In January, 2020, I set a resolution to go the entire year without drinking any caffeine. I was used to drinking several cups of coffee and sodas every day, so the initial change was a shock to my system. Once I got used to it, however, life without caffeine was smooth sailing.
I had expected my energy levels to drop, but they stayed about the same. I was still able to focus just as well as always, and I was saving plenty of money by dropping my caffeine habit. At first, cutting caffeine even reduced my anxiety and improved my sleep.
Unfortunately, not all of these benefits lasted. My anxiety got worse as 2020 went on (whose didn’t?) and my sleep schedule got worse as well. In addition, I found myself missing the taste of coffee more and more throughout the year.
As 2020 wrapped up, I became increasingly ambivalent about life without caffeine. Had dropping coffee changed my life like I initially thought, or had it really made no difference?
Two days ago, I decided that it was finally time to give caffeine another try.
Truthfully, I was a bit scared to jump right back into highly-caffeinated coffee after a year without it. In order to ease myself in, I decided to start with low-caffeine white tea instead.
On Sunday, I had a cup of pomegranate-flavored white tea. The caffeine content is only one-quarter (or less) that of a normal coffee. I was surprised to discover that drinking it had no discernable effect on me whatsoever.
The next day — yesterday — I upped the ante: two cups of pomegranate-flavored white tea. That’s right, I was really going wild.
Still though, nothing noticeable. I started to wonder whether caffeine had any effect on me at all.
My First Cup of Coffee
Today, I decided it was finally time to enter the big leagues: my first cup of coffee. I went with a French roast, black, which is what I always drank before my caffeine hiatus. Unlike the tea, this drink hit me hard.
The first thing to surprise me was the taste. Coffee is way more bitter than I remembered. I had missed the taste of coffee a lot over the past couple months, but this honestly didn’t taste great at all.
As I drank the cup, I gradually got used to the taste, but I still didn’t like it. Even now, a few hours later, I still have a gross aftertaste in my mouth.
As I finished the coffee, I started to get extremely jittery. I was honestly not expecting any physical reaction at all, and was shocked to find myself fidgeting constantly.
One of the things I was most curious about was how the cup of coffee would affect my running. I’ve seen a couple of studies that show caffeine providing a huge boost in running ability. The thing about these studies, though, is that the subjects are always people who regularly drink caffeine. I wondered what effect caffeine would have on someone who just took a year off.
The result was one of the worst runs of my life, and I write that without exaggeration. I ran at a 9:28 per mile pace, which is normally well within my “easy” range. It felt closer to an all-out effort.
My breathing was difficult from the very beginning, and I could feel my heart pounding against my chest the entire run. I was sweating more than normal, and couldn’t wait for the 4-mile run to be over.
Obviously this wasn’t a very scientific test: there’s a sample size of one with no control and endless unaccounted for variables. With that said, it was certainly enough to convince me to never run after drinking coffee again.
The final thing that I experienced from this cup of coffee was a headache. It isn’t the worst headache in the world, but it isn’t pleasant. I rarely ever get headaches these days, so I’m fairly confident this is from the coffee.
I woke up this morning fully ready to go back to being a daily caffeine drinker. My low-caffeine teas over the past two days had tasted good and had no noticeable effect on me. I thought that cutting caffeine had been an interesting experiment, but I honestly thought that it was time to end it.
Instead, my cup of coffee today was awful. It tasted bad, it ruined my run, and it left me with a growing headache. Frankly, it has renewed my resolve to leave behind coffee — and perhaps all caffeine — for good.
Before drinking my coffee, I was already planning to write an article about the experience, but I expected it to go in a very different direction. I thought I’d love the taste, and I was hoping that it would dramatically increase my running speed. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.
I’m not going to turn into an anti-caffeine evangelist — if you enjoy your coffee, more power to you. However, I’m very glad I tried this year off. It helped me completely rethink my relationship with the world’s most ubiquitous psychoactive substance.