Is there a benefit to quitting caffeine? Quitting coffee, or otherwise?
Caffeine can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. I was addicted to caffeine for much of my life. It started when I was a child, drinking several Dr Peppers a day, and continued into adulthood as I became reliant on green tea to help me work, and pre-workout supplements to help me work out.
Used properly, caffeine can be an invaluable tool. A modest dose of around 50 milligrams can improve alertness, mood, and other measures of cognitive functioning. Slightly higher dosages, around 100 milligrams, or 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight, can improve endurance. Unfortunately, caffeine doesn’t improve strength and power until you’re taking around 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, or well over 200 milligrams for most people, and as we’ll see, that’s more than people should usually be consuming.
Caffeine is surprisingly easy to get addicted to, and once you’re addicted, you’ll suffer all of the negative effects of addiction without enjoying the benefits of caffeine usage.
How Bad Is Caffeine Addiction?
In short, it’s worse than most people think. Quitting caffeine may be a good option for you.
Everyone knows that caffeine can disrupt your sleep, but few people realize just how easily or for how long. Even a single large dose of caffeine first thing in the morning—such as a double espresso or two cups of coffee—can measurably reduce the amount of time spent in deep sleep that night. This happens even despite the fact that the caffeine is almost entirely gone from your bloodstream by that time; its effects seem to last beyond the active life of caffeine itself.
Consuming as little as 1.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day is enough to start building up a tolerance for caffeine. That’s around 100 milligrams a day for most people, or just over one cup of coffee. Once you build up a tolerance, consuming caffeine will no longer give you any benefits, but will merely make you feel normal and temporarily hold off the effects of caffeine withdrawal, which also begins to occur once you’re habitually consuming at least 100 milligrams per day.
While the acute (that is, short-term) effects of caffeine are largely beneficial for physical health and fitness, the chronic effects are not. If you habitually consume more than 100 milligrams a day, you’ll have increased anxiety and chronically raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When your cortisol levels are elevated, you’ll die sooner. As if that wasn’t bad enough, higher cortisol levels can also cut your ability to recover from exercise in half.
With all that said, it's not about quitting caffeine forever, but habitual users should go on a one- to two-week caffeine detox every so often. Thankfully, quitting caffeine in one week can be accomplished with very little pain.
Fortunately, it only takes about nine days to get over a caffeine addiction and reset your tolerance, and the worst of the withdrawal symptoms will usually be behind you after two or three days.
Even better, there are a couple of things you can do to make the process easier and less painful.
Caffeine causes the brain to produce dopamine. Chronic caffeine use can deplete the brain’s stores of tyrosine and phenylalanine, two amino acids which act as building blocks for dopamine and adrenaline. This depletion is partly responsible for caffeine tolerance, as well as some of the more painful side effects of caffeine withdrawal—which is why research shows that phenylalanine and tyrosine depletion reduces the effectiveness of stimulants.
As such, it is unsurprising that anecdotally, many people find that supplementing either tyrosine or phenylalanine can make recovery from caffeine addiction (and probably addiction to other dopamine-producing drugs) faster and easier. Of the two, I recommend phenylalanine, in the form of DL-phenylalanine, over tyrosine. The chemical synthesis pathways goes like this: phenylalanine to tyrosine to L-DOPA to dopamine and adrenaline. Since each step is irreversible, taking phenylalanine will restore your tyrosine levels as well, but taking tyrosine won’t directly restore your phenylalanine levels.
The other thing you can do to make this process easier is replace your caffeine habit with another habit. According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, the seminal book on habit change, it’s almost impossible to simply get rid of a habit without replacing it with something else. It is far more effective to replace that habit with something else that you do at the same time and under the same circumstances as your old habit.
What this means for caffeine is that you should replace your usual caffeine source with a decaffeinated version of the same thing. This decaffeinated substitute should also be available from the same sources as whatever you’re used to consuming. So if you normally have coffee at home, instead have decaf at home. If you normally get Diet Coke from 7-Eleven, instead get caffeine-free Diet Coke if they have it; otherwise, go for diet root beer, which is the closest thing to decaffeinated diet cola.
The One-Week Caffeine Addiction Solution
Putting that all together, here’s the exact schedule you should follow for quitting caffeine in one week. Before you start, figure out what your substitute habit is going to be—decaf coffee, herbal tea, root beer, etc. If you normally make or drink it at home or the office, get enough to last you more than a week. Also get a bottle of DL-phenylalanine capsules.
Day one: Take 1,000 milligrams of DL-phenylalanine first thing in the morning, and another 1,000 milligrams around noon. Throw away any caffeine-containing products you have in your house. Start drinking your substitute beverage instead.
Day two: As on day one, take 1,000 milligrams of DLPA in the morning and 1,000 milligrams at noon. The morning of day two is the hardest for most people—once you go without caffeine that morning, it only gets easier from there.
Days three and four: Take 1,000 milligrams of DLPA in the morning and 500 milligrams at noon. By this point your caffeine cravings should be all but gone.
Days five and six: Take 500 milligrams of DLPA in the morning and 500 milligrams at noon.
Days 7–10: Take 500 milligrams of DLPA in the morning, but not at noon. By day seven, your tolerance is probably completely reset and your addiction is over, but you should keep going for 10 days just to be sure.
Day 11 and beyond: After 10 days, you can start having one caffeinated drink a day, in the morning, if you want to, as long as it has less than 100 milligrams of caffeine. Check this list to find the caffeine contents of various foods. You may also take 500 milligrams of DLPA either in the morning or around noon, as desired. Be aware that taking it with or shortly before caffeine will strengthen the effects of the caffeine.
Quitting caffeine and the withdrawals can be tough, but if you follow this system, you’ll only experience mild discomfort for the first two days. By day three, you’ll barely even miss caffeine. Within seven to 10 days, you’ll be over it all together and able to function at full capacity, without needing caffeine.