Spit out your 50 Dollar Pre-Workout, Drink some Coffee, and learn something about Impact

I’m talking to you….

Yes, YOU!

Why do you need a pre-workout?  What has a pre-workout done in its life?

Do you know what coffee and tea have done?

A lot more than give you energy after a day of poor sleep and poor food choices (poor not out of necessity but out of your own choices mind you) to do a few sets of bi’s and chest.

While your throwing away bills on pre-workout, people since the Middle Ages have been using tea as money AND drinking it. What are you doing?

Coffee not only has moved people to be fit.  It changed the social structure of English culture.  It educated people.

Tea?  You think tea is only for your grandma?

Tea pissed off some of the roughest British colonies, creating a revolution that eventually led to the destruction of one of the most powerful corporate enterprises in the colonial era, the East India Company.

Drop the pre-workout.

Shut up.

And Listen.


Your drinks have names like C4, Muscletech, Musclehussle, and double doggy D.O. double gee.

Coffee has Mocha, Java, cappuccino.  And guess what?  These are named after epic places and famous orders of Catholic friars.

And tea?  Tea is literally everywhere.  I live in Canada.  I can literally take a piece of pine leaves, spruce leaves, or cedar leaves, boil it and I have a tea that is going to give me nutrients for a variety of bodily functions, including alertness.

What does your stupid pre-workout do?

Make you so gittery that you crash mid-workout and can’t function because you have no energy?

Before you discount coffee or tea, let me tell you how much of an impact these drinks had on the world.

Are your Pre-Workouts from Al-Mukha?

A picture of Moka, Yemen in the second half of the 18th Century

Coffee, when it was discovered in Ethiopia by Yemenese traders, was sold from the port of Al-Mukha (from where we get Mocha) by the East India Company to London.  It spread across Europe  through the Mediterranean having its most widespread impact in London in the 1600s.

Initially people were reluctant to try this beverage.  It looked like tar and might as well have tasted like it.

Women thought it would make their men impotent.

Others thought it to be as dangerous as tobacco or marijuana.  Yet the bitter, black beverage rose in popularity.

London Coffeehouses were the new “Universities”

Over the next hundred years, coffee and coffeehouses would multiply across the city of London into several hundred houses.   In his book, The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse, Brian Cowan states that coffeehouses in London stood only second to those in Istanbul.

That’s how popular they were.

In fact, its these very coffeehouses that helped sober up Londoners and helped cross the divide over social classes.  Apothecary, John Houghton (1645–1705) says about coffeehouses:

….make all sorts of people sociable, the rich and the poor meet together, as also do the learned and unlearned.  It improves arts, merchandize, and all other knowledge; for here an inquisitive man, that aims at good learning, may get more in an evening than he shall by books in a month….”  –From A Discourse of Coffee (1699)

There were many who contested this point, saying that coffeehouses were rowdy and prone to idle gossip but those claims also had counter-claims by Houghton and the like.

Just as how pre-workouts can lead to making us prone to poor performance if we don’t have our recovery and training dialed in with intent, coffee users in 18th Century London were also prone to wasteful conversation.

You had and have a choice:

Either you neglect the most important things related to your goal (in the case of Londoners, this was intent to learn when entering coffeehouses) or you could hype yourself up to the point of overzealous excitement without any intent to improve performance.

Coffee allowed a person to use its social construct to improve positional play and do something productive or not have any goal in mind, leading to idle time wasting.

In today’s world, coffee plays the same role.  Not only can it be helpful for mental stimulation and reducing the perception of fatigue   but it is part of our social infrastructure.  When you want to enter a new industry, learn about a new client contract, or work on any type of social/economic upward mobility, you ask people to ‘meet for coffee’.

A jolly old London Coffeehouse in the 17th Century.

Do you ask a buddy if you want to meet over a cocktail of: beta-alanine, citrulline malate, and caffeine?

All infused with the special watermelon flavour?

I don’t want to re-learn about urine metabolism because an extreme desire to pee is all that’s going to come from a pre-workout-induced conversation.

I want to meet up and exchange ideas.  Maybe even learn something about you.

It was through coffee and at coffeehouses that people got together to bring forth ideas for the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) and American Revolution (1775 – 1783).

It was through these meetings that one day, on December 17, 1773, that a hundred colonists dumped closed to 45 tons of tea into the Boston Harbour.

Coffee inspired and anti-Tea, the American Revolution in a way was a war of the pre-workouts.

Thousands of pounds of Bohea, Congou, and Souchong black tea,  along with Singlo and Hyson  green tea,  from China, were dropped into the sewage-infested harbour.

That tea came from China via The British East India Company, which was struggling to maintain its economy with the decline in tea consumption in America due to poor laws showing a lack of represenation of colonies in British parliament.

Initially people boycotted the tea, then when it was made cheaper via the Tea Act (1773), colonists continued to decline British tea, opting for Dutch.

The American War of Independence ensued,  resulting in the creation of the United States of America.

How was Tea this important?

When the East India Company discovered Chinese tea, they found an intricate system of taste and economy.  Tea was diverse in its application.

Forget oranges for scurvy-ridden merchant marines.

Tea helped Northern Chinese nomads gain more vitamins and provided a digestive aid to their regular diet of meat, milk, and butter.  Moreover, since Medieval times, tea was federally regulated under a Tea and Horse Bureau.  You could consider it a Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I mean you could consider the RDA as a regulatory board for pre-workout, sports-performance supplements but I don’t see any exclusive ‘Pre-workout Supplement Bureau’ opening up anytime soon.

