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More Than Just A Stimulant

Contributor Bio

Alex Tarnava is the CEO of Drink HRW, and the primary inventor of the open-cup hydrogen tablets. Alex runs the clinical outreach program for our company, working with over a dozen universities coordinating research. Alex has also published research of his own. You can find it on his ResearchGate. Additionally, he has been interviewed for many prominent publications, such as Entrepreneur and Forbes, and on many popular Podcasts. You can find all of his interviews and articles on his media page.

More Than Just A Stimulant


More than just a stimulant

Very few molecules, foods or practices get as much media attention and as many binary positions on how it is “dangerous” or has “amazing benefits” as caffeine. I would put the media coverage on caffeine in the same category as alcohol and eggs. This is largely due to how widely it is used, and the conflicting data in single studies. We tend to overreact to things we view as important to our own lives and journalists are no different; especially when they know somethings popularity will get them a nice headline.

Due to its popularity and the attention it gets, caffeine was an easy sell to the marketing team. EVERYONE uses caffeine. Or almost everyone does. In 2008, it was estimated that 87% of the US population consumed caffeine daily with an average intake of 193 mg per dayi, and I would be surprised if that number has not risen since, both in population percentage and dosage consumed.

Call me a contrarian or a hipster, but popularity has never been a good enough reason for me to pursue something. Common use to me is irrelevant, especially if I am going to put my name behind it and market the benefits. While “common use” perked the interest in the marketing plan, the benefits of caffeine and the length of time I have followed it were the contributing factor to include it as an essential.

In fact, my own personal roller coaster with caffeine served to slow down the launch, as I dove back into the empirical evidence to best view the topic objectively, and not with my bias towards a current healthy intake or fear of others making similar mistakes that I did in the past. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to follow strict protocols with caffeine. While it can be a fantastic molecule providing numerous benefits when used appropriately, it has the potential to cause harm, both acute and long term, when abused.

Previous Concerning Caffeine Addiction

The excitement my team may have felt in learning I wanted to add something as popular as caffeine may diminish when they read what I have to write. Typically, businesses don’t “fear monger” about the potential dangers of what they are trying to sell. It’s a stipulation I could not do without, as I believe caffeine has many benefits, but cannot ignore the potential dangers, including but not limited to potential cardiac issues, sleep issues, and addiction, especially considering I experienced them myself.

A few things contributed to a dangerous caffeine addiction when I was younger, roughly when I was 19-20 years old, 14-15 years ago. First, since I didn’t have a “day job” (I worked late afternoons until around 10-11pm at night), I didn’t need to wake up at any given time. I’m already a bit of a night owl, something I will talk about in an upcoming series on sleep, and given my age and appetite for night life I began living more throughout the night and less during the day.

Lack of sunlight and an increasingly unhealthy sleep pattern was further compounded by an increase of responsibility with my business, necessitating me to be active during the mornings and throughout the day. Unfortunately, my increased activity wasn’t necessary every day and was only required once or twice a week. Given my sleep habits which were actually become unhealthier due to the discovery of Wikipedia which kept me intrigued often until well past sunrise, I used caffeine to fuel my days.

At first, I started drinking double espressos and red bulls, and then moved to “quadruple” espressos. My “busy days” would mean I was functioning on 1-2 hours of sleep, and my youth and arrogance meant I was not willing to compromise on anything I wanted to do. Quickly, the sheer volume of energy drinks and quad espressos did a number on my stomach, and I moved to caffeine pills. By that time, I was consuming in excess of 3-5 g of caffeine a day. Thinking back, I am quite horrified on the damage I potentially did.

As caffeine is habituating, the same dose was no longer doing the same magic for me. When I attempted to increase my dose further, I began experiencing heart palpitations. Scaling back my dosage led to lethargy and depression. I tried to quit cold turkey multiple times and failed. Every time I quit, my body would shut down and I would sleep 16-18 hours a day before giving up a few days in. I visited a doctor at a walk-in clinic and was advised to ween myself off, not quit. I tried a few aggressive attempts to cut back, and each time I was met with the same lethargy and depression as quitting cold turkey.

At least a couple of years or more had gone by and I was still in the same pattern. Finally, during Christmas holidays one year when I knew I could struggle through and sleep for a couple of weeks, I quit cold turkey for at least a year if not longer. It wasn’t until I accidentally consumed caffeine in a pre-workout quite some time later (I missed it on the label) that I realized I experienced the same rush of energy from consumption I hadn’t since the beginning. This began my second stage with caffeine, one of experimentation and attempt at understanding.

Whereas during the height of my addiction I kept popping caffeine pills like candy right until a few hours before bed, my next period of caffeine consumption (which has lasted until now) was much more restrained, controlled, and deliberate. The last 8-10 years I have made sure to do my best not to consume more than 400 mg a day. I do my best not to consume any caffeine after noon, or early afternoon at the latest, which seems to be confirmed as the latest time to consume by sleep experts, such as Matthew Walker.

