I have been using coffee, energy drinks, and pre-workout boosters before my strength workouts for years. No more though! As part of my mindfulness challenge, I have quit all habitual drug use. Here is why.
In general, psychoactive drugs put the brain in a special state. This is great for broadening the mind (psychedelic experimentation), socializing at parties (alcoholic celebration), and performing at a peak level (stimulantic achievement). Importantly, drugs are awesome if used occasionally—on very special occasions.
Habitual drug use, however, has serious negative consequences. Take hallucinogens on a daily basis and you will lose your grip on reality. Drink alcohol on a regular basis and you will deteriorate mentally, physically, and socially. Use caffeine to be stronger at the gym or more focused at work and your baseline performance will depend on it (not to mention the bad long-term effects on the endocrine system). Habitual drug use is anti-freedom.
This is why I no longer take anything before a workout: no drugs, no sugar, no supplements—just pure fresh water. I do not want my training sessions to be special occasions! I train at least six days a week, so physical exercise is a normal part of my life, and this is how I want it to be. If I only trained two or three times a week, I could consider it a special occasion and maybe a reason to take something. But since I would hate to live such a passive, sedentary lifestyle, drugs are not an option for me.
Sure, I could say that having a pre-workout coffee is a powerful ritual that gets me motivated. In reality, though, “powerful ritual” is just a euphemism for a mental crutch, a psychological dependence, a baseline sluggishness. If I need a drug to feel motivated, this is strong evidence that the drug has already fucked me up bad. And if I need a ritual to perform well, I am behaviorally inflexible, i.e., unfree.
I want to be focused, energetic, and powerful all day every day! Not “Let me first take a scoop of this powder to feel like a man for a few hours; but, oh, I’ve already taken it in the morning, so I better wait until tomorrow before I can perform well again.” Fuck this shit: I want to be motivated, strong, and productive 17/7, not just for a certain period after I have downed my daily dose of stimulants.
Drugs may help me to be stronger for a little while; but only hard work, ideally drug-free, can help me to sustainably grow stronger over time.* This long-term perspective is the reason why stimulants like caffeine are bullshit for regular training. Even if the negative side effects (keyword: cortisol) and withdrawal symptoms were negligible: what good can a performance-/motivation-enhancing substance do except to cover up a weakness of the will? Ad libertatem naturae!
* Similarly, drugs may boost my focus for a little while; but only hard work, as in a regular meditation practice, can sustainably elevate my attention over time.
- How Drugs Impede Self-Mastery
- Why I No Longer Listen to Music While I Work Out
- How to Spot Overtraining Before It’s Too Late
- Willpower: Lessons in Self-Discipline #10
- The Neurobiology of Liking, Wanting, and the True Will
- A Hard Workout Does Not Sap but Boosts Willpower