This article was born from our experience operating in the ADF and what we have learn’t in terms of keeping ourselves alert and ready to perform in operational units. What caffeine and stimulants do to our body, good and bad! Strap yourself in for this one folks, we go deep whilst caffeinated!
Australian culture is a coffee drinking culture – Australian military is a caffeine religion. The machine runs on the stuff. The average person I have spoken to consumes roughly 3-7 cups of coffee (1 shot of espresso being 1 cup) per day, usually spread out over 12-15 hrs depending on lifestyle, career and lack of positive lifestyle habits.
Below are points of discussion combating stimulants:
- Level of fatigue
- Types of stimulants.
- Honesty on good and bad.
- How to keep balance to avoid too much crash.
We’ve all heard the word stimulant before, in todays society we almost abuse them to help us power through long days and intense workloads. A stimulant is a chemical substance we use to increase bodily reaction time, to give us a feeling of euphoria or pleasure or to provide a sympathomimetic effect (stimulate the nervous system for better reaction times etc).
There are a hell of a lot of varieties out there, many harsh chemicals that aren’t very commonly used – we are going to focus on one. This one is up there with the most addictive substances used by man today, and is used in such a regular and socially acceptable way that there is little thought as to how to use it properly to avoid the harmful effects it has on the body.
It is commonly spoken that less than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day is ideal, up to 400 milligramsbeing manageable by the body (size – weight, height, lean mass etc and tolerance – cultural genetics, age, general health and hydration level allowing) but bordering on bad for the health. As you can see most people are playing at or above the edge limits of healthy amounts. Some people I have spoken to are consuming in excess of 18 cups a day to function – double or triple shots every 3-4 hrs.
Lets look at this logically – we are fuelling the body and mind with an intense chemical substance in variable dosages to over come fatigue – daily. Lets ask some questions about this to establish an idea of how t use this optimally.
Q. Firstly, why are we fatigued in the first place? Are we doing everything we can to make sure we sleep well (quality, depth, duration), eat whole foods with lots of vegetables and water and salt if we train hard and sweat a lot. Are we calming our mind frequently by meditating, breathing and just switching off from the go-go-go nature of our world?
Q. If all of our basic life and home functions like food and sleep are sound, how is our training. Are we training harder, more often, and at a heavier intensity than normal all the time? Is it meaning we are not recovering and are therefore digging into our recovery ability and becoming over trained? Look at your training diary (if you don’t keep one you should… “the blurriest ink is sharper than the fuzziest mind”) and observe if you have been training all modalities each week – strength, speed, power, balance, agility, endurance, aerobic threshold, lactic threshold etc. Are you lifting and being heavy every day or are you running every day etc. This is where we handle your program with the best outcome in mind for health and performance 😉
Q. Are you using pre-workouts on top of all of this? If so, why? Again are you trying to mask fatigue (and thereby limiting your gains) with stims, and then having coffee on top of this? Perhaps look at some basic vitamins first, are you taking any supplements that are mineral and vitamin based now? (not a fucking multivitamin please – thats the shake weight of the supplement world like the speed ladder is the swissball of the speed world…don’t use those either.
If you have solved all of these questions first then maybe look at using caffeine, if these questions aren’t solved or are lacking in absolution – go back and address these first, then bring caffeine back into your life.
Have you heard the expression – what goes up must come down?
How about – every action has an equal and opposite reaction?
The same goes for caffeine and other stims, if you elevate energy and mood with artificial substances, there will be an equal (and in this case) or sometimes, greater drop in energy and mood after. As we most often treat this second slump with more chemical, you can imagine that we get another spike (lower than the first one though) and another drop (bigger than the first drop). This pattern continues and the spike is always smaller than the first and the drop is always bigger. A down ward spiral happens that eventually our body just cannot recover from. This is usually when we enter adrenal insufficiency – the precursor to adrenal fatigue.
All of this sounds very negative so far, and I’m sorry for that, but you need the truth about how it can mess you up if used at the wrong time, in the wrong frequency.
Now for the good and how to use it well…
Firstly – Cortisol
A steroid hormone and one that gets a lot of negative light shed on it by uneducated peeps for being purely a ‘stress’ hormone. Cortisol in large constant doses can wreak havoc on our body and cause serious long term health affects, however, cortisol at controlled times and moments can make us leaner, stronger, more muscular and cognitively function better.
Cortisol has a hell of a lot of useful effects in the body such as wound healing, inflammation management, sleep regulation, gut health and metabolism, memory and focus, kidney and liver health as well as electrolyte balance. You don’t have to be well versed in this stuff to see that messing those up can cause some serious issues.
Cortisol is naturally highest in the morning around 8 am (and we want this in order to get the benefits of all the things I spoke of above) and lowest around midnight (close to zero, and this is vital to allow our body to relax and regenerate for the next days work of healing).
