How to Stop Drinking Coffee, and Why You Should Consider It

benefits of quitting caffeineThank you for reading past the title of this post. I wasn’t sure anyone would. After all, here I am offering advice on how to quit the world’s most beloved beverage. (“Hold my beer,” says Beer.)

The love of coffee transcends national and cultural borders. Around the world, most of us start our day with coffee. Folks take pride in sourcing the best beans and pairing them with the ideal grind and brewing method. We meet friends, clients, and first dates for coffee because coffee shops are comforting, safe spaces.

As good ol’ Anonymous observed, “Humanity runs on coffee.”

Yet here I am suggesting you might want to quit. Before I get into why, let me assure you that by and large, I still think coffee has more benefits than downsides. It improves workouts and memory, fights fatigue, and epidemiological evidence links coffee consumption to a host of health benefits. You can check out my Definitive Guide to Coffee to learn more.

There are downsides, though. In the pursuit of optimal health, it’s essential to examine our choices and behaviors and ask which of them might be undermining your health and longevity goals. That’s what I’m suggesting you do today.


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Why Would You Want to Quit Coffee?

Because you’re a masochist.

Kidding, of course. Really, if you think quitting coffee will be that painful, that’s a sure sign that you need to take a break. No substance aside from water or air should hold you so firmly in its grasp. I want to enjoy, not depend on, my morning coffee (and maybe a glass of red wine at dinner).

As to whether coffee is truly addictive, we clearly shouldn’t be talking about coffee in the same breath as something like heroin. However, there’s no question that it shares common features with other addictive substances. It stimulates dopamine release in the brain, creating a “feels good, want more” effect. With repeated exposure, you develop a tolerance such that caffeine no longer exerts the same effects. Plus, as many of you know if you’ve tried to kick the habit before, the withdrawal can be brutal.1

Even if you don’t feel dependent on coffee, taking a break from coffee is akin to doing a 21-Day Primal Transformation or a Keto Reset. It’s a chance to shake things up and try something new. You might feel better, worse, or the same. In any case, you’ll have learned something about yourself. We should all strive to be curious and open-minded in the pursuit of health. For many people, coffee is a blind spot. They conveniently overlook the ways in which it’s not serving them and how they’re more dependent on it than they’d like.

Besides the philosophical, there are concrete reasons for taking a more honest look at your coffee habit.

Coffee: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As I said, on the whole, I think that coffee consumption is beneficial for most people, assuming you drink it in reasonable quantities. Nobody needs a gallon of coffee per day, sorry. A “reasonable quantity” is up to four cups a day, or so say the experts. As a one-or-two-cup-a-day guy, that sounds like a lot to me.

Even at that level of consumption, some people can have adverse reactions to caffeine depending on their genetics and underlying health issues. Headaches, jitters, and racing heartbeat are common, and of course it can majorly mess with your sleep. It’s easy to slip into a vicious cycle where you’re sleeping poorly, so you drink coffee throughout the day to combat fatigue, which means you don’t get enough restorative sleep that night, and repeat ad infinitum.

Caffeine can also cause your adrenal glands to release cortisol, although this effect is tempered in habitual coffee drinkers.2 For people dealing with a lot of stressand who isn’t right nowdrinking too much coffee may not be wise. It can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate cortisol and cope with the stressors.3 This is why practitioners often recommend that folks with HPA axis disorders limit or avoid coffee.

Caffeine consumption also worsens anxiety in some people and can even trigger panic attacks.4 5 People with certain psychiatric conditions are advised to limit or avoid caffeine consumption.6 On the other hand, two recent meta-analyses concluded that coffee actually helps with symptoms of depression.7 8

If you’re a menopausal woman, think twice about drinking too much coffee. In two studies, caffeine intake was associated with increased vasomotor symptoms like hot flashes.9 10 Those were correlational studies, but in a separate experiment, researchers administered caffeine to pre- and perimenopausal women who were or were not on estrogen therapy. Perimenopausal women’s blood pressure rose significantly after taking 250 mg of caffeine (equivalent to two to three cups of coffee), regardless of estrogen status.11

Need I go on? Okay, one more: caffeine can interact with prescription drugs, blocking absorption, increasing absorption rates to unsafe levels, or otherwise changing their effects.12

Many of these side effects are dose-dependent, meaning they get worse the more coffee you drink. For most people, modest coffee intaketwo or four cups per dayis probably fine, maybe even desirable. Nevertheless, there’s always the possibility that you could quit coffee and feel better than you do today. Wouldn’t you want to know that?

