be a result of overstimulation. Knowing how long the effects produced by caffeine last is important as it will dictate when you should consume that last cup of coffee. Not getting quality sleep leads into the day where most people will then find themselves consuming more caffeine to wake themselves up as a way to get through the day.
Caffeine is an appetite suppressant so if you are not well rested, starting the day off with caffeine will potentially prevent you from eating breakfast as you won't feel hungry. Because sleep quality and duration affect the hormones that control appetite, hunger and satiety along with anabolism/catabolism, caffeine can ultimately detract from optimal body composition and performance despite its temporary enhancement. Some might think of this as a benefit if they are looking to lose weight because generally if we consume less energy than we put out, weight comes down. What is also true is if we expend more energy across the day than we store, we will also lose weight and metabolizing food (thermic effect of food) causes us to expend energy. Very simply, by eating regularly, we will speed up our metabolism which will lead to fat/weight loss. Caffeine can potentially block this from happening if we are swapping out meals for caffeine instead.
It got to a point for me in my own journey where it was really hard to stop and I asked myself, was this a physical reason or was it mental? Well, caffeine consumption can decrease the effectiveness of serotonin and trigger the release of dopamine, two of the body's major neurotransmitters, which can make it even more addictive. Consuming caffeine makes us feel good with the release of dopamine, a feel good chemical in the brain. So how much caffeine should we consume each day? How much is too much? Well, any more than 400 mg of caffeine per day can result in anxiety and irritability due to over stimulation. Subjectively speaking, each person will metabolize caffeine differently and at different rates. Some will be more sensitive to caffeine than others so it is really through trial and error that you will be able to figure out what is the right amount for you, if any at all.
I got to thinking not that long ago about how children are probably the most vibrant human beings on the planet. I asked myself, "why is this?" I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that they do not consume caffeine, inhale nicotine, drink alcohol, use drugs, and they have regular bedtimes and wake times.
So my question to you is this, "Do you really need to consume caffeine?"
I would love to hear your thoughts about this and where you're at in your own journey with caffeine!