Basically we want to elevate our cortisol in the morning, so coffee, cold showers, vigorous exercise or sex etc is ideal in the morning, gets all of these functions underway as well as wires us and makes us sharp. However in the evening we want to reverse this function and drop cortisol quickly. Ideally from midday we want to start lowering it, and by nightfall have it almost non existent in our system. As this will down regulate all of the functions I spoke of above and set the body up to regenerate and return its supple of hormones and chemicals to normal while we sleep – allowing optimal use the following day. A cycle of balance and efficiency.
Things get a bit funky when we start elevating cortisol at the wrong times (most people don’t every down regulate things though so I wont talk much about that for now), like 6 pm for instance. Mainly because if you raise your cortisol back up into the high hundreds in the late evening when it should be dropping into the low teens, you can expect it to take a while to lower to a level that will let you sleep properly and recover. Meaning that you will only have a few hours to try and replenish levels for the following day, most often meaning the ‘tank’ will be only half full the next day, repeat … repeat… repeat… oh god no i’m fat, diabetic with kidney issues and no sex drive and I have trouble walking up a flight of stairs without feeling fatigued no matter how well I eat or how hard I train. Damn you Xerxes!
So we look at our questions above and establish if our lives are in balance and if we are abusing things that can elevate our cortisol past midday.
A few things that can jack the cortisol high and up regulate us
- Caffeine increases it…
- Sleep deprivation increases it…and ironically if its elevated your sleep will suffer as a side effect, and a viscous cycle ensues…
- Intense or prolonged aerobic exercise without proper fuelling and supplementation (exercising a lot and living of protein shakes, steaks, eggs, rice, protein bars and some fish oil for sore knees. Try 1:3 ratio of protein: vegetables (the colourful, green leafy kinds, not the brown starchy potato kinds). And don’t boil the shit out of it either, keep it lightly steamed or grilled.
- Severe trauma or stress for prolonged periods can elevate blood cortisol levels (hence why you should practise box breathing and meditating often). The body being a biological organism doesn’t understand the difference between stress from combat, martial arts, crossfit, driving in rush hour, fighting with your partner, opening bills, practising voodoo in secret against your boss, losing your kid at the mall…it reacts the someway and dumps cortisol. Look at studies of PTSD symptoms between western kids aged 8-11 and child soldiers in Africa aged 8-11. Levels are almost identical, symptoms the same. Lifestyle completely different. There violence, horror, drug use, etc etc. Western kids – 12 school subjects, all different, 2-3 languages being learnt, 3-4 after school activities to make them ultra human, piano or art lessons, play dates with friends, weekend games or classes, and 200+ toys or games at home. Thats just their own immediate lives, it doesn’t include all of the stressors I wrote about above and more. When they removed the children from the war zone, stress markers dropped massively as did PTSD symptoms. When they removed all but a few toys, and one activity and a 3-5 subjects for the western kids, grades improved, as did energy, happiness, creativity, sleep quality and stress markers. There is a direct correlation between trying to handle everything and attacking the body with excitement and ending up burnt out, depressed, angry and medicated later in life.
- Excess body fat increases cortisol, and cortisol encourages more body fat. Take control of your carb intake and stress..
- Excessive drinking increase cortisol.
Basically Meditate, clean up your diet and keep your coffee intake to morning time so allow yourself to recover in the evening.
Ways to lower cortisol levels and down regulate
- Magnesium decreases cortisol after aerobic training, best taken immediately post training for the type of exercise we do. 500mg should be good, and stay away from Oxides and Citrates. I prefer Magnesium bisglycinate, taurate or malate. Bed time is also a great time to take another 500mg.
- Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Take a good quality fish oil. 5000mg of EPA and DHA a day will lower cortisol levels and improve inflammation management. Every evening please.
- Message and shaking meditation, stretching and breathing meditation all lower cortisol. Scientifically proven. Pre and post training – can also improve motivation.
- Laughing and smiling lower cortisol. It can also boost your morale and the morale of those around you – which is why I smile whenever training or working hard, alone or with others. Don’t be a miserable tit, smile.
- Vitamin C use – 4-6,000 mg a day will keep you healthy, wealthy and wise. Post training and evening time.
- Ashwaganda tea will sort you out nicely, evening time is best.
As you can see stimulant use is all about timing and understanding how to manipulate the other functions of the body to avoid negative effects on the body.
Step 1: Establish your health factors and lifestyle etc
Step 2: Remove caffeine (coffee or tea) from your diet for 2 weeks. (if on deployment, do this as soon as you get home to reset your clock and system)
Step 3: Take hold of up regulating and down regulating your body.
Step 4: Use caffeine to focus and drive your performance when you need it, not all the time for everything.
Then repeat steals 1-4.
Bonus read: Have a look at Cordyceps mushrooms and Lions mane, both have up regulating effects on the body without being stimulants so can be taken with less negative effects.
Lions mane improves cognitive function and focus – great for work or study etc.
Cordyceps improves nervous system function also myelin.
Read read read mudery ass friends.
But most importantly… put into practise what you read straight away. Paralysis by over analysis is a real thing and will just slow down your recovery.