Other Potential Benefits of Quitting Caffeine

Anecdotally, people notice all sorts of benefits once they significantly reduce or give up coffee. They promise glowing skin, whiter teeth, and better digestion.

They also promise you’ll save money, but in my experience, I just end up reinvesting those supposed savings into trying new teas, so that’s a wash. That said, I also don’t buy multiple frappe drinks from Starbucks every day. If you do, you might put some cash back in your pocket.

Who Should Take a Break from Coffee?

For the sake of self-experimentation, I’m going to go ahead and say: everybody.

It’s especially pressing if:

  • Your inner voice is telling you that you have become dependent on caffeine
  • Your sleep is anything other than deep and plentiful
  • You have health issues that might be exacerbated by coffee

Also, if you’ve built up a toleranceand you certainly have if coffee is a regular habittaking a break means you should be able to return to your beloved coffee and actually feel the desirable effects of caffeine again when you use it strategically. That would be nice.

Anyway, aren’t you a little curious?

How to Stop Drinking Coffee

Time It Right

Unless you have an urgent health concern that means you should stop ASAP, consider waiting until a lower-stress period. Normally I’d say vacation is a perfect time, but we’re not taking many vacations right now. Perhaps a staycation is in order (for more reasons than one).

I wouldn’t advise ditching coffee the same week you have to deliver a big presentation at work, your kids are starting a new schedule at school, or you’ll otherwise be stretched thin enough as it is. Coffee withdrawal can lead to some pretty miserable symptomsmigraines, fatigue, irritability. Pick a week where you’ll have the mental capacity to deal with those, the ability to sneak away for naps, and ideally, fun distractions to keep your mind off the suck.

Pick Your Strategy

Some people have no problem quitting cold turkey, but tapering down your caffeine intake will probably be more pleasant. Start cutting your regular coffee with decaf, and slowly decrease the amount you consume altogether. Make your coffee weaker, and stop adding cream and sweeteners so it’s not as appealing. If you’re drinking coffee in the afternoon, cut that first.

Whatever you do, don’t compensate by adding caffeine back in the form of energy drinks or caffeine pills. Don’t drink energy drinks anyway, but definitely not now. That defeats the purpose entirely.

How Long Will it Take to Get off Coffee Completely?

The half-life of caffeine is about five hours, so within a day of quitting, your body should be free of it. However, withdrawal symptoms can last significantly longera week to ten days or more, though some lucky people don’t experience any noticeable withdrawal.

Beyond the chemical dependency, there is also a behavioral component to coffee. For most coffee drinkers, it is a habit, and habits are harder to break. You might find yourself headed to the coffee pot in the morning, or reaching for the mug that’s usually on your desk, well after the initial weaning period.

Worthy Alternatives to Coffee

For some people, coffee is merely a caffeine delivery system. Others enjoy the rituals around coffeepreparing it in the morning, breathing in the aroma, sipping a hot beverage while they work, and communing with coworkers and friends over a cup. You can still have all those things if you strategically replace coffee with an alternative that fills the hole coffee leaves.

The most obvious answer is switching to tea. There are so many different types of tea, each with its own benefits and flavor profile. If you were a snob about your coffee, you can easily channel that energy into tea. Brewing tea is an art unto itself. Just watch your caffeine intake. Teas vary considerably in caffeine content, though they are still lower than the average cup of joe.

You might also consider mushroom coffee, which has about half the caffeine of regular coffee, or chicory root coffee or dandelion tea, which offer some of the coffee flavor with none of the caffeine. Fans of these options swear they get a lift similar to the one they got from coffee without the jitters.

My go-to hot or iced option is Primal Kitchen’s Matcha and Chai Collagen Keto Lattes, and not just for the obvious reason. Caffeine can inhibit collagen synthesis in the body.13 I intentionally supplement collagen to combat this effect.

