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Your Coffee. Your Wine. The Perfect Balance of Both for Peak Performance and Practice.

Thomas McGregor

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Published: August 10, 2014 at 5:50 AM [UTC]

Morning strikes and I reach to craft a solid dark roast that fills the room with the aroma that instantly connects me to the earth. The coffee I experience in the morning is an important part of my day, as it continues to impact me throughout day with each additional cup. I will finish my last cup, on most days, around 11am. This allows my body to detox the morning coffee and not crash mid-day, and level out from any type of hype that the coffee game me.

Depending on the day, 8 o'clock rolls into town and I pop an unopened bottle of red wine for a nice wind down. The wine is a nice cap on the day as I take time to take stock of how the day went and how I can make it better next time. Wine is also very artistic for me; wine has many levels and many different types. This allows me to explore different areas of the world and how they influence the wine I enjoy.

The question is this; what amount of coffee helps my performance as a teacher, performer and creative? Also; what amount of wine aids in my night time creativity by allow my mind to be more free?
In this article I will outline what the professionals say regarding these two stimulants that most every creative professional enjoys on a daily basis, in order to showcase the benefits of them in the correct doses.

Caffeine is one of the best-tested ergogenic aids (substances, devices, or practices that enhance an individual's energy use, production, or recovery) and is known to help athletes train harder and longer. Caffeine stimulates the brain and contributes to clearer thinking and greater concentration.
There are more than 74 good studies on the use of caffeine for both endurance exercise and short-term, higher intensity exercise. The vast majority of the studies conclude that caffeine does indeed enhance performance and makes the effort seem easier (by about six percent).
The average improvement in performance is about 12 percent, with more benefits noticed during endurance exercise than with shorter exercise (eight to 20 minutes) and a negligible amount for sprinters. More benefits are also noticed in athletes who rarely drink coffee, hence are not tolerant to its stimulant effect.
Because each person responds differently to caffeine, don't assume you'll perform better with a caffeine-boost. You might just end up nauseated, coping with a "coffee stomach," or suffering from caffeine jitters at a time when you're already nervous and anxious.
And be forewarned: While a morning cup of coffee can assist with a desirable bowel movement, a pre-competition cup might lead to transit troubles! Experiment during training to determine if a caffeinated beverage or plain water is your best bet.

Caffeine is also an ergogenic aid, meaning it increases power output. This is true for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. If taken before a workout, caffeine could improve your performance and give you an edge over your opponents.
There is some evidence high doses of caffeine can reduce blood flow to the heart during exercise. The mechanisms aren’t fully understood, and it was in extremely large doses.
People respond to caffeine in different ways, so be sure to test its effect on yourself. If you consume reasonable amounts, it will likely improve your performance. The bottom line is, as always, did you go faster or not?

The amount of coffee that you should take for your best performance is found right before you start to feel "over caffeinated" . This is going to take some experimenting. You will find the best amount when you aren't scatted and focused. This might be in lesser forms of caffeine; i.e. green tea, black tea. Again, this will take some experimentation and some time. But enjoy the process and lead your day with jolt.

Sociologist Joseph Gusfield observed in an essay he contributed to Constructive Drinking, the mere presence of alcohol signals that we have permission to be our "authentic selves," we are allowed -- at least to a degree -- to reveal personal information about ourselves, to talk about silly things, and gossip more about others. This alludes to the idea that we are more honest with what we want and tend to not let silly self doubt stand in the way of us achieving it.

The BPS Research Digest called "Uncorking the Muse,” which shows that "mild intoxication aids creative problem solving." The researchers had male subjects between the ages of 21 and 30 consume enough vodka to get their blood alcohol concentration to .07, which is about equal to consuming two pints of beer for an average sized man. Then they gave them a standard creativity task 'the "Remote Associates Test", a popular test of insightful thinking in which three words are presented on each round (e.g. coin, quick, spoon) and the aim is to identify the one word that best fits these three (e.g. silver).'

The tipsy respondents performed better on the test than their sober counterparts:

1. "they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls"

2. "they tended to solve the items more quickly (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds)"

Tipsy subjects appeared to perform better and faster because the were less inhibited ("intoxicated participants tended to rate their experience of problem solving as more insightful, like an Aha! moment, and less analytic") and, following earlier research, people with better memories tend to do worse on the Remote Associates Test. Because drinking dulls memory, it may help such people perform better on this creativity test . The researchers also speculate that "being mildly drunk facilitates a divergent, diffuse mode of thought, which is useful for such tasks where the answer requires thinking on a tangent."

Therefore, creativity is directly linked to free thinking and the letting go of conditioned inhibitions that catalyzes out of the box thinking. This means that a good couple glasses of wine in the evening can spark new ideas and solutions to problems for the next day, or problems that had arisen that day. Wine, as in the case of coffee, can be that edge to your creative power; within reason.

As professional and adults, we should use these substances respectfully and as tools. Now, if you are drinking[coffee or wine]socially, the word tool would not apply. But in the case of the creative process, they are tools to not be over used or worn out. Taking breaks from any tool is of benefit to the producer. But, as we see above, they can be assets to your creative process on a daily basis.

(Sources: / / Robert Sutton, Stanford Professor)

From elise stanley
Posted on August 10, 2014 at 6:07 PM
A little wine may make you more authentic - but it also slows down your muscles. For me the effect is directly related to the alchohol consumption. Thus there is a balance between loosing your inhibitions and loosing your physical ability to play.

Maybe you should only drink alchol before slow recitals...

