Friday, August 12, 2011

Caffeine Fasts

CAFFEINE IS STRESS IN A CUP. IT IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU. Sure, I like it, and I can get a lot of desk work done when I'm "using", but no amount of research will convince me that daily intake of 500mg or more long term is not harmful to your physical and emotional health. As I've written before, I believe that the American's average intake has (at least) doubled or tripled over the past 20 years. We will eventually link caffeine abuse to many chronic illnesses but, then again, finding such a link would not be profitable so perhaps not...

Americans love choice, but few exercise that power when it comes to diet. Americans love familiarity. Americans very quickly fall into dietary ruts. When it comes to caffeine, "use" can very easily become "ab-use" for me (and many of you too). What starts out as one coffee or soda a day, quickly turns into a half dozen. I like coffee, tea, and sodas too much to give them up completely, so I've taken to implementing periodic "caffeine fasts" of two to four weeks duration. Although it is not much fun for the first week, I find that after that initial week, I sleep MUCH better and am generally a nicer and more mellow person to be around. And, in the weeks following my fasts, I need caffeine less and get a better "response" from caffeine if I do decide to have some before work or training.

If you are a "heavy consumer" and decide to try a fast, I would recommend weaning yourself off incrementally rather than going cold turkey. Substituting decaffeinated coffee, teas, and sodas is a good start. During fasts, I drink a lot of sparkling seltzer water to satisfy my cravings for carbonated beverages. When you crave something sweet, flavored teas or decaffeinated coffee with a little sugar will hit the spot.

Canada Dry Sparkling Seltzer Water (Lemon Lime)

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Mattt said...

I NEED espresso before training. I'm in the gym by 7 am and wouldn't want to attempt snatches, as I did today, in a non caffeine fog. I can go the rest of the day without, but usually have another mid-day. If you can train sans coffee and still put up your regular numbers then you're a better man than I.

I've gone without before for periods of time but found that my intensity never recovered. I go without alcohol permanently though. Not because I'm in AA or refuse to drink but because I can find a massive amount of proof clearly showing that alcohol is not good for your body-especially your muscles and related hormones. Another post perhaps?

Boris said...

Numbers suffer for a while, no doubt. That needs to be accounted/planned for. I think that longer-term though your numbers will even out, but you'd have to go on fasts of longer than a month (which are rare, though not unheard of, for me I'll admit).

I think that research will eventually link caffeine to endocrinological issues, but then again maybe not.

Unlike caffeine, most people, except the wine-tasters, seem to be in agreement that alcohol isn't that great for you. Alcohol is something I never had a problem with (after 25 or so) - I couldn't really offer much to the cause.

Ready for the meet?

Derrick said...

Boris, plenty of studies show positive health benefits of caffeine (coffee), including reduced risk of dementia, and diabetes.

Obviously, if it doesn't agree with you, or you find yourelf abusing it, then don't take it. It is very habit forming, and physically addictive.

I love your blog, but this one reeks of "bro-science". Also sounds like when the mainstream media makes a correlation with "creatine" and the heat-related deaths, or rhabdo, with teens. Or when the US gov't. greatly exaggerated the harmful effects of marijuana.

Of course it's your blog, and you have a right to your opinion. Just seems a little irresponsible to toss out ominous warnings with zero science to back it up.

By the way, how many people DIE every year from aspirin?

Boris said...

It's my opinion and I state as much. You could call it "bro-science", but I don't know anyone in my circle of friends or colleagues that agree with me. Call it "Boris-science" if you want.

I'll admit I don't pour over research abstracts but, as I understand it, caffeine negatively affects insulin sensitivity and it is something that people who are pre-diabetic should use with caution. So, I wouldn't go so far as to say I have ""zero science to back it up", but whatever. Maybe I'm all wet on that and you've read a lot more than I have. Feel free to fact check it and get back to me if you're inclined.


Derrick said...

Okay, I could post more but here's mainstream friendly web md. I have researched this particular issue quite a bit b/c I do enjoy my coffee/caffeine.

No disrespect intended with the "bro-science" term, I use it as a catch-all for dubious science, or what used to call "old wives tales". And yes, I'm revealing my age with that reference :)

It just drives me crazy when people take a possibly constructive tool and exaggerate risk due to a side effect, when there may actually be way more benefit.

For example, Boris, how do you feel about "research" which proves that squats are bad for your knees? This is still a widely held erroneous belief, particularly amongst the general public..(you know the ones that really, really need to be doing them!)

Caffeine seems to have a calming effect on my mind, much like Ritalin (stimulant) paradoxically calms ADD/HD kids.

My pops passed away last year, along the way developed dementia. As a user (and yes, at times abuser), of caffeine for 30-years now, I think the research on preventing dementia makes sense.

My own "bro-science" theorizes that it helps keep the mind active and neural connections firing. Except I'm not going to write in my blog (well, if I had a blog, ha ha), that one day we will find out that caffeine will cure all degenerative brain disease. On what basis, are you sure that we will find out all of these negative effects of caffeine? Caffeine has been studied into the ground. It is without question the most widely used and abused drug in the world, and has been since?? Don't you think the evidence would have piled up by now?

Anyways, much respect, Boris, and I hope I don't come off as too argumentative. I'm an enthusiast. It's all the damn caffeine. Ha ha..

Love your blog. Derrick

Derrick said...

Just realized that the WebMD page focuses on "coffee", not so much "caffeine". This one makes no distinction.

