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45mg of caffeine in my
favourite tipple
Early in my running career I consumed quite a lot of caffeine.  In my twenties, I routinely drank six or seven cups of strong coffee a day, including a cup just before bed which didn't seem to affect my sleep.  At 150mg of caffeine per cup, I would have been consuming about 1000mg of caffeine per day, way above the recommended daily dose (600mg according to the New South Wales Health Department).  At some point, I decided that this was a bad thing because on weekends, when I didn't consume cups of coffee as regularly as when working, I tended to get headaches.  I went "cold turkey" and after two weeks of mild headaches and irritability, the addiction was gone and I did feel generally better.

My running regime makes it important to drink large amounts of fluid, and I have got into the habit of always having a drink at hand.  It's easier to keep hydrating if you enjoy the drink and I have never enjoyed drinking just water.  For a few years I managed to stay caffeine-free, drinking decaffeinated coffee and soft drinks, but when I began my expatriate working life in 1987, and was constantly travelling to different countries, these were not always readily available.

Gradually I settled into accepting the caffeine content of diet colas (Diet Coke seems to be available in most places), which I enjoy drinking (way too much, according to my friends), and trying to limit the consumption to about four cans a day.  I also accepted the occasional coffee.  This would have added up to about 200mg to 300mg of caffeine a day, not an addictive quantity and within the recommended daily maximum.

My "heart-starter" in the last 10 years has been my
pre-run cup of strong black coffee (~175mg of caffeine)
After retiring from work in 2003 and joining Terrigal Trotters in 2004, I changed my regime to having an early morning strong cup of black coffee when I got up and before going for my early morning run.  It helped wake up my body at a time when advancing age seemed to be making the early miles of any run harder and harder, especially the Trotters' 6:00am, or earlier, starts.  I calculate my morning coffee as having about 175mg of caffeine, which is quite a large dose, and though it had the desired effect of pumping me up for the run, it was not always a pleasant feeling and I could often feel veins pulsing in my temple.

The reason for discussing caffeine now is that my research has shown it can be a risk factor in the Atrial Flutter with which I have been recently diagnosed.  Although not the likely cause in my case, it has been a trigger for me to reevaluate my caffeine intake.  My sense is that eliminating the strong early morning coffee and limiting myself to four diet colas a day (or 200mg of caffeine a day), will be a positive move, and that is what I did from last weekend.  I noticed a head-achy feel the first few days and then yesterday morning, after a very early start for the Thursday track session at Terrigal Haven followed by a 10km walk, this developed into a full-blown migraine that had me in bed from about 1:00pm through to 7:00am this morning.  I can't say that it was a withdrawal headache for sure, and given the clots in my bloodstream and the Warfarin I'm taking, there's always a nagging concern it could be something more sinister.  However, today I feel a bit better, though my weekly INR test this morning showed my anti-coagulant level is significantly above the target range (4.8 when it should between 2.0 and 3.0) and I wonder whether this was a factor somehow.

Caffeine is a legal stimulant and research has shown benefits to long-distance runners.  I have experimented with its use and will talk about that in a future blog post.