Reader To Reader: Coffee or not coffee?

Does coming off caffeine help or hinder your running? Here's what you thought


Posted: 4 March 2007
by Jane Hoskyn


Is giving up caffeine really worth the pain? Plenty of you responded to my question, even though last week saw me struck down by a brain malfunction that meant Reader to Reader included a link to the wrong forum thread. That's what coffee withdrawal does to your head...

"I'm now half way through my second week of caffeine withdrawal, and it sucks. I've partly given up my daily one/two-cup boost to resensitise myself, so that a tiny bit of coffee will have a greater effect before a long run, and partly for general health reasons. But I feel sluggish and my work is suffering. Is there really a point to this caffeine-free lark?"Jane Hoskyn aka e17 pixie

Your best answers

  • Resensitising really works, so brave it out
    I abstain from caffeine now, except on race day. I don't miss it. You need to find other ways to make the brain "buzz" and fired up. Two weeks cold turkey is not that long. Brave it out. – Tri Taffia
  • Cut back, then use it sparingly for long runs
    I think the 'best of both worlds' option is a good idea. Slowly wean yourself off caffeine in normal daily activity, then have a burst of coffee just before selected long runs to maximise the stimulant effect. – Respectthestupidity
  • Life's too short to cut it out completely
    I drink loads of coffee most of the time, and don't get withdrawal symptoms at all when I go through phases of drinking hippy-tea instead of coffee. However, I suspect that if I consciously "gave up" coffee for some sort of misguided health reasons, I'd convince myself that I had dreadful physical and psychological symptoms. Realistically, in the overall healthy-eating picture, your caffeine intake is very small-print; in your situation I'd be saying "Life's too short to feel like this when the cure is in a packet in my kitchen." – Velociraptor
  • Your lifestyle is healthy - don't overdo the self-denial
    I adore coffee, but stick to a max of 3 cups per day and don't see the harm in it. I drink 2-3 litres of water a day, get well over the minimum requirement of fruit, veg and fibre, eat good-quality protein such as salmon, chicken, 0% fat dairy, Food Doctor bran bagels by the bucketload, etc. I never touch c**p such as chips, pastry etc and have about 4 squares of chocolate a week. So what the heck, after that lot I deserve a little treat, and coffee's mine. I need one in the morning to get me going, then a couple more throughout the day are just a pick-me-up, including one before a run to give me a little zing. And if some one wants to tell me it's bad for me and I shouldn't drink it, they know what they can do! – Little lizard
  • There is life beyond caffeine – but yes it works
    As a teenager I used to drink a can of Diet Coke every day at lunchtime, six days a week. Come Sunday I'd have a killer headache that ibuprofen wouldn't touch – I had to sleep it off. Since then I've stopped having caffeine, and it really doesn't bother me. I may feel sluggish and run like a beginner, but maybe I've accepted that as the norm. I do however use it when I need to perform, at work or racing. It certainly does the job at work (you can always tell when I'm stressed 'cos there's a bottle of Diet Coke on my desk); as for racing I can't say for certain. There is life beyond caffeine... – Pink
  • Coffee rules, and the rules of coffee
    Coffee is a fantastic invention, and I certainly enjoy a mid-morning mug. If you're cutting back, why not try gradually increasing the proportion of decaff? This can be done quite easily if you use instant coffee. My personal rules for coffee drinking are: Never have coffee ith a meal, because caffeine inhibits absorption of iron, a very important mineral for runners; Never buy coffee from a vending machine – serious coffee drinkers avoid vending machines in the same way connoisseurs of fine wines shun meths; Go for Fairtrade coffee where possible; If you have a latte, make sure it is made with skimmed milk; The first mug of the day can be as strong as you like – if a second mug is required, it has to be a decaf, and don't go beyond two; Don't have coffee within four hours of your anticipated bedtime, just in case you have trouble sleeping; Only add milk if you're having instant coffee, otherwise take it black. – kc
  • My withdrawal symptoms never stopped
    I drink 4-6 cups a day, usually two cappuccinos and the rest instant. I tried to give up in 2003, went cold turkey. Lasted four months and it just didn't get any better. It was headaches, craving, feeling bad – day in, day out. Going back on it was the only answer. I have a can of Red Rooster (like Red Bull) before a race. – Welsh Alex
  • Caffeine's harmful effects are overstated
    I was advised by a GP, in the light of a couple of conditions allegedly made worse by caffeine, to totally eliminate it from my diet. So, no coffee, tea or chocolate (yes, it contains a little) and no caffeine-containing fizzy drinks. I tapered off the coffee over a couple of weeks. I continued caffeine-free for two and a half months. Neither condition was improved in any way at all. I'm now back on real coffee, but I could easily live without the caffeine. – Skinny Old Geezer
  • Caffeine can mess with your race pace
    I normally drink 2-3 cups of tea a day, not coffee. More of a refreshment thing. For last year's Windsor HM, I experimented by cutting tea completely for a couple of weeks, then Red Bull pre-race. Bad result all round. If the race had been one mile long, I'd have been in with a shot for a massive PB. But by mile 2 I was lactic loaded and struggling. Never doing that again! – FINgers
  • Caffeine can mess with your blood sugar
    Cutting down on caffeine is good for you, in my experience. If I drink just one or two cups of coffee in the morning every day for about three weeks, it starts to interfere with my sleep quality, mood and blood sugar levels – and hence with my endurance. I now try to restrict my intake to a cup of good coffee on a Saturday morning. I can't drink it before exercise that lasts longer than about 90 mins, as it causes a blood sugar crash that I won't recover from, no matter how well I fuel myself. It also makes my heart race, which I don't like, as well as turbo charging my digestive system! – tattiefritter
  • Caffeine must be harmful, or why would withdrawal feel so bad?
    To those who say "what's the big deal about caffeine?" I'd reply, if caffeine isn't harmful, why do we feel so bad when we stop? When I gave up my 1-2 daily espressos I felt so bad I took to my bed for 48 hours. On the third day I had only a slight headache; on the fourth day I felt great, and did a run so enjoyable I still remember it. I occasionally succumb for a few days when deadlines loom, then stop again, which gives me a headache I can function with for a day or two. Incidentally, coffee also makes my arthritis worse. – Chouette
  • Runners deserve their coffee indulgence
    As runners we are all already doing so much to improve the condition of our bodies, our health and our general wellbeing. I see no reason to deny ourselves such small indugences. I won't be binning my espresso machine just yet. – Mudmonster
  • The joys of your first post-cold-turkey coffee...
    I drink three or occasionally four mugs a day. I went cold turkey about 18 months ago as part of a detox, and was the most miserable creature on the planet for three days. After that I felt OK. The day after the detox ended, I got a venti Starbucks black coffee around 8am. I was still wired at 1pm! It was brilliant. I love my coffee and would only give it up if a doctor told me it would improve a serious condition (eg my father gave it up when fighting cancer and can now take it or leave it). – kenobie
  • How's this for cold turkey?
    I drink between 17 and 20 a day. I stopped today after counting the cups last week and getting a fright. But water is just so wrong... – Stump
  • A little of what you fancy...
    Carry on and enjoy. One or two cups a day is hardly an addiction. A little of what you fancy does you good! Good luck, and keep running. – Steven Rose


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