Tons more. But I don't want to wear out my welcome.. :)

Anonymous said...

You are so right encouraging people to wean themselves off of caffeine. As for me i relish the jolt I get prior to a morning jog or series of grinds knowing that I'll fight to have a fit night's sleep. I get wound up on a cup or two of cuban coffee Thank God they invented "Vodka," I'm not saying we should all use the two two as "puppy uppers and doggie downers" but truth be told it helps me hold those manic demons at bay....I'm just saying

Boris said...

People, including scientists, generally find what they what they set out to find. So no, I don't think the evidence would have piled up by now.

I didn't read every page of the article you linked but coffee does not equal caffeine and it is stated very clearly that decaf drinkers demonstrated the same reduced risk of diabetes. I did not see mention of caffeine's affect on insulin sensitivity. (edit: I see that you've posted another link as I'm writing this and I'll check that later if I have time)

I could get into the old correlation-causation thing, but a lot of people would just throw their hands up in the air and say "WELL BORIS, I guess you just have your mind made up!!" ...and I pretty much do. Suffice it to say that some things "make sense" to me the same way research showing benefits to dementia prevention/amelioration do to you.

I never said that caffeine use could not be beneficial. I was pretty specific there to say 500mgs/day or more. I also said that it was helpful for work and training.

I understand how you might view this as something personal. My grandmother suffered for many years with Alzheimer's. If I felt that caffeine might have helped her, I would champion it as well. As I've said many times before, my grandfather suffered from emphysema and getting out of a chair was a met-con hell for him the final years - I believe that a healthy dose of squatting at any time in his life would have dramatically improved his mobility in the later years, even while suffering from his lung disease.

I think a lot of your questions regarding aspirin, squats, the basis of my beliefs, and available research, suggest that we are never going to agree no matter how I answer. I doubt that any answer I could give would be compelling enough for you to change your mind, so maybe we should just "agree to disagree".

Derrick said...

Google "caffeine and dementia", and you will have plenty of research to pick from. Then google "caffeine and Parkinson's disease", or "health benefits of caffeine" etc.

500mg a day is also pretty high to me, but several studies do show that more is better for these neuroprotective effects. Caffeine like all foods and drugs may affect people differently.

Contempt prior to investigation will prove or disprove every theory. And I fully grasp the distinction between correlation and causation.

But if your mind is made up (and it sounds like it is), then your mind is made up.

My mind is still open. I didn't post these thoughts b/c I work for the National Caffeine Council or something, ha ha.. The root of the word "integrity" is Latin and means "wholeness". I learned that means that one must learn the whole story. Leaving out part of the truth means that your belief will lack integrity, or wholeness.

It would be a mistake to infer my father's passing as clouding my rational interpretation of any research that I read. Perhaps that was an irrelevant detail that should not have been included. The primary reason for looking into the matter was my own caffeine consumption, and my very curious mind. If I found that I was harming myself, then I would quit caffeine, just like I quit drinking alcohol. The evidence clearly suggests otherwise.

I do recall reading about your grandfather, and his difficulties, very poignant. It actually had an effect on me, Boris. I had a friend who fell out of a canoe and due to muscular atrophy lacked the strength to pull himself back up. This is why at age 44, I am stronger than ever. God willing, I will be even stronger at age 54. There is a reason, after all that I found your blog! I take my body, and health very seriously.

Of course I will agree to disagree. Thank you for allowing a dissenting point of view on your comments page. In doing so, this discussion has integrity. Perhaps we both reveal some truth about caffeine.

Fatman said...

Getting into the discussion whether caffeine is harmful or helpful is pointless.

The general concensus on coffee consumption has alternated between "it's the best thing ever" and "I can't believe people are actually drinking this" for as long as I can remember, and neither side has been at all successful in proving its claim through scientific means. Coffee drinkers are neither healthier nor less healthy than people who do not drink coffee, and that's the bottom line. I am aware that not all coffee drinkers are caffeine users, and vice versa, but the overlap is so huge that I will ignore the difference between these two groups.

I tend to view coffee the same way I view alcohol - drinking or not drinking it does not really impact my health or performance in the gym / at work / life in general (obviously I wouldn't get drunk before hitting the gym, or at work) and it is enjoyable if not overdone. You do not NEED coffee to go into the gym and hit your usual numbers (if the body can do it while caffeinated, it can do it un-caffeinated - that's common sense), but a cup of coffee provides a nice kick to make your training slightly more enjoyable.

BTW if you're looking for a caffeine boost to your lifts, espresso will not cut it. The taste of espresso is stronger, but the actual caffeine content is considerably lower than that of regular coffee.

At the same time, I will not pretend that drinking coffee has health benefits. And if used in super-high doses, like the 500mg Boris mentions (that's five cups of coffee a day!), it is possible that in the long run it could be detrimental to one's health.

Once again, moderate consumption seems to make the most sense. Interesting discussion, though.

Anonymous said...

I have quit and fallen off the wagon with caffeine many times. The best parts of being off caffeine are better sleep and no morning fog.

Of course, there are untold times when you need a little pick-me-up and before you know it, it's back to shitty sleep (most noticeable when you first get back on caffeine) and morning fogginess.

For those looking to wean off, I'd suggest mixing caffeinated and decaf coffee in increasingly decaf-dominated proportions. Much easier than going cold turkey.

Boris said...

Agree completely.

Agreed. That first week off of caffeine is like the worst jetlag ever, but after that, sleep comes easily and early mornings are a little easier. said...


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