Caffeine, Caffeine, Caffeine. The most widely used drug in world boasts many different benefits. But we all know why you're here. Caffeine helps you wake up in the morning and makes you feel good.
Although, chances are, you're hopelessly addicted to it, and it lacks the luster it once had. Fear not, there are some things that you can do to help improve your tolerance and get back the magic you once had with caffeinated products.
In this supplement short, I’ll provide a little background into how and why caffeine works, in addition to providing a no bullshit analysis and anecdotal tips to help even the biggest caffeine fiend, benefit from it on a daily basis.
What Is Caffeine and How Does It Work
Caffeine, also known as 1,3, 7- trimethylxanthine, is a xanthine compound that has three methyl groups attached to it.
Caffeine absorption begins immediately when it enters your mouth, as it can be absorbed through the lining of your mouth and enter the blood stream.
That’s why many, myself included notice an almost immediate heightening of the senses the moment that black gold touches my lips (could also be placebo, but I digress).
Additionally, caffeine absorption occurs at almost 100% making it extremely efficient and bioavailable. Also, one of the reasons why it's so popular and addicting. i.e. - it works, and works well.
Caffeine as an Adenosine Receptor Antagonist
One of the primary ways that caffeine works is by acting as an adenosine receptor antagonist.
You may have heard the word adenosine before if you’ve ever had a bio course, as adenosine is produced via the cleavage of phosphate groups from the molecule: ATP (ADENOSINE Tri-Phosphate).
As the day goes on, and energy is used, adenosine builds up in the brain and begins attaching to adenosine receptors, which promotes an increase in feelings of sleepiness.
Caffeine’s job is to attach to and block these receptors, as it has a high affinity (attraction) to the adenosine receptor. Once attached, it blocks the docking of adenosine to the receptor, preventing adenosine from making you sleepy.
Caffeine builds tolerance and addiction
If you regularly consume caffeine like a meth addict as I do, you understand that caffeine is addicting and you build up a tolerance pretty quick.
Unfortunately, caffeine is one of those drugs that has a rate of diminishing returns, meaning that eventually, no more amount of caffeine in the world will benefit you cognitively speaking, but increasing your dose WILL have an effect on your sympathetic nervous system and negatively affect your sleep quality.
Plus, if you’ve ever gotten headaches in the morning due to lack of caffeine, you understand that along with addiction comes withdrawal, creating a never ending cycle of needing to take it, despite getting fairly minimal benefit.
What can you do to benefit from caffeine again?
Be forewarned, many of this information is theoretical. But really, who cares. This stuff works. I have experimented with it all as caffeine is near and dear to my heart. Try things for yourself and let me know what you think.
For reference, I have been known to be a stimulant junkie, taking upwards of a gram of caffeine per day. In following some of these techniques, I transitioned to being able to consume 1 coffee in the morning and be fine for the rest of the day.
Abstain for a couple days
While this route sucks the most, it’s obviously one of the best ways to reduce your tolerance to caffeine. Simply take a few days when you don’t need it and either completely eliminate caffeine or reduce the amount you are consuming, significantly. Within two or three days, you will likely be experiencing more benefit from your caffeine doses. This, is my last resort.
Just be forewarned, caffeine withdrawals are real, especially if you are prone to headaches. Further, most headache medicine such as Excedrine contain caffeine, so be sure to check the label if you are participating in caffeine abstinence.
DON'T drink it first thing in the morning but DO drink at the same time
This suggestion is largely anecdotal and theoretical, but sound nonetheless. Additionally, it is the technique that works best for me. Even being a habitual caffeine user, I often feel as though it is my first cup of coffee ever, when I follow this protocol.
In order to understand how and why this works, we need a little background.
First, we’ll talk about circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle is controlled by many different factors, such as light (light actually plays a role in when and how well you sleep, in addition to waking up).
Your circadian rhythm determines many different factors and also controls when and how hormones are secreted in your body.
By attempting to go to sleep and wake at the same time every day, you can theoretically optimize your hormonal secretions, which can have immense benefit in terms of response to stressors, how your body functions, etc.
By creating this schedule, you also allow for optimized secretion of two specific hormones: melatonin and cortisol; the latter of which is of importance here.
The Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR)
According to your circadian rhythm, you actually have a secretion of cortisol by the adrenal gland(s), which begins to rise before you wake up, has a sharp increase upon waking and then peaks and decreases.
If you have a regular sleep/wake cycle, this secretion becomes aligned according to your schedule, increasing secretion at the same time and thus having a peak at a similar time each day. Ever notice how sometimes you can wake up at the same time without an alarm clock? Chances are you have an aligned circadian rhythm and optimized secretion of cortisol.
Unknown to many, cortisol actually plays an integral role in this process and sort of acts as a natural stimulant. Unfortunately, many people jump for that cup of coffee immediately upon waking. By consuming your caffeine, while cortisol concentration in the blood is high, there is a good possibility that you are masking the effect of caffeine.
If you’ve ever had a cup of coffee that just, didn’t work, there is a strong likelihood that either, you either have a high tolerance or the caffeine was masked by cortisol.
To combat caffeine being masked by cortisol
The best thing apart from fixing your circadian rhythm, is to wait at least 1 hour after waking to consume your caffeine.
I call this “riding the lightning.” Studies have indicated that cortisol peaks and then decreases anywhere from 45 to an hour and half after waking. Your goal is to consume your caffeine just as cortisol is beginning to decrease.
For me, my personal measurement goes as follows:
It is between steps 3 and 4 that cortisol for me is likely decreasing. If I take coffee at this time, I usually feel immediately better and actually often feel as though the caffeine is working very well.
For me, if I consume it too early, the caffeine doesn’t work, and won’t work for the rest of the day. If I wait to long, I usually get a headache, and no amount of caffeine will fix it.
I’d suggest playing around with it and figuring out what works best for you. That’s what I did, and it allowed me, a habitual stimulant user to actually benefit from caffeine again.
Claims of caffeine proponents
Apart from it's already known benefits with regards to cognitive ability, there is some research that caffeine can help with fat loss. It's no wonder why it's in almost every single "fat burning" supplement on the planet - It's cheap, has some research behind it and makes you feel good.
However there are two things to keep in mind:
1. The overall effect is probably minimal, and won't help you significantly if you're in a caloric surplus.
2. The effect will likely be even less if you habitually use caffeine.
As with almost any supplement the potential benefit will likely be small. Even smaller if you regularly use it.
There is certainly some potential benefit for increased performance, likely due to a reduction of fatigue (That's the purpose of caffeine in the first place).
It apparently does provide improvements in power output, but again, this may be confounded if you are a regular user.
Basically, if you are looking for a fat burning effect or improvement of performance, it's best to use it sparingly to reduce or inhibit any tolerance, in addition to a sound training protocol and diet.
So there you have it. A little background on caffeine and the cortisol awakening response, with some of my own tried and true techniques to benefitting from caffeine, even for the most habitual user.
If you end up trying to "ride the lightning" be sure to let me know of your experience and if it helped at all.
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