My love affair with stimulants and nootropics has seen a stretch of seven years of constant daily adherence to popping pills, downing ever increasing amounts of caffeine and only stopping short of snorting lines of pre-workout off a Thai hooker’s ass in order to stay sharp, increase gym performance and provide me with that confident social edge these substances confer.
I made it through most of my early years without the help of anything. Because of a 7 year stint with Chronic Fatigue, stimulants were basically out and the products that cram the shelves today just didn’t exist. I even powered through an undergraduate degree and Masters without so much as a cup of coffee, graduating with honours and at the top of my class.
When I had that first can of Red Bull 7 years ago, things changed and it felt like I had met God.
Whether it was due to virgin receptor cells or the fact that I was a super-responder to caffeine and stimulants, I was now loving the feeling of being confident, social and productive.
My work also demanded a constantly sharp mind to deal with the non stop interactions and complexities associated with working with 30+ kids in a classroom. My morning routine started with slamming a whole bunch of pills and powders in a drink for every exhausting daily assault. And so it went for 7 years straight when there wasn’t a single day that passed where I wasn’t putting something into my system to receive that mental boost.
One can gave way to two, two to four. Then came the nootropics and stimulants – Tyrosine, Taurine, Piracetam, Aniracetam, Oxiracetam, Sulbutamine, DMAA, Noopept, Dexamphetamine, Modafinil etc etc etc- I loved them all. Tinkering with the cognitive possibilities of my brain was as much fun as manipulating my physical attributes in the gym.
We all kinda know how this story goes and as a senior lifter who once related his own experiences with everything performance enhancing over the years said “the highest of highs always comes with the lowest of lows”.
Anxiety, mood swings, energy crashes, perpetual dark circles under the eyes, occasional bouts of brain-fog, sky high blood pressure and resting pulse that had doctors shaking their head and reaching for the prescription pad were side effects I believed that were worth the price.
At work, the wellspring of energy I had once felt seemed to be drying up ever quicker. By midday, everyday, I was fucking wrecked. I was the Walking Brain Dead connected to all but an intravenous drip of stims. Workouts that required high intensity loads approaching my 1RM seemed to bury me for days. As a relatively young, fit male, this didn’t seem normal.
My level of creativity which had once been ok, now sunk to the level of shit. I found it increasingly harder to write (let alone write anything good), produce ideas, or recall vocabulary and facts when needed. I woke every morning, never really feeling refreshed and was as grumpy as shit till the supplements kicked in.
I kept this routine up until a month ago when I started noticing that within 10 minutes of taking any kind of stimulant I was almost comatose. Even adding in some modafinil to the mix couldn’t keep me awake despite it being a drug for narcolepsy. My body and mind were sending me the message loud and clear, “enough is enough”
I decided to ditch everything cold turkey. The first two weeks were awful – intense headaches and flu like symptoms that wouldn’t cease with any amount of painkillers. My brain felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace and the world slowed to a tedious crawl.
WNBF natural pro, Stu Yellin once said that “if you need these (preworkouts) to get you through a workout, you’re in the wrong sport”; powerlifters like Jonnie Candito are ditching them because of their negative effects on recovery and there seem to be a growing consensus of people who agree that this stuff should be used sparingly if ever.
While that’s stating the obvious, the sales of preworkouts, energy drinks, and coffee show people are more than dependent on their daily buzz to make it through the day. I even see 10 year olds rock up to school with a double serving can of Monster in their hands these days. I’m not saying my classes are THAT fucking boring, but what must that shit be doing to their young brains?
30 days in and I am noticing some positive changes. I feel more mellow and “in the moment”. My brain isn’t constantly racing off in 100 different directions and I’m more focused on the task at hand which in itself is more productive. Previously I felt like my life was like a browser with a 100 tabs open and I’d flit from tab to tab.
I’m less anxious when I go out and less prone to that “I’ll KILL YOU!” immediacy the body feels when it’s riding on a constant adrenaline fueled fight or flight mode.
I thought my workouts would suffer, but my strength has been going up and I don’t feel that blasted aftermath of two day exhaustion post heavy deadlift session. I’m wondering if in the future weeks I’ll see some greater mass gains because my system no longer has to fight with constantly elevated cortisol and stress hormones.
I know I’m again stating the obvious here, but it makes sense in retrospect. A body allowed to follow its natural rhythms will tell you when it needs to rest and when it’s good to go; in effect, the bio-feedback your receive will be more honest and enable you to better auto-regulate your training variables more consistently. Contrasted with a body fueled on “fake energy” that can only take so much (over)revving of the engine before it says, “fuck you buddy”.