Finally, if it’s a calming morning routine you crave, consider alternatives like journaling, meditation or deep breathing exercises, yoga or tai chi, doing a crossword puzzle (my favorite), or reading. Just don’t read the news!


Sip on a Matcha or Chai Collagen Keto Latte, or for a no caffeine option, mix up a soothing turmeric tea using Golden Milk Collagen Fuel 


What if You Quit Coffee and Don’t Feel Better (Or Even Feel Worse)?

As with any big change, you’ll have an initial adjustment period after quitting coffee. After that, you should feel better. Still, some people don’t. Let’s go through the difference between the initial withdrawal and other reasons you might not have a great experience with the change.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

For a few days, you may experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms, like:

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Feeling anxious or “on edge”
  • Irritabiliy
  • Low mood

These should resolve within a few days. After about a week, you can truly assess how you feel without coffee.

If you don’t notice any differences once you quit coffee, then I’d say go back to drinking it in moderation to reap all the great benefits.

If you end up feeling worse, that doesn’t mean that you need coffee. It’s possible you were using coffee to mask the symptoms of an underlying health issue. Maybe you already suspect that’s the case, and you’re using coffee to push off having to deal with it? Before you go diving for your French press, take a health inventory, and see a doctor if necessary.

I’m not suggesting that you give up coffee for the rest of your life. I certainly don’t intend to. Coffee is one of life’s pleasures, as far as I’m concerned. However, it shouldn’t be a vice, and that can be a slippery slope. Periodically taking a break from coffee allows you to make sure you still have a handle on things and see more clearly where you need to be paying more attention to your health and stress management. Give it a try. There’s always a Starbucks on the next corner awaiting your return.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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47 thoughts on “How to Stop Drinking Coffee, and Why You Should Consider It”

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  1. I haven’t yet read the full article but wanted to yell, “THANK YOU!” for finally writing a post about this. Thank you so much. This is one of the few things I’ve yet to read about from MDA and I have been hopeful it’d happen someday, and this is the same day I watched What I’ve Learned’s YouTube video about the effects of coffee that just came out yesterday. I’ve been trying and wanting to quit for a while. Again, thank you, Mark, for writing about this topic.

    1. The “What I’ve Learned” channel on Youtube is one of my favourite channels ?

  2. I am one of those who gets increased anxiety from coffee. Anxiety runs on my mom’s side of the family. She has been on anti-anxiety meds since she was in her twenties, and all three of her children have already experienced panic attacks at one time or another (all in our twenties). Caffeine has brought on panic for me many times, though I continue to drink it… There’s also excessive body heat, irritability, short temperedness, lightheadedness, all very pronounced when coffee is taken on an empty stomach and doubly so if it’s black. I know I’d benefit from quitting for a long period of time, I immediately feel benefits in the first week, but always end up saying “maybe I can handle it now” always ending in the same results.
    Anyway, thanks Mark for touching on the subject. The tip about waiting until a less stressful time to try quitting is especially helpful, and actually my dad gave me that same advice the other day and it was so relieving. I still plan to cut it gradually or whenever feels right, which could be now or next week.
    Good luck to all embarking on a caffeine or coffee free journey, and to those experienced abstainers, please share your experiences and advice : )

  3. I have had a cup of coffee or class of tea at hand nearly every waking hour for 40 years. I drank at least a pot of coffee and as much as a pitcher of tea daily. About 6 months ago while I was cleaning the coffee pot with vinegar and cleaning the tea pitcher with bleach, it occurred to me anything that requires such strong solvents to clean, can’t be doing my insides any favors. My stained teeth are probably just the beginning. Not to mention the considerable sugar and creamer I used. So I finished the glass of tea I was drinking and haven’t drank either since.

    1. Oh my goodness- I cannot argue you’re logic- you have removed my excuses- thank you Ken!

    2. The stained teeth are real. Coffee builds a film on my teeth like nothing else. It’s really gross actually.

  4. “ Anyway, aren’t you a little curious?”

    No. I love it and use it as a vehicle for ingesting collagen, maca, cocoa powder, Inulin, honey, molasses and cinnamon.

