And so now it comes to this. We have a basic understanding of what caffeine does and what it can do for us, now we have to breech the topic that plenty of people don’t want to hear. What are the bad effects of caffeine?
Caffeine helps us delve into our “Fight or Flight” response to help increase our alertness, cognitive ability as well as our physical performance. Caffeine increases our cortisol and adrenaline, even when we are at rest, so drinking caffeinated beverages actually cause our body to feel like it is under stress. If we are continually or routinely exposing our body to the same stress our body adapts. In this case, if we are constantly taking in caffeine then the effects of the caffeine start to become weaker. In studies, it has been found that our body almost completely adapts to the epinephrine/adrenaline effects as well as the cardiovascular effects of caffeine within about a week of regular coffee consumption. The performance boost that we get from caffeine is just that, a boost. Our body adapts to the imposed stress of caffeine and becomes resistant to its effects.
In that case, what we should do is take a break or a de-load from caffeine, but what REALLY happens is that people drink more caffeinated products in an attempt to regain the effects. This increases the amount of these hormones that are present, especially cortisol. Chronic cortisol also increases our inflammation levels and can create chemical imbalances with our serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. This ultimately results in lowered motivation, irritability and impaired cognitive function as well as increased fat storage (think: more love handles)
The ability for our body to respond to stress is imperative, but just as important is our ability to return to normal after that stressor has gone. Chronic caffeine use has much of the same symptoms as being chronically stressed. Consistently elevated cortisol causes our body to become more insulin resistant, and combined with the sugar that is commonly included in caffeinated beverages, our blood sugar regulation begins to take a serious hit.
Caffeine-habituated individuals can experience “caffeine withdrawal” 12–24 hours after the last dose of caffeine. The most prominent symptom is headaches. They can also feel anxiety, fatigue, drowsiness and depression. The classic standard for a habit is that it is something that you have done consistently 7 times and in this case that rule basically holds true. Caffeine use for up to a week has not been shown to bring about withdrawal symptoms.
Another concern with caffeine users that is more along the performance front is over-training. People take pre-work out before hitting the gym, and as we have discussed, prolonged use starts to cause caffeine to lose its effects. We don’t get the same “pleasure” that we normally experience, and we aren’t getting the same “performance boost”. That sometimes results in people taking an extra scoop of their pre-workout. Sometimes the issue isn’t caffeine resistance, but the fact that we have been pushing ourselves too much. Taking on too much volume, too much weight, or just over doing it in general. What has happened is that the caffeine has not been the means with which we hide our fatigue. Instead of being able to listen to our body and know that we need to have a deload day or week, caffeine allows us to push further even when we are tired. This leads us into the potential for over-training injuries. Our bodies are getting beat up and fatigued and we mistake the effects of caffeine for our bodies ability to recover.
If we rely on caffeine all the time to make sure that we can perform, then the days that our we don’t have it our performance takes a big hit. This is as much mental as it is physical. Those mild symptoms of withdrawal are enough to “take the wind out of our sails” when we get to the gym. We may be lacking the motivation and excitement we are used to having. At this point, being caffeinated has become our baseline and being without it we are left feeling sub par. Depending on what we use our fitness for, this can be a problem. we don’t want to have to rely on a chemical for our daily performance.
Many studies have been done to see if there’s a direct link between caffeine, coffee drinking and coronary heart disease. The results are conflicting because of compounded factors such as diet, physical activity, and societal stress factors. The basic assumption is that if short-term caffeine use elevates blood pressure, heart rate, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol; then prolonged usage could potentially lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions associated with prolonged stress.
Caffeine, it can be great when you need a bit of a boost. The reality is that just like anything else in our diet and life, it should come in moderation. Its when we do anything to excess that we find ourselves in trouble. When used correctly it can give a boost on those days where we are dragging a little bit, or it can be that extra little push on those days that we really need to perform. When we start to rely on it everyday then that’s when we start taking away from our own performance and ability to improve and replacing it with a temporary fix. So save it for those times when you really need it. Nothing wrong with the some moderate caffeine use, such as the morning cup-a-Joe, but finishing off a pot of coffee or a few energy drinks a day is probably not going to help your performance.
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