So how does caffeine affect us and how do we use it to improve energy and performance?

It best helps your performance when you DON’T use it all the time. Take note that I didn’t say that you never use it.  But I am going to talk about cutting back and using caffeine strategically. Why should you reduce your caffeine intake? It has to do with how stimulants affect the body and our energy level.

Let’s explore the effects of caffeine and how to use it to your advantage.

Firstly, I realize this is a sacred topic for many of us and a potentially touchy subject. The daily ritual of a hot cup of coffee or tea is incredibly important for many people. I get it – I’m with you – but before you walk away in disgust, hear me out.

Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant – in other words, it ramps the body up. Other stimulant drugs include cocaine and methamphetamine, substances that most of us consider being quite powerful.

Specifically, caffeine stimulates our sympathetic portion of the CNS, or what is often called the ‘fight or flight’ response.   This response literally gets us ready to fight an adversary or flee from danger. It increases muscle coordination, heart and breathing rates, and even our blood pressure. Certain areas of the brain get a cognitive boost. Blood flow is prioritized to the muscles. Caffeine also signals the body to release stored energy in the form of glucose so our body has energy for physical movement.

That all sounds pretty darn good for a demanding day in the mountains or a big race, right? It can be, but we don’t all react the same. Some of us will find ourselves jittery, hands shaking, and our brain scattered with caffeine. Not to mention, our bodies become accustomed to doses. Meaning you have to keep adding more to get the same effect.


What do you imagine happens to a body that gets that type of stimulation every day?

The body’s sympathetic system will keep ramping up and other bodily functions such as digestion become deprioritized. This constant stimulation wears the system down, requiring larger doses of caffeine to get the same effect (the classic addiction cycle!).[i]

Additionally, when stimulated by caffeine we recruit and burn more stored energy in the form of a short-lived metabolism boost. Our energy stores become depleted and our blood sugar drops, causing us to crash.   Have you ever experienced this around 10 or 11 am during your workday? Often, our first instinct is to reach for another cup of coffee or tea and maybe a sugary snack, causing another round of energy spikes and crashes.


This is where our caffeine use really starts to hinder us. Don’t let it control you. Instead:

  • Work towards drinking only one cup of coffee or green/black/matcha tea per day
  • Drink your caffeine early in the day and WITH food
  • Hydrate with water throughout the rest of the day
  • Eat protein with your snacks to help curb the potential energy spikes
  • Don’t add sugar to your drinks
  • Consider adding a quality fat to your drink such as cream, coconut oil etc
  • If you are a competitive athlete, train without using caffeine
  • Allow caffeine to be a performance boost on race day – if it’s even needed at all


Beyond the things mentioned above, there are many negative side effects that have been attributed to the use of caffeine. [ii] However, there have also been some small studies promoting the health benefits of coffee and tea. Many of these health benefits are attributed to the actual beans of coffee or leaves of tea.  The caffeine itself isn’t what makes these drinks beneficial for us. As I often say – let your body be your guide and decide for yourself.

I personally love the ritual of a hot drink and a few peaceful moments in the morning. Taking the time to slow down and enjoy it is probably the healthiest part of it all!

I just make my hot drinks 90% decaf.  Meaning 90% of the time I drink decaf and only once and a while do I choose a caffeinated drink.   I even keep a stash of decaf coffee and decaf black teas. I get all of the ritual and flavor profiles of the drinks I love without the extra kick that can throw me out of balance.  Then on certain days where I know, I need to perform more, such as writing a big report or having a big climbing day in the mountains I choose caffeine.

These days I get the full kick of any caffeine I drink and it feels like I have a mini superpower.   It’s funny how quickly we forget about this fun buzz.  Habitual caffeine drinkers are trapped drinking caffeine every day just to feel ‘normal’. 


I know it sounds crazy, but what if you could feel good every morning on your own- no magic drink or anything needed. 😉   Or what if you woke up tired in the morning and instead of masking that feeling you listened and let it inform you that you need to go to bed earlier that night?  It’s worth a try. 






[i] Staying Healthy With Nutrition, by Elson M Haas, MD


[ii] Affects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance




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