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Should You Stop Drinking Coffee (Caffeine) the Week Before a Race?

Listen, we all do crazy things leading up to a big race or event. The truth is, many of us decide to cut things out of our normal routines the week of, or the week before. However, changing things up can do more harm than good if you haven’t taken the time to think it out properly.

Truth is, caffeine is somewhat of an oddity. Its addictive nature can somewhat be attributed to its ability to fit perfectly into the brain’s adenosine receptors. Let me get this out of the way right now, I am not a doctor… but Google is.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a Central Nervous System Stimulant and Methylxanthine. The physiologic effect of caffeine is by means of Central Nervous System Stimulation. The chemical classification of caffeine is Xanthines.

Credit: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/spl/data/7916abfc-53c9-46ce-ab86-00013bc0d10c/7916abfc-53c9-46ce-ab86-00013bc0d10c.xml

Molecular Formula: C8H10N4O2

caffeine-raceweek

An article on the US National Library of Medicine indicates that Caffeine causes most of its biological effects via antagonizing a bunch of adenosine receptors: A1, A2A, A3, and A2B. When this happens, it affects functions such as sleep, cognition, learning, and memory. These adenosine receptors are colocalized and interact with the dopamine receptors in the brain.

Caffeine causes most of its biological effects via antagonizing all types of adenosine receptors (ARs): A1, A2A, A3, and A2B and, as does adenosine, exerts effects on neurons and glial cells of all brain areas. In consequence, caffeine, when acting as an AR antagonist, is doing the opposite of activation of adenosine receptors due to removal of endogenous adenosinergic tonus. Besides AR antagonism, xanthines, including caffeine, have other biological actions: they inhibit phosphodiesterases (PDEs) (e.g., PDE1, PDE4, PDE5), promote calcium release from intracellular stores, and interfere with GABA-A receptors. Caffeine, through antagonism of ARs, affects brain functions such as sleep, cognition, learning, and memory, and modifies brain dysfunctions and diseases: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Epilepsy, Pain/Migraine, Depression, Schizophrenia. In conclusion, targeting approaches that involve ARs will enhance the possibilities to correct brain dysfunctions, via the universally consumed substance that is caffeine.

Credit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164566

When you cut the coffee from your routine, the body will start to go through withdrawals. Depending on your daily intake, withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to more than a month. These symptoms are generally caused by an increase in adenosine and a drop in dopamine causing an imbalance. The symptoms?

  • Headaches: A caffeine headache usually starts behind the eyes and then moves up the front of the head.
  • Sleepiness: This just isn’t your normal tiredness, this is sitting up straight but still can’t keep your eyes open tiredness.
  • Irritability: Everyone and everything gets on your last nerve. It’s best just to lock yourself in your room during this stage.
  • Lethargy: Forget about productivity at this stage because you’ll be unmotivated to do anything from the feeling of the lack of energy.
  • Constipation: Caffeine stimulates the bowel, so without its daily dose the colon gets a little cranky too.
  • Depression: Caffeine withdrawal can take away all hope for living. Temporary blues are one thing, but if you already struggle with depression this could be a big issue.
  • Muscle Pain, Stiffness, Cramping: If you normally have some caffeine prior to exercise then during caffeine withdrawal you could feel as though your muscles have weights strapped to them.
  • Lack of Concentration: Forget school, studying, brain surgery, or jet engine repair during this stage of withdrawal.
  • Flu-like Symptoms: Stuffy nose, blocked sinuses, and sinus pressure have all been reported by people withdrawing from caffeine.
  • Insomnia: Some people actually can’t sleep when going through caffeine withdrawal.
  • Nausea: Some people can’t even think about food the first couple days of withdrawal which compounds the feeling of lethargy.
  • Anxiety: In some people, caffeine actually causes anxiety, but in others, withdrawing from the drug can cause feelings on anxiety and even panic attacks have been reported by some.
  • Brain Fog: Withdrawal can cause some people to experience brain fog which is described as the difficulty of having coherent thoughts, difficulty thinking, and the difficulty of doing common tasks.
  • Dizziness: Caffeine withdrawal can cause some people to lose their sense of equilibrium.
  • Heart Rhythm Abnormalities: Since caffeine also stimulates the heart muscle, some people experience changes in their heart rhythm during withdrawal. Both low blood pressure and even palpitations have been reported.

Credit: http://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-withdrawal-symptoms-top-ten

If quitting the cup is on your list of things to do prior to a race, it absolutely should not be done the week before. Your body will require time to readjust to the caffeine deficiency and a week will likely not be enough.

If you are dead set on eliminating coffee or caffeine from your diet, you should take a manageable approach. If you gradually eliminate caffeine from your diet, you are more likely to reduce the withdrawal symptoms associated with a quick quit. Additionally, standard pain medications like Tylenol, Advil, etc can eliminate the headaches and muscle soreness associated with quitting.

Should you cut out caffeine? Maybe, the introduction of any chemical into the body that manipulates how the body works and functions can be bad. However, quitting the week of a race is probably even worse. As always, talk to a doctor if quitting is your thing…

Note: I love coffee

About Joe DiFiglia

Fitness and sport enthusiast. Spartan Race Junky. I have been a martial artist since the age of 4 and addicted to anything challenging. Years of Martial Arts training provides the ability to keep going when my body really wants to quit.