Why Kicking Your Caffeine Habit Can Give You More Energy

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Caffeine was bringing me down

A friend gave me an energy drink a few years ago, and told me it didn’t have caffeine in it. I drank it before a hockey game. I experienced heart palpitations during the game and was awake past 3 a.m. After researching the ingredients, I discovered that one ingredient, guarana, has the highest amount of caffeine in it than any other plant. Others have recommended energy drinks to me and when I look at the ingredients, there is caffeine (often in the guarana form).

Guarana plant

Guarana plant

One drink has a variety of the vitamin-B supplement, which is great. A B-complex vitamin is a great source of support for the adrenal system.  I used to take my B-complex vitamin before a hockey game because when I did, I had more energy. If I took my B-complex at night, I could not sleep as well. The B-complex also seemed to affect on my cold sores. Caffeine, unfortunately affects our absorption of several key nutrients, such as “vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals.” (The DHEA Breakthrough by Stephen Cherniske). Chernike goes on to note that a cup of coffee can limit the absorption of iron by up to 85%.  It is said that about 1/5 women in north America have low iron, which compromises the body’s ability to carry oxygen to the muscles.

In his book, Pre-Menopause, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You, Dr. John Lee talks how important minerals are for proper hormone functioning. When I started in pre-menopause, my hormones were definitely out of whack. I did not feel at all like myself. I seemed to be losing my drive for life. I was feeling depressed and labile. It was difficult to exercise. My legs would feel like lead halfway through a 45-minute walk. This was likely related to my low blood iron.

What is caffeine doing to your body?

Have you heard the word bioenergentics? It means energy at the cellular level.

Do you recall learning in school about the Kreb Cycle? Me neither, but I knew it was important.  All I remember is it happens in the mitochondria (within the cell), and it produces energy with a by-product of carbon dioxide.

So how does the production of cellular energy at the mitochondria level differ than the alertness you feel when drinking caffeine? First, glucose is the fuel that drives the production of energy in the Krebs cycle. When you drink an energy drink containing caffeine, it acts as a stimulant by releasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the same hormone that is released when we experience stress. This release of cortisol gives us a feeling of alertness, as the body prepares for fight or flight.

Performance and Caffeine – The facts!

Image courtesy of Aleks Melnik / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Aleks Melnik / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are numerous studies looking into the effect of caffeine on performance. A review of the PubMed journal citations revealed:

  1. Pre-exercise caffeine did not improve performance but did increase lactic acid, monocyte and IL 6 (interluken 6) – the latter two are inflammation markers. (J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Oct 29)
  2. Pre-exercise caffeine improves strength performance and lowers pain perception (Eur J Sport Sci. 2013;13(4):392-9)
  3. It did not seem to matter if you used caffeine or not prior to taking it before an event (J Sports Sci. 2011 Mar;29(5):509-15)

I found a review of energy drinks done by the Mayo clinic, which indicated most studies showing the positive effects of caffeine on performance were 3mg-5mg/kg body weight. For a 125 lb person would be 280 mg. Some energy drinks contain up to 505 mg/bottle.

Caffeine can also act as a thermogenic and therefore is often found in diet plans to help with fat mobilization. This helps your body burn fat instead of glucose (blood sugar), which keeps you satisfied longer and allows an athlete to save glucose during endurance activities.

There are a number of well-documented negative effects of sugar on the body, especially in the liver.

So is caffeine good or bad?

If there are performance-enhancing benefits to caffeine, is caffeine a bad thing? When you can get the appropriate nutrients to your cells, your cells can produce more energy. For the general population, especially women, the adrenal system is overtaxed from the chronic daily stress. Stress releases cortisol, which gives us that feeling of alertness. Caffeine, which also stimulates the release of cortisol and lowers the amount of the recovery hormone DHEA in the body, just taxes our system even more. We can run out of energy when the adrenal system can no longer handle the stress load we place upon ourselves.

What’s your tipple?

The effects of caffeine can be dose related.

Image courtesy of tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of tiverylucky / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Coffee: A small 6oz cup (I don’t think anyone uses a 6 oz cup) of coffee contains on average 100 mg of caffeine.
  • Tea, soda pop, or cocoa: These can contain 30-50 mg/drink.
  • Chocolate: There is about 20mg of caffeine in a chocolate bar.
  • Energy drinks: Energy drinks can contain a high amount of caffeine, far more than has been used in studies required to gain the performance enhancing benefits. What else is in the energy drink? B vitamins (good!) and often a lot of sugar (not good), which may be in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is a fast fuel for the body. It is easily burned, but that means it also is depleted quickly.

Negative Effects of Caffeine

The negative effects of caffeine that are documented (reported with ingestion of over 200 mg/day as per the Mayo clinic article) include:

  1. Increased heart rate, or other heart related issues
  2. Increased blood pressure
  3. Insomnia
  4. Nervousness
  5. Headaches
  6. Malnutrition (see below)

My recommendations

  1. Limit caffeine to under 100mg/day.
  2. Eat a highly varied, natural foods diet that includes a lot of greens (I supplement with greens, and now do a green smoothie drink with kale, cucumber, celery, my greens powder, protein powder, and some blueberries, pineapple and a banana).
  3. Exercise on a daily basis, with at least 20 minutes of fast walking of a varied pace.
  4. Do 5-15 minutes of resisted (strength) training exercises 3 times/week minimum to help build muscle (this is where your mitochondria engines are located).
  5. Read Stephen Cherniske’s Metabolic Plan for more information on human metabolism and energy.
  6. Contact wendy@wendybowen.com for more information on how you can improve vitality.