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Updated: Mar 20, 2022

After watching all the competitors and paraolympians from around the world fulfill their dreams of going for gold, are you inspired to begin your own olympic journey? Any elite athlete will tell you that training alone doesn't earn you a spot on the podium. To achieve success you must work on both the inside and outside to gain an edge. What they feed their bodies is just as important and carries on long after their moment of glory has passed, season closes, or careers end. As they transition from ice rinks and snow covered mountains back to life at home with family and friends or retirement, this blog will follow suit and go from fitness to nutrition.

Over the next seven weeks we will take a sneak peek at micronutrients and supplements and see how they affect performance in all facets of life. You might even find a surprise or two thrown in along the way. As we go back to the title of this article, what do people rely on most today to provide them with the energy needed to get through eight hour workdays, grueling workouts, or long late night study sessions? If you guessed Starbucks, you just won a gold medal! No, this weeks topic is not specifically about the ever popular wi-fi hotspot, but rather about the underlying ingredient that lures the masses to the trendy retail establishment.

Caffeine is the most commonly and widely used drug in the world. A drug, you say? It is found on nutrition labels in quite a few products consumed daily. Probably the most notable is coffee. For some, a day just hasn't begun until a large pot has been brewed and poured into an insulated mug. That first sip helps warm your body and energize your spirit to make morning time a bit more tolerable. Certain varieties of tea contain caffeine which can render the same effect and are flavored in ways that make them far less bitter. Those that crave sweeter choices can pop a piece of chocolate in their mouth...yes chocolate has it too! Several medications (both OTC and prescribed) include caffeine so sensitive individuals need to be cautious.

Now that we have identified the subject of this writing, let's get energized and discover all we need to know about how and why it makes us feel the way we do. On your mark...get set...go! First and foremost understand that caffeine is found naturally in beans, fruit and leaves of cacao, coffee and guarana plants, and in kola nuts. In cases such as energy drinks, sodas, and supplements, it is added during the manufacturing process. This means that a chocolate latte from your neighborhood coffee shop could have additional caffeine besides what occurs naturally. Talk about a double shot!

What you may not know is that your AM "pick me up" appears as a white powder and has the scientific name of 1,3,7 trimethylxanthine. It may also appear as Guaranine on food nutrition labels. Because caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, it most often hits the bloodstream within fifteen minutes of consumption and is completely absorbed 45 minutes later which explains both the immediate boost felt as well as the drop in energy levels and the need for a second jolt. Metabolism of caffeine is aided by fat so if a Krispy Kreme donut accompanies the morning cup of Joe, effects may be experienced sooner.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that caffeine is a drug. Stimulants, as their name suggests increase brain and nervous system activity and block a chemical called adenosine which aids in sleep. For this reason, people with insomnia or sleep apnea should not have products containing caffeine right before bed. However, in small doses, it can aid in focus which is why many times it becomes a staple for college students doing last minute cramming for final exams. Like with any other drug, after time larger amounts can lead to becoming tolerant so having only one boost doesn't render the desired results they once did. This might explain the term "coffee break" and how it came about in the workplace.

With that being said, how does an individual know their limit? In a previous blog where water was the focus, I mentioned that adequate intake was based on body weight. The same is true for caffeine. There are other factors that also play into the equation such as metabolism, overall health and tolerance levels, but as a rule of thumb, 400 mg or less is acceptable. This is equivalent to approximately 1 - 2 cups of coffee a day. Other items (chocolate, energy drinks, medications, sodas, teas, etc) have varying levels of caffeine so read the nutrition labels or pamphlets that come with whatever you are using.

Although caffeine is not a banned substance for most employers who require a pre-employment drug test or on the World Anti-Doping Code list of prohibited substances, there are telltale signs that enough is enough. Some side effects of too much caffeine are:

a rise in body temperature

frequent urination


dizziness or headaches

rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)

restlessness or excitability

anxiety or irritability

trembling hands


Note that just because you may experience some or all of these, doesn't necessarily mean that caffeine is the main problem, but if they continue for extended periods or progress there may be other issues needing attention. It is always best to consult your doctor if this becomes the case.

On the other hand, if a person who has an endless relationship with caffeine is trying to eliminate or limit their intake, withdrawal symptoms may be experienced. These can include any or all of the following:



persistent headache


muscle pain


Also keep in mind that the severity of symptoms is dependent on the amount of caffeine in ones system at the time of reduction and may vary from one person to the next. Decrease your consumption of caffeinated beverages/foods gradually to avoid severe complications.

For those that don't drink coffee, soda or tea and rely on energy drinks as their wake up call, be advised that although their levels of caffeine differ from brand to brand (Red Bull is equal to coffee yet others are twice the strength of coffee), they have exceedingly high quantities of sugar so can actually promote weight gain. Many are also flavored with citric acid and salt to make them taste better so dehydration can become a problem if using them outdoors to get through something like an intense non-stop soccer game.

Now that we have learned what caffeine is, how it works and other hopefully helpful information, you've decided to live without it, right? Are caffeine free options any better? As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the answer to this lies within each specific circumstance so I will give general guidelines and information and allow you, the reader freedom to make your own decision. I will say for pregnant women it is definitely best for the developing fetus for a woman to refrain from caffeine during all three trimesters. Many studies have shown a link between caffeine and low birth weight babies, pre-term deliveries, or learning deficiencies such as ADHD. For the rest of the population, it is not as simple as that.

Switching to decaffeinated coffees, sodas, teas or white chocolate, while reducing the health risks, poses other potential problems. In products where caffeine is added, other chemicals or flavors are also that may have just as drastic health consequences as the caffeine itself. Oftentimes sugar (artificial or otherwise) and salt are found in insane amounts, or in cases of self brewed coffee and tea, the preparer adds cream, sugar or sweeteners to make them less bitter. While there is no immediate risk, over time these additives present the consumer with potential problems like diabetes or elevated sodium levels that can trigger heart attacks and stroke.

In wrapping up this post, if you want to keep going...and going...and going like the Energizer bunny, it is advised to keep caffeine consumption to within reason to avoid serious issues down the road. See what I did there? Instead of filling up on caffeinated items, energize your body and mind by getting up, getting out and getting moving. Join me next week for another nutritionally based segment. Remember if you want to see a topic covered, feel free to suggest it in the comments/reply section below. We'll chat again soon!

Food for thought (to go with your coffee, of course):

"The energy of the mind is the essence of life." ---- Aristotle

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