My Tenzo Matcha Story: Dusty Watten of Team USA
This post was written by Dusty Watten // USA Volleyball Player, Mindful Athlete, and Tenzo Lover
I never believed I would drink coffee, growing up in California, I had the sun, I had energy and it was never something that I believe I needed. The summer before my first professional season abroad in Finland, I remember discussing with my USA teammates how coffee wasn’t for me and I would never drink coffee – even in Europe.
He calmly and confidently rebutted with “you’ll see.”
I spent my first evening in Europe in an amazing hotel in the center of downtown Turku, Finland, upon rising the next morning, jetlagged, I stumbled down to the hotel breakfast and met my first teammate, Simo-Pekka Olli.
I was so excited, my first teammate, a member of the Finnish National team, who would become my first Finnish friend. After a great conversation, breakfast was winding down, he got up once more but this time he asked me if he could get me a coffee… I panicked. I didn’t know what to say, not wanted to be rude – yes magically rolled out of my mouth. Yes? What did I just say. My first coffee was absolutely disgusting but unfortunately, it was the beginning of a 6-year reliance upon coffee.
During those years, I spent most of my time, living overseas, most of the time in the cold and dark blanket of winter. Coffee helped me survive (especially in Finland, where sunlight would hide for most of the day) coffee became my morning ritual but it was also my crutch. At first, I didn’t feel it was a problem, “coffee is healthy” is what I would tell myself, “everyone drinks it” and the most prevalent excuse, “I want it, it’s not that I need it.” I brushed off the signs of dependency and every other sign my gut was signaling.
It wasn’t until my 7th year as a professional until the signs became so stark that I had no choice but to become more mindful of my dependency on coffee and the side effects. I became more conscious of the confused faces of my Polish teammates as I was rushed to slam down 3 coffees in the hotel lobby before games. In the back of my mind, I believed that I couldn’t perform to my peak with only 1 or 2 coffees in my system. What began to cripple me most was my sleep, as I realized I wasn’t really recovering due to the shallow and restless sleep following an afternoon coffee.
In the summer of 2017, I bumped into Robbie Page. I knew of him, as the volleyball community is quite small but I had never met him until we happened to end up on the same 4man beach team one afternoon. We talked more about volleyball, health and he brought up this word, matcha. I had never heard of it before, he prefaced it with “I know you like green things and nutrition, matcha is a high quality Japanese green tea, made from young tea leaves, shaded with cloth, dried and stone-ground to a fine powder.”
As a professional athlete, I am always interested in a better way to live, to fuel, and to recover. I began by replacing my afternoon coffee with this mysterious green tea as I was interested in something new but I still a little stubborn. I wasn’t exactly ready to give up coffee just yet though. At the end of the summer, I still had matcha left and so I packed the rest up and took it with me to Poland, where I would spend the next 7 months.
Jet Lag and the pain teacher.
Due to a late National Team tournament, I ended up flying into Poland on the day of a game – a game I was told I wasn’t going to have to play. Unfortunately, everything changed as my coach more or less begged me to play. I had only been in a plane for 12 hours but it had already been 20 hours without any sleep – I said yes, took a quick nap, woke up, played and we won. By the time we got back to the city, I had been up 33 hours, with an hour nap... I was destroyed.
It took me weeks to beat the jet lag, my sleep was awful, I couldn’t shake the drowsiness and like most Americans, I drowned myself in coffee, in the naïve hope that I would feel great. The morning coffee helped me get through our first training but the dip in cortisol and the rush of adenosine that caffeine was concealing back avalanched me in the afternoon, propelling me back to my French press. Once again, I had ‘energy’ and was able to prop myself back up for evening practice but this false sense of alertness haunted me at night, causing restless sleep and perpetuating this malicious cycle as I woke up restless the next day… back to the French press, it was exhausting.
I knew my afternoon coffee was to blame but I convinced myself ‘I needed’ it for my second training as the crash from my morning coffee left me feeling sluggish and lethargic. That was until I meet another athlete playing in my city, an athlete who didn’t drink coffee.
I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t think it was possible for an athlete to compete as a professional without the aid of coffee. This “aha” moment shook me, it was possible to kick the afternoon lows, the acidic feeling in my stomach, the confidence to ditch afternoon coffee and possibly get back to sleeping through the night and to finally be able to make my recovery my number one priority.
Just like that, I stopped. I didn’t know what to expect as my whole career was aided by coffee but I wanted to explore and to experiment in hopes that there was a better, cleaner way to fuel myself as an athlete without encountering the lows that coffee had previously bombarded me with.
I remembered the matcha that Robbie gave me and I figured “why not.” I began my day with a new routine, with a matcha latte, 52mg of caffeine as compared to the 100-150mg of coffee I had previously had in the morning. I made one more latte an hour after my lunch, around 1:00 PM totally my caffeine consumption for the day was at 1/3 than I had previously been consuming at 104mg a day.
The first day was surprisingly powerful as I didn’t encounter an afternoon crash or deep urge to make another cup in the late afternoon. I felt great at practice, I played well but most importantly, when I went to bed that night, I slept and I slept through the night, throughout the week.
For the first time in a long time, I woke up refreshed, confident, and ready for the day. I began sleeping so well, that I didn’t need anything, coffee, or matcha – I was rested and refreshed to start each day. I continued my two matcha lattes throughout the week, without the jitters, without the afternoon crash and realizing that I could have energy throughout the day, while still sleeping deeply at night – what a breakthrough!
My final test was on my 9th day without coffee as we had a road game against a team that we had to beat, a game that would be on TV, and a game that came with a ton of pressure to compete and perform at the highest level.
To compete professionally without coffee, was something I hadn’t done in the past 7 years! My solution, a matcha smoothie 3 hours before and a matcha tea 2 hours before the first serve. I was a little nervous, knowing that my style has always been driven by huge energy, power, and focus but as soon as I stepped on the court to warm up, I knew I was ready. I had this deep unshakable confidence, clarity, and focus – I know now that it was the L-theanine found in matcha, one of the biggest reasons why all caffeine isn’t created equal.
We won in dramatic fashion and I played one of my best games of the season. I felt a unique combination of focus, calmness, and confidence as the game went on without losing any of it due to a crash late in the match. I knew I was finally free from my coffee addiction that began so innocently 7 years ago in Finland.
I’m excited going forward to explore and research as much as I can about matcha. To share my story as much as I can with my teammates and followers alike, helping them realize there is better, cleaner caffeine and how others can thrive throughout the day, whether they are on the court or the boardroom.
If you'd like to follow along with Dusty's journey, the best place is his personal Instagram: @dustinwatten