I think these supplements still have their place, but when I use them again, it will be strategically; a day here and there with a very LONG off period in between. Bottom line is that guys for years didn’t need this shit to get big and strong. We certainly didn’t need it in the 90’s even when ephedrine was still in its heyday.
Incidentally, I found this post the other day from Christitan Thibeadeau. He touches on in a lot more detail many of the effects I experienced abusing this shit for years on end. I’ll add some green tea to the mix soon, but I’m done with souped up caffeine, chemical laden concoctions as a crutch.
WHY I DON’T LIKE PRE-WORKOUT STIMULANTS
I’ll try to simply explain why I don’t like those pre-workout drinks.
1. We live in a society of desensitization to stimulants. People, even young kids abuse stimulants in all forms including the drug of choice of the time speed/amphetamines. I find that young people these days are desensitized to stimulants and as a result the companies overload their pre-workouts so that people will “feel something”. The amount of “drugs” in some of these products are enough to have bad side-effects. Not to mention that some shady companies actually were caught spiking their pre-workout with actual amphetamines.
2. Add to that the mentality of “if one is good, two is twice as good” and you have the potential for abuse of a serious nature.
3. Stimulants “force” your body to produce more adrenalin and nor-adrenalin (via the adrenal glands). It is forced to produce A LOT more than it is programmed to do under normal circumstances. Those hormones have for main purpose to allow you to fight stress or run away from it by making energy more readily available, by increasing heart rate, contractile strength and mental awareness (among other things).
4. If you constantly ask your adrenal glands to produce more than they are programmed to do, you can overload/fatigue those glands and overtime they will have a hard time producing adrenalin/noradrenalin… or they will become desensitized to the stimulant to protect themselves from chronic overproduction. That’s obviously a bad thing… you will begin to lack energy, will feel run down, etc.
5. In that situation you will often begin to up the dose to get more stimulation… you are just compounding the problem and overtime your body will have a very hard time producing adrenalin/noradrenalin. What happens then?
6. You have some other hormones that can do part of the job of adrenalin… cortisol and glucagon for example. Both are responsible for making energy available to your muscles/brain (e.g. by mobilizing stored fat, glycogen and amino acids). So in some regard cortisol can be seen as a “low-grade adrenalin”. It cannot do all that adrenalin does, but it can keep you functional, at least energy-wise.
7. I don’t need to remind you of the drawbacks of cortisol for building muscle. If cortisol is constantly elevated over baseline, especially if it’s more elevated than your anabolic hormones, then you will breakdown more muscle tissue than you build. Resulting in muscle loss.
8. So in the short term stimulant abuse can lead to a fatigue rebound, in the medium term it can lead to muscle loss and in the long term what can it do?
9. Cortisol is fabricated from the same “mother hormone” as testosterone: pregnenolone. If your body produces more and more cortisol (to compensate for the lack of adrenalin) it means that it uses up more and more pregnenolone. LEAVING LESS FOR THE PRODUCTION OF TESTOSTERONE! So over time not only will your main catabolic hormone (cortisol) will be elevated, but one of your main anabolic one (testosterone) will go down!
10. And if that’s not enough, cortisol and testosterone share the same second messenger at the cellular level. The more cortisol you have present, the harder it will be for your testosterone to do it’s job. These last two points mean: less muscle, more fat, less energy, less libido.
NOW if that is not enough, consider the following:
It is my expert opinion that peri-workout nutrition is THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to maximize your gains. Having growth-stimulating nutrients in your before, during and after your workout is key to growing as fast as you can. HOWEVER THAT IS NOT ENOUGH. You also need to transport/store as many of these nutrients as possible in your muscles.
I think we can all agree to that.
But what does that have to do with pre-workout stimulants? Remember that adrenalin is a MOBILIZATION hormone. THE MORE YOUR SPIKE IT, THE HARDER IT IS TO DO THE OPPOSITE THING: STORE NUTRIENTS. More adrenalin = looking to mobilize, not store nutrients.
I’m not saying that you wont store or send anything to the muscles, but you WILL diminish the effect of the all-important peri-workout nutrition. And to me that is a HUGE mistake.
That’s why I personally prefer to use supplements that have a positive effect on the nervous system (increasing focus, confidence, coordination, etc.) instead of having a strong systemic effect. I’m looking for a nootropic agent, not a stimulant.
I am NOT against occasional use of stimulants. For example when I shot my 180kg high pull video I did use SPIKE to get me amped up and turn in a great performance. But stimulants should be just that: something you use to get an little extra something when you really need it, not something that should be part of your everyday routine.