Anyone who follows my blog knows that I love coffee and hardly shy away from touting its benefits. Today, however, I’m facing its dark side. Bushisms aside, there’s very little of the “with us or against us” mentality when it comes to most things in life. Conviction is only noble if it’s motivated by thought. Just because coffee increases both physical and mental performance and seems to stave of major illness and help you live longer, doesn’t mean it’s the Yoda of the nutrition world. We all have a little Darth Vader in us. And when I say all, I’m including everything that comes from living organisms, including coffee.
Due to our favorite magic elixir and its quite famous side effect, the jitters, need to be used strategically, simply because no combination of nutrients can out perform our most important training aid: sleep. Deep sleep, quite literally, is like doping. In various stages of slumber your body releases many of the same hormones cheating athletes inject themselves with while they’re awake. Hittin’ the hay is so important that the most decorated cyclist in history, Eddy Merckx, famously said, “the Tour [de France] is won in bed.” If coffee is having a negative effect on your sleep patterns then it’s offsetting any good that it’s doing for you.
I thought about this piece last week while lying in bed at 4am, staring at the ceiling, and itching like someone in the depths of drug withdrawal. Thanks to a volcano in Iceland, I found myself stuck in Sicily for the week (poor me, I know). I still had to work, however, and when our afternoon (PST) webinar on the Shakeology Cleanse had nearly 600 attendees it would be quite rude to try and move it just because it happened to be at two o’clock in the morning, my time.
Two AM, however, also happened to be the time that my jet-lagged body was lights out. Normally I’d have no trouble with such a topic in almost any stage. But each night Europe, just after midnight, I’d find myself hitting a wall as though Smokin’ Joe’d just clocked me with a left hook and I’d be dead to the world for about four hours until jet lag would work its voodoo, at which point I’d toss and turn until it was time to hit the cafe. Not wanting to risk disappointed 600 coaches by sounding as though I’d been sparring with Iron Mike I’d finished dinner with a couple of espresso’s, then had an American-style coffee just prior to the chat.
When I’m training hard I can often drink coffee at night and sleep fine. At times, however, I’ll over do it by using coffee as an ergogenic aid prior to training. A recent study showed that more coffee can be better than less, period, for staving off cancer. But all this goodness still has limits. I can always tell when I’m drinking too much coffee because I’ll itch at night. I was never quite certain if it was wholly to blame for this because I live in a dry climate. Sicily is not dry in the least, so when I felt the fateful itch I knew I was in for a long restless night. Quite simply, I’d overdone it. And like under hydrating during a race, over eating at Thanksgiving, or pulling that extra bottle of wine out of the rack I was going to have a price to pay.
So before you parlay the 20,000 or so positive studies for a 64 ounce coffee mug filled with extra-caffeinated Morning Buzz from the 7 Eleven, remember that most of those studies consider a 2 ounce espresso or a 6 ounce mug a serving of coffee. The six servings daily that may stave of prostate cancer could fit in one Starbucks vente. And caffeine may not even be the go to ingredient as some studies showed positive effects with decaf. The lesson here is that, like with most things in nutrition, keeping your coffee servings small and as natural as possible will give your performance the greatest boost.