Growing up in California, I never believed I would drink coffee, I always had the sun. I always had energy. The year before I left to play my first year professionally in Finland, I remember discussing with Jayson Jablonski, my American teammate, how I would never drink coffee. He calmly and confidently replied “you’ll see.”
The first day in Finland started at hotel breakfast with one of my Finnish teammates, Simo-Pekka Olli. He was with the Finnish National Team and I was so excited to meet him and begin a new friendship. As breakfast was winding down, he got up and asked me if I wanted a coffee. Not wanting to be rude, I panicked and said 'yes' – it was disgusting but it was the beginning of reliance upon coffee.
Living overseas, coffee became my morning ritual. Being away from family, friends and for the most part a community, it was my crutch. It wasn’t a problem, “coffee is healthy, everyone drinks it” is what I would tell myself. This past year I started to become much more mindful of my dependency on coffee.
I started to become more aware of the confused faces of my Polish teammates as I rushed to slam down 3 coffees in the hotel lobby before our game. In the back of my mind, I truly believed I couldn’t perform to my peak without coffee in my system. What began to really cripple me was my lack of sleep. I realized I wasn’t fully recovering due to the shallow sleep and restlessness that followed an afternoon coffee.
Everything changed this past summer when I ran into Robbie Page, a friend in the volleyball community. We started talking more about volleyball, health and he brought up matcha - high quality Japanese green tea made from fresh green tea leaves that are dried and powdered. Always interested in learning a better way to live and to give love to my body, I replaced my afternoon coffee with matcha. But coffee wasn’t something I was ready to give up all together. At the end of the summer, I still had some Tenzo Matcha left, so I decided to pack up the rest and take it with me to Poland for the season.
I was able to beat the jet lag, but my sleep was still awful. I knew my afternoon coffee was to blame. I was convinced I needed coffee before my afternoon training when the crash of my morning brew had me down and out. That is until I met another athlete playing in my city, an athlete who didn’t drink coffee at all.
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. Without the drug that I had relied on for the past 7 years for every match I had competed in as a professional. This “aha” moment shook me, it gave me the revelation that it was possible to get by without coffee. I could finally kick the afternoon lows, the acidic feeling in my stomach, and possibly get back to sleeping throughout the night to give my body the recovery it needed.
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. I began my day with a simple matcha latte, 52mg of caffeine as compared to the 100-150mg of caffeine in a cup coffee. I made a second latte an hour after my lunch, around 1:00PM, totaling my caffeine consumption for the day at 104mg.
The results the first day were surprisingly powerful. I didn’t have a crash or a deep urge for caffeine in the afternoon. I felt great at practice, played well but most importantly, when I went to bed that night, I slept through the night. For the first time in a long time, I woke up refreshed, confident and ready for the day – a feeling I had only previously encountered after two cups of coffee in the morning. I continued with two matcha lattes a day for the week and realized how much better my days were spent without the jitters and without the afternoon crash.
Another curious surprise was when I began an entirely new workout that week, with exercises I hadn’t used in my previous phase of power training during the summer. Usually this means a 2-4 day period of inflammation from the tearing of muscles from new exercises. To my surprise I experienced only 1 day of brief inflammation.
My final test was on the 9th day without coffee. 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 well. To compete professionally without coffee, was something I hadn’t done in the past 7 years! My solution, a matcha smoothie 3 hours before the game and a matcha tea 2 hours before the first serve. I was 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.
We won. I played great and at the same time, I felt a unique combination of focus, calmness and confidence as the game went. I had no crash late in the match and I knew I was finally free from my coffee addiction that began 8 years ago in Finland.
I’m excited going forward to explore and research as much as I can about matcha and all the benefits it offers. I'll continue to incorporate matcha into my morning and recovery smoothies and to share my story as much as I can with my teammates and followers alike, helping them realize there is a better, cleaner way to thrive throughout the day.