Importantly, I make sure to cycle off and not take any caffeine for 2-3 days once every month or so, to make sure that my body can function fine without it. In my mid 20’s I would cycle on caffeine for a month and then take at least a month off. While I have stopped this practice, I still will cycle off for days at a time or reduce my dosage some days quite frequently. While this routine is not based on empirical evidence, I have found it to be quite effective for myself. So, after my early life scares, why have I continued to consume caffeine? The benefits, in my opinion, outweigh the risks. Especially since now I am so keenly aware of the risks.

Caffeine and Athletic Performance

There is a reason caffeine is present in almost every pre-workout. It works, and it works immediately. In fact, in many pre-workouts it may be the ONLY thing that works. Caffeine can show a benefit in performance after a single dose whether it be muscle reflexes, prolonged exercise, high intensity training, combat sports or even a sprint.iiiiiivvviviiviii

Very few other compounds can increase performance acutely, with probably the best studied sport supplement creatine needing a week of loading or even a month of maintenance to see significant performance increases.ixx Even illegal performance enhancing drugs, like anabolic steroids, having little to no benefit after a single use. This puts caffeine in a rare class of acute and significant performance benefits, although there is some emerging evidence that hydrogen water may also provide acute benefits for exercise performance.xi

Caffeine is considered so effective that some organizations such as the NCAA have it listed as a prohibited substance.xii This is not surprising, as caffeine has shown to be effective across the board, with very positive results in high intensity trainingxiiixivxvxvixvii, moderate and mixed results in strength trainingxviiixix and potentially very impactful benefits in endurance trainingxxxxi due to caffeine’s ability to trigger the body to burn fat as a fuel, preserving glycogen stores.xxii Importantly, at least one trial has shown that caffeine increased exercise endurance whereas the same dose of caffeine in coffee did not.xxiii

Caffeine, Fat Burning, and Metabolism

It is really hard to find a diet pill or fat burner that doesn’t rely on caffeine. In fact, many “proprietary blends” are just numerous forms of caffeine with something like cayenne pepper sprinkled in. It’s a great marketing tactic to make something that costs a few bucks and charge $60, or sometimes even more. Slap some wicked label with a bunch of flames, link to a couple shredded models, and sell away. It is no surprise that the first FTC case that emerged earlier this year regarding fake Amazon reviews was against dodgy diet pills. As I’ve alluded before we have been crafting our own fat burner, something we have been experimenting with and researching for 2+ years now. However, it relies on much more than caffeine, the price for the premium ingredients is orders of magnitude higher, and it is still not a miracle.

So why do diet pills rely on caffeine? Caffeine definitely aids in weight loss, that said the benefits may only be acute. For instance, when ingested directly before exercise caffeine may increase fat burning by as much as 30%,xxiv which is why it could potentially be a great aid for endurance athletes. This benefit seems to continue even after exercise has ended.xxv Caffeine has been studied as a thermogenic aid outside of exercise with beneficial findingsxxvixxviixxviii with other studies showing a benefit in resting metabolic rate.xxixxxxxxxixxxii

Limitations regarding the use of caffeine for weight loss include its more prominent effectiveness in the young than the old,xxxiii and that it unfortunately seems to work better in thin participants than those who are obesexxxiv and as tolerance is built, its benefits may wear off.xxxv Anecdotally, in my mid 20’s when I would cycle on and off caffeine, I found marked improvements in weight loss, whereas now when I stop taking it, I simply experience weight gain.

Caffeine and Neuroprotection

Anyone who knows me knows I am quite worried about my mind. Really, it is everything, our memories, our personality, our existence. The reason I have risked sliding back into dangerous addiction (and the risk is not that great anymore) is the potential benefits of caffeine as a neuroprotective agent.xxxvixxxvii Caffeine has shown to have beneficial effects in models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,xxxviiixxxixxlxli although better human studies are needed. Caffeine was also the most promising small molecule candidate in one study examining protective effects of stopping protein misfolding.xlii

Caffeine as an Essential

All of the above could be some ad hoc justification to use something that provides myself with a stimulatory effect, that I ultimately may have continued using anyways. It’s impossible to know. That said, in something as ubiquitous as caffeine, it is important to know how it interacts with your health. Thankfully, at reasonable doses it seems to be safe and the evidence suggests it could come with many potent and important benefits.

I have no interest in dressing up caffeine in slick packaging and charging large margins. Whether the evidence justifies it as an essential or the fact that virtually everyone uses it does; or a combination of the two, I felt compelled to offer it to all of you. That is why we have added it to our “essential” category, at a price where we technically lose money. When purchasing hydrogen tablets, or a qualifying Elite Biohacking item, simply add “CAFFEINE” to your cart for $5 for a bottle of 60 capsules, 100mg per capsule. Depending on your level of use, this is 15-60 days supply of caffeine, for $5.

At the very least, I hope I am saving many of you some money and reducing waste products from disposable cups. Stay tuned, we are announcing our next essential in the coming weeks and another item to our Elite Biohacking category.