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Balancing work, overtime, and busy schedules can leave you feeling drained, especially when it comes time to PT. Combine four calls after midnight with overtime and the extra coffee or energy drinks may feel essential. But what is caffeine and how much is okay?
Caffeine is a natural substance found in plants that stimulates the central nervous system. Caffeine reduces fatigue by acting as an antagonist to adenosine. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that causes drowsiness. Caffeine binds to receptors in place of adenosine, improving alertness and energy. Caffeine is often used to increase alertness, reduce fatigue, and improve concentration.
Side Effects and Concerns
Side effects of caffeine often occur in people who are sensitive to caffeine or when too much caffeine is consumed. Caffeine sensitivity is genetic, which means some people have difficulty processing caffeine in a timely manner. This can lead to headaches, anxiety, irritability, and heart palpitations. Caffeine may impact sleep quality if consumed withing 3-10 hours of bedtime.
Avoid caffeine if you have high blood pressure, acid reflux, migraines, or are pregnant. Avoid mixing caffeine with other substances, including alcohol. While caffeine increases alertness, research shows that caffeine can lead to making bad decisions faster.
Dose for Healthy Firefighters
Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for most healthy adults. If you drink coffee, tea, or energy drinks throughout the day throughout the day, this can add up quickly! 400 milligrams is the equivalent of 30-40oz coffee (total), 1-2 energy drinks, or 2 energy shots.
Energy drinks are not recommended, but unfortunately many first responders use them to replace coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Energy drinks and pre-workout supplements can have up to 500 mg of caffeine per serving. Energy drinks, if consumed, should only be used as needed. For example, you ran calls all night and have an hour drive home. A nap at the station would be ideal, but in a pinch a caffeinated beverage may be an option occasionally. Try to keep the dose under 200mg of caffeine.
See the Energy Drinks article for more information. (https://pbgfrwellness.com/the-truth-about-energy-drinks/)
Caffeine mg per-serving avg.
RedBull energy drink
Monster energy drink
Bang energy drink
NoDoz Max. Strength
Optimizing Your Energy Levels
If you are tired all the time or overly stress, evaluate your sleep habits first. Firefighters need 7-9 hours of sleep per night and should fall asleep in 20 minutes or less. This can be hard to reach on shiftwork, but keep in mind naps count! Ideally, nap lengths are 20 minutes or 90 minutes. If you are struggling with sleep, consider filling out the PSQI. This is a screening tool that might help you determine if you need to see a sleep specialist to improve your sleep.
When it comes to spacing out your caffeine intake, consider planning a coffee or tea in the morning, in the afternoon, or 20 minutes before your workout. Most people feel an energy dip between the hours of 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. If a nap or exercise is not possible during this time, having a cup of coffee may help. A bit of caffeine (equivalent of 1 cup of coffee) may also help with exercise performance. If you are a late exerciser, avoid caffeine after 4:00 pm to ensure that it does not impact your sleep.
The Bottom Line
For most healthy firefighters, some caffeine is okay! Limit caffeine to 400 milligrams or 30-40 oz of coffee (total). Try to plan caffeine where natural energy dips occur: in the morning or the early afternoon. Avoid caffeine if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, or have acid reflux.
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F
Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.
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