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Giving up caffeine, Part 2

  • September 19, 2022

In last week’s Part 1, I shared why I gave up caffeine for good in 2010, and the major benefits I’ve seen in my health, stress levels, energy, and anxiety. Today, I’ll share what my relationship with caffeine looks like long-term, other ways I add productivity and focus into my day, and how you can take on your own “caffeine holiday” to examine your relationship with coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

Me + caffeine today

I can’t claim to be 100% caffeine-free, but the amounts I consume are tiny. I drink a coffee alternative called MUD/WTR, which is a cacao, chai, and functional mushroom blend. It has around 15 mg per cup (compared to 95 mg in an 8-ounce cup of coffee, or 330 mg in a Starbucks grande). The MUD gives me a noticeable burst of productivity and focus from the Lion’s Mane mushroom, but I don’t notice any jittery or anxious effects. I stick to just one cup a day, usually around 9 AM (immediately post-workout) to be safe.

I often order decaf Americanos in my travels, either iced or hot depending on the climate, but sometimes there’s too much caffeine in those for me. (Decaf coffee does contain some caffeine—usually between 2 and 15 mg, but it’s highly variable. I can tell after a third of a cup if I need to stop drinking it, because I start to get jittery.) If I want to make decaf at home, I use water-processed decaf beans from a local roaster and brew it in a French press.

I don’t do any pre-workout supplement, and I don’t do any caffeinated coffee, ever. Not even if I’m super-tired. Especially not if I’m doing media or anything where I need my brain to be functioning at its peak. Now that I’m off it, I perform much better without it.

I also don’t drink other caffeinated beverages like soda or energy drinks, obviously—and I read labels carefully as they’re adding caffeine to all kinds of things these days, including water. I’ve never found caffeine in cacao to be an issue, but I’m also not a big chocolate person. And the only teas I drink are herbal, because black or green teas also contain too much caffeine for me.

Boosting focus, productivity, and energy

I still have plenty of energy, focus, and productivity without caffeine, but I’ve found a few things really help me along the way.

  • Lion’s Mane. This functional mushroom can be taken in supplement form, or found in teas or coffee alternatives. It’s non-stimulating and non-addictive, but I notice a significant focus boost when I take it.
  • LMNT electrolytes. Taking this sodium-based electrolyte supplement makes a huge difference in my overall energy. My whole-foods based diet is relatively low in sodium, and I stay active. Adding a packet or two of LMNT to my water produced an immediate and noticeable improvement in energy levels for my gym sessions and hiking. I’ve been using it year-round for three years now, and when I stop using it for a few days, I absolutely notice a difference.
  • “Focus” playlists on Spotify. Binaural beats use different sound frequencies to align with your brain waves. Binaural beats in the Gamma frequency (higher frequency beats) can help with increased cognitive flexibility, attention to detail, focus, and divergent thinking (a marker of creativity). Try searching for a “focus” mix on Spotify or YouTube; I put them on in the background while I work.
  • Brain training. I love apps that help me “train” my brain. My favorite is Lumosity, which requires a subscription. When I need a break from writing or emails, I’ll take 10 minutes and play their games, which are fun and keep me agile. I love the idea of increasing neuroplasticity and keeping my brain spry as I age.
  • Sleep. I’ve talked endlessly about my evening routine and sleep habits, because getting 8-1/2 hours of restful sleep really is a superpower. I’d be shocked if giving up caffeine doesn’t dramatically improve your sleep, just sayin’.

Genetic testing

I mentioned that genetic testing helped me identify that I’m a slow metabolizer of caffeine. These tests (like 23andMe) can measure production of an enzyme called CYP1A2. If you don’t produce much of that enzyme, your liver will be ineffective at metabolizing caffeine, which will result in slower metabolism. Those who produce a large amount will not be nearly as caffeine-sensitive.

This testing can help you better understand your own context, and can provide a helpful barometer (combined with listening to your body) to help you determine how well caffeine may work in your body—and perhaps provide the impetus or encouragement for your own caffeine holiday.

Start your own experiment

In the right context and use, caffeine may be a perfectly healthy or even beneficial substance for you—your genetics play a big role in this, as do your habits and health context. The trouble is, usage tends to creep as our bodies adjust to the effect, and it may provide more stress than your body is capable of effectively recovering from.

Caffeine holidays a few times a year are a good way to reset, evaluate your context and needs, and see if you can find other ways to boost energy and focus that don’t require consuming a stimulant. If you want to evaluate your own relationship with caffeine, start with a Whole30-esque 30-day elimination. Go as strict as you’d like—for my first elimination back in 2010, I didn’t even drink decaf for those 30 days, as I wanted ZERO caffeine in my system. (Herbal teas are a nice morning replacement.)

You can go cold turkey—but note that it might be uncomfortable, and you may find yourself struggling for a few days to perform at work and in life. You can also prep for this by ramping down your caffeine intake slowly over the course of a week or two, by either cutting consumption in total, and/or mixing caffeinated coffee with half decaf and adjusting the proportions closer to 100% decaf as the days go on.

Use a journal to track your sleep, energy, mood, focus, and other factors (like stress) to see how your break from caffeine may be positively impacting your system. And if/when you do reintroduce it, start off small, attempting to reap the benefits with as small a dose as possible.

In summary, going caffeine-free was yet another self-experiment designed to help me level up my health and happiness, and evaluate my relationship with a substance I thought I needed to stay productive. Let me know if you decide to take on your own caffeine self-experiment, and what tricks you’ve found to help you stay productive and energetic that don’t involve pounding another cup of coffee.

XO MU

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