    1. Nor am I. I actually enjoy the taste of coffee, the various teas I’ve tried not so much

  5. This was great to read! Lately, it has seemed to me that every time I turn around I am seeing info about another health benefit of coffee. I believe the most recent had to do with lowering chances of colon cancer… And I cannot drink coffee!! Not even decaf! Nor can I tolerate any other source of caffeine.

    1. Just don’t drink them then. They aren’t compulsory.

  6. ‘…it shouldn’t be a vice”

    But for those of us who do not drink, smoke, or use drugs, it’s our only vice. Remember Lincoln’s words: “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues”.

    1. I don’t drink, smoke, or use any drugs and I never have (unless you count caffeine and sugar). Maybe that’s why quitting caffeine is so hard because it is the last addictive substance in my diet. It does have negative effects (especially for me) and unlike Mark the negatives outweigh the benefits for me, so yeah I’d like to get rid of my last vice. Ok not video games though…

  7. I’m caffeine sensitive (family history and genetic testing) It messes with sleep to the point where it reduces my sleep by two hours per night from just one cup.

    I drink decaf espresso/cap/latte – a good brand and i can’t tell the difference. All the benefits of coffee, non of the side affects of caffeine.

  8. It’s a great article.
    I have never had a cup of coffee in my life though. I adore the smell of coffee and can’t understand how something that smells so good tastes so foul, in my opinion. Even kissing my husband after he has had coffee isn’t so nice. I do like it when people around me drink it as it smells so good. I grew up in Germany where everyone has a timer on the coffee machine so the smell of coffee is in the house even before you get up, so for me it’s probably the smell of comfort and homeliness. I brew English Breakfast Tea from leaves two to three times a day and have some green tea bags. That gives me flavour, ritual and comfort.

    1. Funny, I live in Germany and I have yet to come accross someone with a timer on his/her machine… but anyway, that’s besides the point of this excellent article. I am menopausal and find that I get hot flushes after drinking coffee, but I don’t care. I have low blood pressure so I’m not worried about that. I only drink 2 cups a day. Sometimes 3. I also get hot flushes from drinking alcohol now. But as I’m drinking my half glas of wine only during the weekend, I think I’m o.k. Somehow drinking tea iwith somone drinking coffee doesn’t have the same atmosphere to be honest. I might give the caffeine free one a chance. Especially for my afternoon coffee. Should be a non-chemically extracted one though. Anyone else in Germany knowing a good brand?

  9. Genetic testing and spotty sleep point to my need to eliminate my one cup of morning coffee. I have been putting off the transition. Your post gives me the nudge I needed. Thank you so much.

  10. Hi Mark,

    What about decaf? I drink 2 cups of regular and several cups of decaf because I like the taste and drinking hot liquids.

  11. ???, this is the only habit I continued when the damn virus struck… I was made redundant, forced into lockdown (twice)… Coffee has kept me reasonably sane. I’ve kept in daily contact with my favourite cafe, and had human contact for 5 minutes, while I waited for it…
    I can’t believe you were serious when you suggested I give it up…
    Mark, I love you, but, please don’t take my coffee away…!!

    1. Keep with it Maggi! You can tackle the coffee “addiction” when “they” allow us to normalize life. There will be time then. Wishing you the best.

    2. I don’t think he’s trying to take it away 😉 just suggesting that if you’re experiencing any of the negative issues that coffee can exacerbate, or want to see if you might feel better without it, to give it a shot. We all need to maintain those rituals that make us feel good. Sounds like Coffeys does that for you. 🙂

    3. Maggi, you have all our permissions to keep on drinking the coffee! In these trying times you have proved causation between drinking coffee and staying sane in your n=1 study.

      Keep up the good work 🙂

  12. I only drink water process decaf coffee. Does the same advice apply?

  13. Interesting that your headline talks about “Quitting Coffee”, but your article spends a lot of time discussing “caffeine”. I find I’m much better off drinking decaffeinated coffee, for some of the reasons you listed. Is it worthwhile to discuss “quitting caffeine” instead of assuming all coffee consumption equals caffeine consumption? Might there be health benefits to decaffeinated coffee worth discussing?