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 10, 2014 at 8:31 PM
Drinking and performing can be a very slippery slope! As with most things when you drink, your perception of your level of accuracy and overall wonderfulness is affected by the alcohol. May be less of an issue for doing something like composing in the evening, but it all depends on your ability to handle alcohol and capacity for moderation.
From Ken Pollard
Posted on August 10, 2014 at 8:41 PM

So if we get paid for teaching or performing, then coffee and/or wine become a business expense.

I am certainly no tax expert, but I seem to remember hearing that W.C. Fields tried this tax dodge, er, strategy.

Something to consider.

Or not.

From Jim Hastings
Posted on August 10, 2014 at 8:44 PM
Part of me leans toward pitying anyone who thinks they need chemical assistance to get ahead -- whether in performing, or in the workplace, or on a problem-solving test. I've learned to be a little more patient with them, but still …?

I came to dislike the taste of alcohol at age 7 -- yes, you read that right. I asked Dad if I could have a sip of -- well, I forget just what it was. It was dark red. Dad knew exactly what he was doing by letting me have just one sip -- with his direct supervision. Did I like the taste? Ugh -- no. He had to know I wouldn't. My reaction? THANKS BUT NO THANKS. I can't thank him enough. That sip cured me -- and I was years younger than most users are when they get started. After that point, I had no attraction to it -- or even curiosity about it.

I like the diffused aroma of coffee -- e.g., when walking down a city street. But I learned, again at a tender age, to loathe the taste. In high school, a friend described the taste as "carbonated mud." Since I've never tried carbonated mud for comparison, I'll take his word for it. Whatever -- this was another potential habit nipped in the bud.

"The tipsy respondents performed better on the test than their sober counterparts."

Can't help wondering: Were the sober counterparts already teetotalers in real life? Or were they alcohol users who were staying sober for the time being -- for purposes of the test?

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on August 11, 2014 at 1:51 PM
It would be informative and useful to have input from Bulletproof Musician on this topic. In his latest blog BPM was discussing the adverse effects of dehydration, even at a level when it is unnoticed by the subject, which it so often is.

Coffee and alcohol are not the best liquids for dealing with dehydration, so the logical response to the title of this discussion would be zero quantities for both, wouldn't it?

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 12, 2014 at 3:41 AM
Well, dang, I'll be the rebel and say I loved this article, and I'm nodding in agreement (well, or in respect). But I'm not thinking as a violinist as much as a writer. It's the more creative endeavor for me, anyway. And I have to say, that glass of wine at the end of the day just loosens my mind in a way I appreciate and enjoy. Just as coffee gears me up in the early part of the day. (Actually, I start off at 4:45am with a cup of tea, and do several of those - does that count? I still like to get in that 11am coffee, tho.)

Most of all, I just enjoyed reading your article - thanks!

From Timothy Lessler
Posted on August 12, 2014 at 7:27 AM
"Part of me leans toward pitying anyone who thinks they need chemical assistance to get ahead..."

Seems a bit harsh, as I bet the vast majority of folks "use" caffeine to get a boost in the morning workplace. And since some studies seem to show some caffeine can be useful if not healthy, maybe it's not so different than a person choosing to eat a banana rather than a donut in the morning.

Furthermore, it seems like some great music was created under the influence of some substance (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely album comes to mind...but I would guess a lot of great music was written with a cup of coffee or glass of wine, if not something less socially or legally acceptable, at hand).

So an exploration into this topic is legitimate, and no need to pity me as I "used" my fair share of well made espresso to help me through a late night term paper in college, and enjoyed my fair share of beer and wine in my stints in Europe.

And how about the folks who needed beta blockers to get a spot in the, say, NY Phil? (I think I just read an article about a member who spoke about his need on this website).

Anyways, a discussion into the things we put in our body...whether food, drink, coffee, etc, are worth exploring, as we all strive for peak performance and quality of life and art, coupled with health and a fair playing field when need be.

Now back to listening to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with my evening tea...

From Paul Deck
Posted on August 12, 2014 at 2:50 PM
A pint of beer is fine over the first hour of a three-hour jazz gig, even helpful, as it just softens the corners of one's inhibition. A pint of beer before a classical violin recital and I'd be even more useless than I already am.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on August 12, 2014 at 10:47 PM
@ Timothy Lessler: Ah -- "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" -- not sure what substance the writers were on, if any, during composition. John Lennon said that his son, Julian, inspired the song with a nursery school drawing of the same title. Never cared much for the song myself and found the rest of Sgt. Pepper a mixed bag. Still, for me, a few of the selections stand the test of time.

About "the folks who needed beta-blockers to get a spot in the, say, NY Phil":

If you come across the article, I'd like to see it -- I don't recall reading it before. Some members know already how strongly I've expressed myself on this subject -- as one who out-bullied the nerves as a kid and aced auditions without beta-blockers. If they are medically necessary, that's one thing; but ….

Posted on August 13, 2014 at 12:53 PM
What's next, peeing in a cup when you try out for Juilliard?
From Timothy Lessler
Posted on August 14, 2014 at 9:39 PM
Hi Jim,

SPLHCB is just an example...but can we doubt that most, if not nearly all, of compositions were fueled by at least caffeine? FYI, I learned in a college Beatles course of Lennon's LSD use in his SPL years. And yes, it was a real college course at a real college taught by a great professor. But even if not, my first point still stands.

I can't find the article, but there is this.

Note, I'm not advocating substance use, but rather saying that it is a reality and should be discussed. Just because you beat your nerves doesn't mean people with medical anxiety issues that you do not face shouldn't consider alternative help. Maybe other reasons will suffice...

And based on this article, it is a reality faced by people who are not named Jim Hastings.

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