As you slurp down your third cup of joe for the day, I’m sure the title made you laugh because really who survives without coffee or maybe you’re on the new trendy matcha craze and it’s given you life.
I get it. I totally understand the need for that boost. But…
Hello, I’m Amanda and I do not drink coffee, I rarely use caffeine.
I adore the smell of coffee beans as I stroll in to a shop, but it never tickled my taste buds. It turns out my in frequent caffeine use has given me an edge on race day, let’s talk about why and what to try instead.Listen do I care if you drink a boatload of coffee? No.
Do I think it’s bad for you? Umm I eat pizza weekly, who am I to judge.
There has been more talk in the news of how heavily coffee crops are sprayed with pesticides, so maybe it’s something to consider from that angle, maybe.
Really what I want for you is not to NEED caffeine to be a real human. If you’re anything like my friend Anne, she’s basically Jekyll and Hyde every morning. On edge, cranky, uninterested in the world until she hears that first drip in the post. But once she’s half way through the first cup, her face changes, she smiles and you’re no longer afraid to be alone in the house with her.
Downside of Caffeine?
Most of the time when we’re hearing about the downside to caffeine it’s related to energy drinks. In fact, one study even showed those whacky colorful cans may lead to substance abuse, mental health problems, a higher diabetes risk, tooth decay, and kidney damage.
Most of that is due to the added sugars, but not all.
A Korean study also showed that caffeine dependency may:
- influence moods (not in the positive way, depression, anxiety)
- mess with your sleep, creating insomnia
- may also play a role in high blood pressure
- create indigestion
- potential reduced fertility
- worsen menopause symptoms
- adrenal fatigue
- bone loss
I already know that many of you have taken one look at this list and are like, UMMMM NO. Caffeine is not bad for me! I am going to assume you’re addicted to caffeine and probably don’t want to hear these things.Did you know caffeine dependency could be hurting your health? #themoreyouknow Click To Tweet
Let’s dive a little deeper on why these things happen:
Bone loss: the acid in caffeine has been directly tied to calcium loss. Runners already need to stay on top of bone health to prevent stress fractures.
Adrenal fatigue: Life is stressful. Marathon training is stressful. Combined we tend to have higher cortisol levels and caffeine often allows us to push through when our bodies are really craving rest. AND the body actually releases cortisol when you drink caffeine, what?! So you’re just piling on more stress by sending your levels high and low in unnatural rhythms.
Making you sad?! Research shows 5-HIA, an contributor to the production of serotonin is found in much higher quantities in the urine of coffee drinkers. OH NO! Our happy chemical is being peed out, instead of staying in the body, which is a problem for energy levels, mood stabilization and normal sleeping pattern regulation. So then you reach for your cup and create a horrible cycle.
Stomach Issues: Maybe you feel like coffee helps you move things along pre-run and that’s totally fine. But too much coffee can mean you need it to move your system, that’s disrupting your normal functions. Additionally it can aggravate existing digestive issues or potentially create acid reflux issues.
Caffeine Free Energy (Where to Find it)
All right, so say you’d like to ween yourself off of needing so much caffeine, but you still want a little perk now and then. Trust me once you’ve gotten away from stimulants, you’ll be surprised how very little it takes to get you going.
Get Good sleep
Snooze, how boring to even mention this, but it’s true so there you have it. The more you sleep, the better your hormone cycles which allow you to naturally wake in the morning, the more your muscles repair which leave you ready to rock and roll for your workout. In fact, runners actually need more sleep so you can’t skimp!
This little herb entered my life years ago thanks to the Vega Sport Pre-Workout supplement. About once a week, prior to long runs I started using a big of this and loved the way it made me feel energized without any kind of jitters.
One study, found that rhodiola increased endurance by 25% on rats in a swim trial. Now that’s pretty fabulous. It does this by increasing your Red Blood Cell count which means there is more available to transport oxygen in the blood. This has the added benefit of helping with post workout recovery too.
You can find it in a powder to add to smoothies, tea form or as noted in the Vega Sport (however, the new formula does contain caffeine as well :( so it’s a great natural herbal formula, but be aware of that.) Another actual pre-workout drink to consider, which is totally caffeine free is from Lotus.
Target Vitamin B
In general being low in vitamins can zap our energy. I actually was low in Vitamin D though I spend a ton of time outside and getting that info helped me to make some changes.
Staying on top of your blood work can be easy with a once a year “wellness” visit.
B12 is one of the most well known for an energy boost, which is because when it’s low you feel fatigued, muscles ache, you might be dizzy or have poor appetite and feel like it’s hard to concentrate.
Whole food options are a great way to get in vitamins, but sometimes you still need to supplement.
B12 options: eggs, wild caught salmon, lamb and cottage cheese.
B6 options: tuna, avocado, sunflower seeds, chicken
B1 options: black beans, lentils, seaweed
B2 options: almonds, tempeh, eggs
All foods that have additional benefits and are great to eat regardless!
This is another adaptogen that I learned about when trying balance my own coritsol levels. Numerous studies have shown it can improve mood and energy, but the exact mechanisms are still being studied.
Because it’s an adaptogen that means it acts differently in everyone’s body based on what they need. But the key thing seems to be that it balances hormones!
A 2009, Northumbria University study gave one group of athletes maca for 14 days and another a placebo. Each then completed a 40 km cycling course and the maca group significantly reduced their times while the placebo group remained the same.
Yup, the crazy runner said it. When you’re feeling totally bushed, just tell yourself you’ll take a 5 minute walk.
Surprising how this will pep you up, especially if you turn on a favorite song. Study after study has shown that moving around, especially in nature provide immediate mood and energy boosts. I think Tony Robbins would say “mood follows action.”Focus Your Breathing
So it turns out you could be tired because you aren’t getting enough oxygen. As we get stressed we do what I call shallow breathing, which is to start taking small breathes and that leads to not filling our lungs.
It’s one of the reasons people often walk out of yoga classes feeling almost euphoric. They started really breathing!
You don’t need a whole yoga session (though it can’t hurt), just try to focus on taking in 10 deep breathes where you fill air to your belly and not just in your rib cage.
Keep Drinking Water
Maybe you feel sluggish because you’re dehydrated. It’s super common, especially when we first wake up in the morning. This is going to sound crazy, but what if you reached for a big glass of sparkling H2O first thing instead of the coffee pot?
It’s not just going to make your skin look great, it’s going to ensure you feel better during your workouts too!
You absolutely don’t need to ditch your coffee all together or run screaming from the room when it’s offered. Instead, be aware of whether it’s becoming a crutch for you or if you’re even getting the effects of it any longer because you’ve become some used to the consistent amount.
I feel like it’s really important to note that as a runner, you get a massive bonus for not using caffeine daily.
When you do choose to use it before a workout, it’s literally like you’ve dumped rocket fuel in your tank and it can then truly help with endurance or speed or both! Of course if you choose to wait and use it only for race day, be aware that the caffeine also can cause your body to want to eh hem empty out faster. So test this on long runs first to ensure it doesn’t give you the dreaded trots.
Do you feel addicted to coffee?
How do you maintain your energy?
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