David Strittmatter

My learnings from optimizing caffeine intake for 1 year

Coffee, the favorite drink of the civilized world – Thomas Jefferson


  • At first glance, caffeine seems like a superweapon, but, as with almost everything in life, it entails some serious risks
  • Caffeine is literally a drug bearing the risk of adverse effects and addiction
  • Correctly used made use of, though, the risks can be counterbalanced

Practical advice:

  • Don’t consume more than 3 cups of coffee (300-400mg caffeine) per day
  • Don’t consume caffeine past lunch
  • Do take a break at least once per week

Dear friend,

The first time, I experimented with caffeine was in high school. I read that caffeine can boost physical performance, i.e. I could lift more weight in the gym. When I tried it out, though, that didn’t end well – I got really sick and almost had to quit the workout.

A not long time after, I learned that caffeine can boost also cognitive performance. So, I gave it another try and took a little caffeine before an exam. Well – that didn’t go well either. Even though I was a quite decent student in high school, I used to be nervous before each exam. The caffeine made that even worse.

After these setbacks, I consumed caffeine only when I went out with friends and drank my long drinks mixed with an energy drink like RedBull.

During the second half of my Bachelor’s degree, I gave it another shot. I bought a coffee when I had to work through a particular lecture, which was unbelievably boring. The caffeine greatly helped me to get through that course.

This experience made me witness first-hand the benefits of coffee/caffeine. Consequently, I started to experiment again more and more. For instance, during my Bachelor’s thesis, I used to drink 2 cups of black tea every morning. In San Diego, I made use of coffee to sustain my “never sleep longer than 7 am” habit. And today, after thousands of cups of coffee, I’m very close to my optimal “caffeine routine” optimizing my performance and counterbalancing the risks of caffeine intake.

But how does my caffeine/coffee routine look like? How much do I consume? When do I consume? And what are the associated risks according to science and my personal experience? This is what’s today’s article about.

Why we should consume coffee

There’re plenty of reasons why people drink coffee: It makes us feel awake in the morning; we get in a positive mood; it’s a social ritual; we get an energy boost; …

Those are all good reasons, but coffee/caffeine can do so much more if made use of correctly:

  • It enhances our creativity and hence our problem-solving skills
  • It improves our reaction time
  • It makes dully tasks (more) fun
  • It significantly increases our physiological performance
  • It boosts our memory
  • It makes us behave more self-confident and extroverted

At first glance, caffeine seems like a superweapon, but, as with almost everything in life, it entails some serious risks.

The risk of habitual caffeine consumption

Caffeine is literally a drug: A substance that can produce both a physical state-altering effect and a consciousness and perception-altering effect, while simultaneously bearing the risk of adverse effects and addiction.

The first thing we experience quickly when consuming caffeine regularly is the formation of tolerance. That implies that we’ll need more and more caffeine to achieve the same effect every day. Our very first cup of coffee will have a significantly stronger effect than a cup of coffee after weeks of regular consumption. As a consequence, caffeine consumption can lead to a vicious circle and hence to the consumption of amounts that aren’t healthy anymore.

The second adverse effect relates to sleep. When we consume caffeine, our body’s adenosine is inhibited, sleep pressure is reduced, and we feel less tired. That’s the reason why we feel more energized and motivated.

At the same time, though, our sleep quality suffers: If we have too much caffeine in our blood when we go to sleep, our “sleep pressure” is still reduced and, thus, we will have not only a hard time falling asleep but also less deep sleep.

This effect can also lead to a vicious circle: (1) We consume too much or too late caffeine, (2) hence sleep badly and are tired, (3) and the next day, we drink even more and/or later caffeine to counterbalance the lack of energy, (4) making our sleep even worse.

Thirdly, caffeine can also be counterproductive to your productivity. As I described to you in the introduction, too much caffeine can lead to hyperstimulation: We become unfocused, want to multitask, cannot focus on one thing at a time, and hence waste our precious time with other things, e.g. daydreaming.

Additionally, there’re many more disadvantages of caffeine, such as high blood pressure, increased excretion of micro-nutrients, dehydration, …

My coffee routine

Now, how do I consume caffeine/coffee, and how do I counterbalance the adverse effects?

First, I drink 2 cups of coffee a day with ~100mg of caffeine each. From my extensive research on coffee and its caffeine content, we can roughly say that filter coffee made with 12g of Arabica coffee has about 100mg of caffeine. In the Western world, most coffee is made with Arabica beans. Sometimes, though, you will get a mixture of Arabica and Robusta beans, which have a higher (~2x) caffeine content. I use my AeroPress to make coffee (filter coffee). If you rather enjoy drinking espresso or variations of it (Lattes, Cappuccinos, etc.), you can assume ~60mg caffeine per Espresso (shot).

Second, I drink my last coffee at least 30 minutes before lunch. That’s due to 3 reasons: (1) From my experience, drinking coffee after lunch is too late and will result in a significant worsening of our sleep. Many people drink their last coffee/espresso/coke/etc. in the afternoon or even later. That’s fine because the adverse effects of sleep deprivation are counterbalanced by the caffeine intake, but it’s not optimal. (2) Coffee intake right before/after lunch inhibits our micro-nutrient resorption. (3) Drinking my second coffee before lunch greatly helps me to prevent a midday low.

Third, I pause my coffee consumption once per week to (partially) reset my caffeine tolerance.

In sum, the amount, the timing, and the break of caffeine greatly help to make use of the great benefits of this substance while simultaneously keeping the adverse effects to a minimum.

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