Please be careful what you put in your body.
Almost everything we put in our body is essentially a drug of some kind. Some drugs require a prescription, some can be found over the counter, and some are added to or are naturally found in our food, but all of them have a risk/reward aspect to them, including common food. Something as simple as a peanut can turn deadly to someone who is allergic. Even some of the more dangerous and easily overdosed drugs can be taken safely for a short period of time, under the right guidelines and supervision, but of course there are always consequences if they are taken incorrectly. The safer drugs such as Tylenol or multivitamins can be taken with relative ease of concern, but rest assured there is absolutely no drug out there that is 100% safe and free of consequences if abused or misused.
The drug of this discussion, caffeine, is cheap, easy to obtain and is used daily by a very large percentage of people out there. This drug is also not immune to consequences if you abuse or misuse it. I have had recent, firsthand experience with the dangers of what can happen when fail to read the instructions correctly on using this simple, seemingly harmless drug.
So what? I got the jitters? I had too much energy? How dangerous could it be?
What’s the big deal? You get really wired and then crash later. More energy is a good thing, right? So your heart races a little. You clean the house 3x top to bottom and move on. You probably have stories of your own where you took 3 Red Bulls back to back to back or had double espresso followed by a 5 HR Energy shot. Those wouldn’t be a good idea either, but my experience even kicks that up a few notches. Let my story of ignorance be a lesson learned for everyone.
This wasn’t just a couple cups of strong coffee form of caffeine. In retrospect that would have been a much safer alternative. This was pharmaceutical grade, pure caffeine powder that I had purchased online. Why was I taking caffeine and more importantly, why was I taking a pharmaceutical grade, highly concentrated form of it? Ironically I was trying to make my pre-workout more healthy. I was trying to cut out the fillers that are added to a lot of pre-workout supplements. I wanted a pure form of caffeine that would last and save me some money.
I am a certified personal trainer and I do have some experience with supplementation and diet, but I am not a dietitian. I am qualified to give suggestions, but not qualified to design a meal plan. It’s a very gray area I live in. I know a lot about some things and a little about others and sometimes that gets me in trouble when I don’t admit it, especially when it comes to supplements.
I felt I was lacking a little in gym intensity and had gone online and studied how to make my own pre-workout cocktail. I know, I know, you shouldn’t believe everything you read online. Anybody can write anything out there and there’s just too much room for error. However the cocktail I was making consisted of things I was familiar with: beta-alanine, creatine, caffeine and Gatorade. Beta alanine, a non-essential amino acid and creatine were added to boost endurance and muscular output, Gatorade was pretty much added for flavor and a little caffeine was added to get me “jacked” and pumped up to workout.
Please do not try this at home, but below is what I thought I was ingesting:
Beta-alanine: 10 grams
Creatine: 5 grams
Gatorade: 1 serving
Everything above was correct with the exception of caffeine. I had it in my head that 200mg was 2 teaspoons; 1 teaspoon was 100mg of caffeine, or so I thought. I am certain I had read that online. Ugh, I know. Don’t believe everything you read online. I should have double checked the measurements somewhere else or better yet, have read the label on the bag more carefully.
Now some of the events I do not remember, but with the help of my wife I can piece together parts of what followed:
The date is easy to remember, it’s my wife Belinda’s birthday.
9:15 AM – Package arrives from UPS with my supplements. I eagerly begin making my first (and only) home-made pre-workout drink. I tear into the package, half reading the instructions for measurement on the caffeine. I think, “If I take a little extra, I’ll get even more jacked. This couldn’t possibly hurt me, could it?” I drink it down and it tastes like shit. It is the most bitter thing I have ever tried. I add more Gatorade, but it seems like nothing is going to make this taste any better.
9:30 AM – I REALLY begin to feel the effects. I am focused but have a slight nauseous feeling like I had taken several No-Doz on an empty stomach.
9:41 AM – ” Wow, this is really fast acting”, I think to myself. I text my wife Belinda,”Made my first pre-workout..nasty but effective. Super bitter. Needs more sweet..maybe honey?”
