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Kick The Caffeine Habit and Improve Sporting Performance

Mar 18, 2008
My head feels like it's been crushed in a vice - but I struggle on. I have to free myself from my slavery to the coffee bean. For over a year I woke, packed the coffeemaker with Colombia's finest legal export, hit the button and drank the resulting 10 cups of black stuff over the next hour.

By lunch I'd usually follow up my morning dosage with one or two cans of Coke, nothing too serious. But by five, I'd be ready to resume heavy usage again - this time to boost physical endurance. As a keen cyclist, I'd developed the habit of stopping off for an espresso en route home.

Unfortunately, I've become hardened to it. That's why I decided to decaf my body - and in doing so discover how coffee really can be used to make me mentally and physically fitter. I could tell the difference that caffeine had had on my body and system, before I started drinking coffee in the quantity that I do now I knew caffeine was in my body. Now I know I've reached a tolerance point. Caffeine just doesn't affect me.

If you've developed a tolerance to caffeine you should try withdrawal until you become caffeine naive again, then come back to it for your sporting event, when it's likely you'll get a greater response per dose. That's the plan. Right now I feel like a junkie - on this, my first day of withdrawal, I absolutely crave caffeine. So what is gripping me to the hot mug? Until about 20 years ago, scientists thought caffeine was a brain stimulator.

Then, in 1982, researchers discovered an evolutionary fluke: caffeine's molecular structure is very similar to that of adenosine, an inhibitory brain substance found in many animals, including humans. Studies suggest adenosine could be the sleep-inducing chemical, When people need sleep, adenosine levels are high, which triggers the brain into wanting to shut down. The longer you're awake, the more adenosine gradually accumulates in your brain.

The growing surfeit, in turn, binds to adenosine receptors, depressing nervous-system activity and making you groggy. In ways that are not yet understood, getting enough sleep clears the chemical from your system, allowing you to begin the next day fully restored, your sleep debt paid in full. Caffeine, however, blocks adenosine, binding to the receptors before the adenosine gets there.

Surely we caffeine fiends can't keep doing this to ourselves day after day without having to pay some kind of penalty. Well, maybe not. A study recently concluded that caffeine consumption showed no influence on the rate of heart disease or stroke. In fact the complete opposite is now believed to be true, coffee is rich in anti-cancer agents - contributing more antioxidants than cranberries, apples or tomatoes.

Of all caffeine's purported effects, the one most touted is its ability to provide a temporary mental edge. It does have a dramatic effect on alertness but as you move to more involved functions such as decision making it doesn't really have such an impact
Still, studies have long shown that caffeine has sports-enhancing effects.

The main one seems to be improving endurance. In a 2002 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, scientists found that the time it took for cyclists to exercise to exhaustion was significantly longer in those receiving caffeine than those given a placebo. Crucially, this benefit was greatest in those who didn't use caffeine regularly. Hence as a training cyclist any advantage I can gain to improve my training is welcomed.

It now appears that caffeine works on motivation within the brain itself. It seems to affect affects your perception of effort and makes you feel you're not working as hard as you might otherwise feel. Sounds great to me. Most recent studies have shown that the equivalent of two cups of coffee was sufficient to provide a longer exercise duration to exhaustion - but any more had no additional benefit. So for me to be drinking fifteen cups plus per day was of no real benefit.

Exactly three weeks on since my last cup of coffee and my system is presumably caffeine-free. The headaches and urge to hibernate that plagued me during the first five days of abstinence have faded.
About the Author
Sports Training

You may not always agree with my writings but I hope to inform.

Harwood E Woodpecker
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