  14. There are some good decaf coffees available. That’s how I “quit” caffeine. I stopped caffeine when I devloped PAC’s, probably due to stress. Occasionally I will have a half cup of regular coffee in the AM, but when I do drink regular coffee, I put MCT oil in, and mix it thoroughly, to moderate the uptake of caffeine. That or heavy cream. The caffeine partitions into the fat micelles of the mct or cream, making it a “slow release” drug instead of an immediate release drug.

  15. My (sort of silly, but not totally silly) reason for giving up coffee is that one day I might find myself in a situation where I can’t have any. Most likely, when traveling, but also, perhaps after an earthquake when supplies are cut. I might be needed; I might want to help people, or I might need help. I might need to think. I don’t need to try and navigate that scene while experiencing caffeine withdrawal. And, just like others will use cigarettes and alcohol, I can use coffee to barter with addicts. And there it is; the bottom line on caffeine. You can lump it with cigarettes and alcohol.

    1. I’m sure there are individual differences, but for most the addictive aspects of coffee or caffeine are slight compared to cigarettes and alcoholism. I’m a long time daily drinker of about 4 cups of black (fresh ground Sumatran is my favourite) but have occasionally missed a day or two, with no symptoms beyond a bit more drowsiness at times and perhaps a slight headache that a glass of water fixes.

      1. Missing a day or two isn’t really enough time to feel the full effects of withdrawal.

        1. Indeed, day 4 is definitely the worst… If I am stopping caffeine I always do it on a Thursday so I have the weekend to deal with the worst of the withdrawal.

  16. I took a break like this from drinking coffee exactly 1 year ago and realized I was addicted once I started having withdrawal symptoms, so I forced myself to prolong the break from coffee and eventually I questioned why did I need it? I didn’t feel any different in the mornings without coffee, my teeth were cleaner, so why drink it? Now I’ve decided to quit coffee permanently after realizing that around 7 years ago was when I started drinking coffee every day and it was also when I started catching colds on a regular basis, whereas before that time I would never get sick. And as I increased my coffee intake over the years I had begun to more and more often get sick, particularly thru the winters. I never understood why until now, I had chalked it up to having a kid in that time too who started preschool eventually, but since quitting coffee I haven’t even had so much as a sniffle for a full year now, all thru last winter too. It’s like I’m back to “normal” again. I miss the taste, particularly butter coffee, but I will never drink it again and I’m glad I decided to force myself to try something different and go without “just for a little while”.

  17. I am 53 and in menopause. I love coffee but in the past few years it hasn’t loved me so I had to give it up. I notice two big things when I drink coffee. (1) Monkey mind. My mind races and it’s difficult for me to focus. (2) Sleep disturbances. Even one cup of coffee in the morning makes me wake up at 3 am and I can’t go back to sleep. I gave up coffee and now sleep through the night, no problem. HRT (especially oral progesterone at night) helps with sleep too. But most definitely when I drink coffee the HRT is powerless against the long-lasting effects of caffeine. Now I treat myself to one Starbucks decaf Americano per week, with HWC. It’s a weekly “treat” now, not a daily addiction.

  18. I can’t believe thAt caffeine can be good for anyone because it constricts blood vessels In the brain. I wish that issue would have been addressed. I quit coffee for over a year because I was getting more frequent headaches. It took 5-6 weeks to wean off. At the end I was splitting doses morning and evening down to 1Tbsp. to wean without headaches. It took a couple months for weekly headaches to stop. It was going to be permanent but the stress of COVID and related devastation For our family was too much. I am drinking again but much less. I would like to stop again or I discovered I could have once per week without withdrawal issues. It can be done and should be tried for a few months by long term users.

  19. I quit coffee years ago. Don’t miss it one bit. Now I drink brewed cocoa beans.

    1. I quit coffee about 15 years ago. Didn’t miss it at all. I stick with tea, either hot or iced, unsweetened. It’s just as healthful without all the downsides of coffee.

    2. I just had a cup of French pressed chocolate this morning, it was good and I’m considering changing my morning drink to that. I added my egg, collagen, and fat to it, worked well! Thanks for the idea K D!

