Saturday, July 15, 2006

Caffeine and Karate

I learned a rather big lesson in my path of training in Martial arts.

I had been suffering from muscle cramps as I trained. As soon as I'd go into stance my leg muscles would cramp up painfully not giving me any power, or focus. I'd pull out of stance, and then lower back in trying to force my muscle to respond. There were times when the muscles would just give out entirely.

One day, my efforts at class was a real eye-opener as I struggled with my calf muscles all through class trying to keep Sanchin stance. Always one to look for solutions rather than focus on problems, I researched information about cramping during exercise on the internet.

The source of cramping of muscles is a mystery to the scientists. They found that certain things can cause the painful contractions: dehydration, muscle fatigue, hypothyroidism, depletion of magnesium/calcium, etc. As I read the list of things that contribute to cramps I was surprised to find Caffeine listed as something that contributes to this problem. Gee! Caffeine is in almost every pleasurable treat I can think of, colas, coffee, and chocolate cake. It's found in most soda pops. Caffeine is used by athletes for the fact that this drug will enhance their physical performance by strengthening muscle contractions, lessening the feeling of fatigue, and helping enhance mental focus. How many people do I know who need their morning cup of coffee to wake them up in the morning? To my greatest surprise I learned that "The International Olympic Committee (IOC) presently lists caffeine as a banned substance.  It is difficult to believe that a substance consumed by over 75% of Americans everyday, is placed in a category, which includes harmful drugs such as steroids and cocaine.  Urinary test above 12mg/liter (8 cups of coffee) is perceived by the IOC as a deliberate attempt by an athlete to gain an advantage on the competition." I read about the list of side effects of caffeine on my system with a sinking feeling. In addition to a whole bunch of other symptoms, I read something that affected my karate directly... " For athletes, caffeine has more disastrous effects that may affect performance.  These side effects include muscle tightness, muscle cramping, and dehydration." AAARGH! These are harsh words for someone whose main enjoyment after a day of stress is to sit down to a hot cup of coffee, or a cold glass of cola. Especially when I was facing a very stressful time in my life, I would turn to my calming cup of cola to give me a boost. I felt a sense of calmness, and release come over me when I drank those beverages. Sure.. of course I felt that.. I was addicted to the caffeine boost.

Reality, and humility set in. I had to chose.. Was I going to try to keep my addiction even though I know that caffeine was affecting my body so harshly that I couldn't perform my karate at my best? This is where I had to place the power of my will over the wants of my body. I chose health over addiction. HARD choice! The first day I suffered from that constant inner hunger of a body calling out for what it thinks it needs. The next days I felt the effects of detoxification, the shuddering, the heaviness, the headaches, the stomachaches, etc. etc. I was going through withdrawal, and I knew it. I recognized it. I became irritable with myself, and others, and I felt weak. I learned that it will take about a week to cleanse my body of the side effects of withdrawal, and even longer to remove the negative effects that caffeine has done to me. However, the exercise and training of karate helped immensely. I felt better after each class. I believe that is because exercises releases positive chemicals in your system. This summer I have had cramps in my legs at very infrequent moments. The slight "complaining" cramps are few, short, and not as harsh. I can recuperate from them quickly, and continue training right away.

It's amazing how caffeine has such a nasty effect on our system, and yet is such a main beverage in our society. Why do we do such things to ourselves? People are very confusing.

These are some of the websites wherein I found some information in case you are interested in doing some research yourself:


frotoe said...

I'm not a huge soda drinker, but the first thing i have in the morning is a cup of coffee. I don't think i could give that up. I don't think i even would want to. i LOVE coffee. Now, after my morning 1-2 cups, thats it for me. the rest of the day i drink water. LOTS of water. I don't get a lot of muscle cramps either. Maybe the water helps flush the caffeine out of my system? Maybe i'm just not one who is prone to cramping. hmm. Thats a tough one.

supergroup7 said...

Yes.. I used to be blurry-eyed in the mornings without my cup of coffee to perk me up like a slap in the face. My daughter and I have found a quicker, and healthier alternative. Have you ever tried those new Veggie/Fruit juices? To our surprise, one glass of that, and you will feel energized, awake, and perky within just a few minutes. We were surprised at how quickly we went from dragging our arms like neanderthals to bopping around all happy, and alert like bunnies.

Yes, you are a very lucky person that caffeine hasn't affected you negatively. If you ever develop any constant leg cramps, or such.. just remember what I went through trying to figure out what was wrong with me.