I begin to get dressed for the gym, but something does not feel right. The feeling of being super charged and ready to move mountains quickly passes and morphs into this new feeling that I have never experienced before. There’s a tingling feeling all over my body, I begin to sweat but do not think much of it. I think to myself “maybe I didn’t have enough food in my system prior to taking my concoction.” After all, I had run into that before where I’ve either eaten too much or too little before a pre-workout supplement. If you eat too much it will mask the effects. If you eat too little your pump and adrenaline kick is short lived. I undress and lie down, thinking a nap will make it a little better. I’ll nap and then eat something. Then I’ll be ready for the gym.
Now from roughly 10 AM until 5:15 PM I really have scattered memories of what happened. I remember trying to lay down and sleep it off somehow, but I could not get comfortable. My legs were restless, I was disoriented and I ran to the bathroom to throw up at least 5 or 6 times. I do remember feeling like this was all a dream and hoping I would wake up and snap out of it.
I repeat, this is also the day of my wife’s birthday. Good job, Dan.
I toss and turn in bed for what I think is a couple of hours, tops. I’m working nights and need desperately to try and get some rest. Normally I have my phone ringer set to silent with just the alarm set to wake me up at 4:30 PM. However, I do not hear the alarm. Lucky for me, today I have my ringer on.
5:15 PM – My wife is contemplating going out for a drink or two, but decides to call him to chat for a few minutes before I leave for work. I do hear the phone ring. I pick it up but according to my wife I don’t make a lot of sense. I look at the time and think to myself, “I need to get ready for work! I work at 6 PM!!”
My wife recommends I try to eat something or at least drink something. I try in vain but it comes up immediately. She comes home to the sound of me by the toilet, puking my guts out. She asks me what I took and she finds the ingredients of my formula still on the counter. Upon studying the contents of what I bought and asking me how much I used she quickly comes to the conclusion I have overdosed on caffeine.
I’m slumped over on the bed and call work at 5:45 PM stating something to the effect I’m sick and can’t make it in.
I cannot walk for more than a few steps without getting dizzy and feeling like I need to vomit. The room is spinning and just talking feels like an enormous energy expenditure. I need to go to urgent care but I’m 250 lbs and obviously too big for Belinda to carry.
** WEEE-OOOO WEEEE-OOO WEEE-OOOO** Here comes the ambulance.
This part is patchy. I remember the EMT talking with me on the step. I do not remember the words exactly, but I do remember telling him I had a hard time with my balance and/or nausea. They were trying to see if they could get me to walk or if they had to get a stretcher or whatever, but according to Belinda I got my second wind and just got up and walked out to the ambulance without any warning.
I’m in the ambulance with an I.V. On to the hospital.
So now I am in the ER. Belinda had done some math and estimated that the bare minimum I ingested was something around 11,000 milligrams of caffeine. The Dr. on hand had a different estimate. He had figured it was more like 60 odd cups of a large Starbucks..which can contain as much as 400 milligrams each…so his estimate was around twice as much as that or more. My estimate of 2 teaspoons might have been a little underestimated. At the very least they were slightly rounded teaspoons because my levels were off the charts. This type of powder is so fine and hard to measure they recommend using a micro scale. A slightly rounded serving can make a tremendous difference. I come to find out later that people have died from using this same powder by ingesting less than half of that amount. Scary stuff.
I stayed the night in the hospital to monitor my heart and get some fluids. EKG results showed I needed to be monitored for a little while until my heart rhythm became more stable. Around mid-day the next morning I am cleared to go home.
They told me the first 48 hours of caffeine withdrawal would be hell and I thought, yeah right. How hard could that be? I’ve had headaches from caffeine withdrawal before, big deal. Oh, this was an entirely different beast. I was heavily medicated with anti-nausea drugs and slept a lot those first couple of days and honestly did not feel completely “right” for a good week. With the help of Belinda I got through it, but I will not lie, but it did cross my mind “Is Belinda nursing me back to health only to kill me herself for being so dumb?” Luckily she wants me around for a little longer and did not kill me.
Please let this be a lesson to you all. Know what you are putting into your body at all times, especially when it comes to supplements. There is no regulation on supplementation. It needs to be proven dangerous before the FDA will do anything. One simple mistake can lead to something you cannot undo.