  20. I quit coffee every day, after my first cup. No withdrawal symptoms at all. (imagine a laughing emoji here)

    I would not drink it at all but it’s the way I get some fat, salt, potassium, an egg and collagen into my body early in the morning. it’s like a nice warm hug. I don’t have to chew anything and my “dirty dishes” to clean up are the cup, the jar I blend it all in and the coffee pot when it runs out.

    I’ve tried to use other hot and cold beverages as a base for my additives but they just don’t do well. However, my tummy would like me to STOP the coffee part of it. Not everyday, but some days it hurts. I’ve quit many times, but, nothing gets all that good stuff in me like coffee…….. a bit of a puzzle to figure out, I really don’t want to fix, smell, chew, swallow food that early in the morning and I have a job that won’t let me zip out and eat at 10 when I’d be hangry, um, hungry. Sigh. I’ll figure it out.

  21. RE: The last paragraph about symptoms subsiding within a few days…. I quit coffee earlier this year and it took a full month before I felt human. The first two weeks felt like I’d been sucker punched by the flu (plus killer headache), and for 2-3 weeks after that I was absolutely unable to sit down and focus on any task for any decent length of time, even if I could muster up the motivation. Additionally I had blurry vision for 40+ days, which was pretty scary. After that period everything slowly started to ramp up and get better. Several months later I’m glad I went through the experience, because it means I certainly won’t be resuming the habit.
    I know this is just one anecdote, but I pretty much lived on the subreddit r/decaf for that timeframe, and found that I was far from alone in experiencing this long drawn out, absolutely miserable withdrawal. Almost any article you find doing a basic google search on quitting caffeine assures you it’s only a matter of days before you feel better, which may be true for some, but I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge that this is something that can take months to get through. If I hadn’t had the stories and support from that subreddit to assure me I just needed to ride it out, I would 100% have given up and gone back to coffee.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I read that subreddit too. I’m on day 2 without caffeine. I had a cup of decaf today but nothing yesterday and surprisingly no severe headaches this time around, but this time I’m exercising daily and drinking way more water. I’m tired but I can handle that. For me, whenever I quit I get an immediate improvement in patience and tolerance and I’m much calmer. I am slower though. : )

  22. I quit a little over a year ago after a manic episode landed me in the hospital. If you have any sort of mood disorder, I highly recommend quitting caffeine. Really, any substance that is going exacerbate a high or a low, should be avoided at all cost. I’ve drank coffee my whole life. Had no idea was contributing to my mania. That’s my experience, at least.

    1. I think you’re right. My moods are definitely much wilder on caffeine and I panic much more readily. Thanks for sharing your experience

  23. I have a gene that causes me to metabolize caffeine very slowly, which can cause health issues like high blood pressure. I got the genetic info from 23 and Me. (They also told me whether I had any of the BRCA breast cancer genes, a cheap way to find out.) Anyway, I’m happy with one cup of coffee and the positive effects last all day.

  24. I gave up coffee at the beginning of the year. I felt so much NICER all day that I recommended my husband try as well. We no longer go straight to 11 when the boys do something irritating. AND, my psoriasis cleared and my knee pain vanished! I didn’t just have a little — I had it everywhere and coffee was the only thing I hadn’t tried to give up before. I Miss it and will occasionally have an organic, shadegrown blah blah blah exquisite cup on the weekend– which brings back the psoriasis and joint pain.

  25. I quit coffee once in the past, and found a brand called Teeccino to be a nice substitute.

    For *any* coffee substitute / stand-in, it’s helpful to remind yourself “This is not coffee, so I shouldn’t expect it to taste like coffee, but it *is* a tasty hot beverage on a cold morning, and that is nice.”

  26. I am an endurance athlete (mountain bike, specifically) and I am fully aware of the ergogenic benefits of caffeine in competition. So my strategy before a big event is to cut out caffeine for the week before. Then I race day, I hit myself with a strong dose (typically two cups of strong coffee). My theory is that the caffeine then delivers a bigger performance punch than if I hadn’t cut back. That week prior is kind of sucky, though.

  27. Drink coffee when you want to.

    Never when you need to.

    That’s about a coffee every two weeks.