Coaching and Caffeine

Caffeine. For some people, just the thought of a warm cup of coffee brightens their day. Others look forward to the afternoon energy drink that will springboard them toward a great finish to the day. The FDA data tells us that 90% of the world’s population consumes caffeine in some form or another on a daily basis. Here in the US, 80% take in an average of 200 mg/day. The fact that you’re a certified wellness coach certainly doesn’t make you immune. In fact, you may lean on it even more than the average person if you feel a pressure to be “on” with your clients throughout the day.

There’s no doubt caffeine works. A recent study looked at a popular energy drink and compared the results (ie, focus) of the highly marketed drink to those garnered by an equal amount of caffeine without any of the other touted additives in the drink. The outcome? You guessed it – no difference between the two. While the marketing of the magic in the drink likely helped provide a bit of a placebo benefit, in the end it was all about the caffeine.

The key, whether with a coach certification student, a client or in our own lives, is to utilized caffeine as a beneficial TOOL rather than a CRUTCH. Put caffeine aside for a moment and consider someone with a sprained ankle severe enough to require crutches. Under the care of a wise Physician or Physical Therapist, the crutches are utilized strategically. Very simply, they allow you to reduce the pressure on the injured joint so that it can heal and you can return to a regular gait pattern. However, what if you continued using the crutches forever? Eventually the muscles of your leg would atrophy as your dependance on the crutch continued.

Caffeine offers the same choice. Plenty of studies demonstrate the improved mental (and physical) focus that comes with a dose of caffeine, regardless of the form (coffee, soda, pill, or even – no we’re not kidding – caffeine filled beef jerky). Used wisely/strategically, caffeine can provide an outstanding tool to up your game or get you through a (single) rough day. However, once it shifts from a strategic tool to a habit, it can become an ugly crutch that weakens us and continues our dependance long term.

Many of your clients don’t realize caffeine has a half-life of 4-8 hours. That means if you drink a cup of coffee (containing 120 mg of caffeine) at 7 AM, about 60 mg are still circulating at 1 PM, approximately 30 mg at 7 PM and only about 20 mg at bedtime. However, taking an “energy shot,” drinking a cup of coffee or any other caffeine-heavy option ingested at 3 PM to push through the last part of the day has a different consequence. Almost half (60 mg in the case of a cup of coffee) is still circulating through the bloodstream at bedtime. “But I fall asleep without any problem” you or your client will say. Yup – that’s part of the problem. Many of us can fall asleep in spite of the caffeine, but the depth (or quality) of our sleep is diminished. So the next day we are missing that next gear. But nothing a little caffeine can’t fix, right?

Exactly – and the crutch has wedged a permanent home in our lives…

As a certified wellness coach trained in motivational interviewing and intrinsic motivation, you know it won’t do a bit of good to preach this to your clients. But fatigue is such a core aspect to our well-being. Quality sleep influences everything from our food choices to relationships to our financial decisions. So tuck this one away for future reference – and you might just be able to come alongside your clients and help them effectively use caffeine as a valuable tool – and not a lifelong crutch.

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