And I don’t think we’ll see pre-workout supplements becoming so useful that they compensate for currency.  Whereas with tea, tea bricks (compressed tea leaves in brick form) were used along with paper money for buying and selling other commodities.  In fact, the further a tea brick graveled away from its place of manufacture (it had its own inscription) the more valuable it became.

And when the East India Company brought back tea to already established English coffeehouses, tea’s popularity rose above that of coffee.

Running the tea economy was no joke. Just hard work

Tea moved from being something very exotic into a restorative beverage for EVERYONE.

Finally, tea and its love played a sinister role in trade as well.

You can imagine tea being an incredible commodity for the East India Company with its great popularity back home in England.  Now what happens when the Chinese government only wants silver and gold bullion to pay for it?

Big problem.

With the coffee-induced rebellion for tea in the American Revolution, and Britain’s loss in the Revolutionary War, the East India Company became cut off from valuable silver resources in Peru.

They needed a means to pay for continued tea supplies.

They found it: OPIUM.


It was highly addictive.

It also had a lot of demand.

And the East India Company had resources in Bengal (India).

However, opium selling was illegal.

Using an intricate system the EIC were able to work around the ban on Opium in Qing China:

  1.  The East India Company farmed out its opium in India via country traders who were licensed by the Company to take commodities from India to China
  2. These traders sold the opium to smugglers along the coast of China for gold and silver
  3. The country traders returned with their gold and silver and gave it to the East India Company
  4. The EIC eventually used this gold and silver to pay for tea from China and used it to supply the English with their tea

What was the result?

The amount of opium imported into China increased from about 200 chests annually in 1729 to roughly 1,000 chests in 1767 and then to about 10,000 per year between 1820 and 1830. The weight of each chest varied somewhat—depending on point of origin—but averaged approximately 140 pounds (63.5 kg). By 1838 the amount had grown to some 40,000 chests imported into China annually. The balance of payments for the first time began to run against China and in favour of Britain.  — Encyclopedia Britannica 

It also resulted in the opium addiction of ONE MILLION people in the country.  In fact, several members of the East India Company resigned due to the ethical consequences.

The Qing Dynasty tried to counteract this opium infiltration, attempting to burn all of the opium that officials had gathered in the country (charging three cattles of tea, around 1800 grams, for every one cattle of opium).

Along with this, foreign traders were exiled from entry into China, and the opium cordoned off by the banks of Shuanbi Island  56 km away from Canton…..It was there that Lin Zexu, a scholar and government official appointed-by the Daoguang Emperor (1782-1850), offered a prayer of forgiveness to the sea that he was about to pollute with the seized opium.

Commissioner Lin and the destruction of opium at Humen, June 1839

It was mixed with lime and salt and placed in pits with added sea water.

The residue was then flushed through the South China Sea.

We could do the same thing here in Toronto with all pre-workout supplements, but all the salmon would probably just get too hyper to travel upstream to lay eggs and have an unexplained desire for watermelon.

In retaliation, EIC agents levied disgruntled opium traders to petition the British government to take action.

The British Parliament answered positively, sending a fleet of battleships and assistance craft from India to China starting the First Opium War (1839 – 1942).

Some historians point out that this economic weakening negatively impacted the Qing government’s ability to contain the Taipeng Rebellion (1850 – 1864).

The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the Sulphur, Calliope, Larne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson’s Bay, on 7 January 1841.

Although like all conflicts, there were many factors contributing to this Rebellion, its hard not to include the impact of a diminished economy in creating discontent  and unrest among the country’s population.

And discontent and unrest after all are a mainstay in rebellion to ‘oppressive’ government.

In the end, 20 to 30 million people died in this civil war.  Along with a concurrent Second Opium War (1856 – 1860).

Coffee and Tea vs. Modern Pre-Workouts?

Now, modern pre-workouts are still quite new compared to coffee and tea.  Pre-workouts have only been around really for a few decades whereas tea and coffee have been in circulation for centuries.

Moreover, the importance of tea and coffee today is not that what it used to be in the era of the British Coffeehouse or during the Chinese Opium Wars.

Yet, they are still used today in a variety of different social situations, from leisure to sports-performance to creating social opportunity.

Pre-workouts are such a sports-specific, physical performance niche item, that, in today’s day it doesn’t make sense that they would take on the same role in society as coffee or tea.

Who knows?

Maybe in a hundred years that may change.  We might find ourselves meeting up at or local supplement store talking away the day in face-itching, caffeinated excess.

But, if you do look at the history of coffee and tea, you can appreciate, for better or for worse, the impact that something as simple as a caffeinated beverage at one time had on the geopolitics of the world.  You can see how that morning ‘Cup of Joe’ or afternoon tea impacted several events that led to the world that we live in today.

This journey, of going back in time and then looking forward, creates DEPTH in our understanding of the world around us.

I hope you enjoyed going on this little adventure.

To wrap up, take a break from your pre-workouts.  Try coffee or tea.  More importantly audit your sleep and try to optimize it as best as you can.

Work on the Basics and watch them compound into something HUGE. Courtesy of Yann Le Meur of YLM SPORTSCIENCE  P.S. Yan presents snippets of actual research.  Don’t be a lunk…Read what he has to say.  

Pay your dues in recovery fro physical training.  Read a book to help you fall asleep, maybe on the history of China in the 18th and 19th Centuries?  Train basic but be open to new ideas and ultimately:

learn something about how the world around has used compounding events and use it to your own advantage.  Learn how things impact from small to big.  Think long term with this fitness thing. The day to day is important, but never lose sight of the grand game.