Caffeine Does More Than You Think – The Ultimate Guide
It’s that little miracle that makes our mornings possible and most of us couldn’t live without it, but what do you really know about caffeine aside from the fact it makes the world go ‘round? Well, plain and simple caffeine is a drug, and like any drug we should know a thing or two about it before we use it, caffeine has tolerances, limitations, optimal dosages, benefits and side effects but what are they? That’s something very few people seem to know, so today I am going to dig deep and school you on caffeine.
Before I get into the pros, I want to bust one myth, that caffeine is a diuretic. In the past, studies have shown that caffeine was a diuretic but high dosages were used and not on habitual users which is very different from someone regularly taking moderate doses. More recent applicable studies have shown caffeine to have no effect on hydration levels.
Now I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that you’re already aware caffeine is a stimulant, but what about all the other performance enhancing abilities? The first one is cognitive performance such as alertness, improved short term memory, choice reaction time and these can last as long as 2-6 hours depending on how much of a tolerance has been built up.
Next is endurance performance time, which has been shown to increase by as much as 27% when tested on cyclists. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have an effect on the actual weight you can lift, but due to the improved endurance capabilities through lowering the pain threshold and making the exercise feel easier you could squeeze out a few more reps than you normally would.
Fat loss. That’s right, caffeine is one of the most potent fat burning substances on the market, even though you will never see it advertised as such. Most ingredients for the fat burning supplements out there have little proof that they cause any significant fat loss but one thing you will find is that most of them contain caffeine, which is dirt cheap on its own.
Caffeine as a fat burner works in a few ways, by increasing your resting metabolism by 3-11% meaning you will burn more calories throughout the day plus letting you push longer in the gym. Lastly it helps to blunt your appetite so you eat less.
We also have a few post exercise benefits that have been found. When you take caffeine prior to working out it can surprisingly reduce muscle soreness over the next couple days. Likewise, if you need to replenish your energy quickly after a workout to be ready for another event of some sort you can take caffeine after a workout with your meal which can increase the rate your muscles replenish themselves with glycogen (energy) by as much as 66%!
Now that we know the pros of caffeine, we must look at the cons before coming to a verdict. Some of the downsides are increased chances of anxiety, heightened blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, and reliance.
If you have high blood pressure I would be careful not to take too much caffeine. I also recommend not taking caffeine at any point in the evenings because with the effects lasting up to 6 hours it will likely impact your sleep. If you are a habitual user, you may also notice headaches the first week that you stop using it but you can reduce the effects if you slowly decrease your usage over a week or two.
One thing most people seem confused on is dosages, it’s been found that the optimal amount to increase performance is 200mg, with a large difference between 100mg and 200mg but no difference between 200mg and 300mg, of course if you have already built up a tolerance this will be different. A good rule of thumb is that your typical cup of coffee will contain 80-120mg of caffeine and other sources like tea, soda and chocolate 15-60mg.
The highest a person can safely consume in a day is 600mg before the side effects from above grow considerably and keep in mind that your pre-workout supplements will usually have 200mg per scoop.
If abused caffeine can also cause increases in our bodies levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a needed hormone in the body that helps us deal with stress, but too much can become catabolic for muscle growth (breaking down muscle), this can sometimes be referred to as adrenal fatigue.
Regarding the timing of caffeine intake, you can notice the effects quite quickly and it seems to reach its peak level in the body at roughly 45 minutes. We’ve all noticed that if we start having caffeine more often we tend to build up tolerances, but surprisingly this can happen in as little as 2-3 weeks.
To continue seeing the performance benefits of caffeine I would recommend not taking it every day and saving it for the times you really need it as well as taking a week off every 2-3 months.
The key here is moderation just like most things in life. The good new is you don’t have to stop drinking coffee, it seems that its more beneficial than it is harmful for most people as long as you monitor how much you are getting, so go ahead drink up, get your slight edge in the gym and keep enjoying your caffeine.
Powers SK, Howley ET: Exercise physiology: Theory and application to fitness and performance. New York: McGraw-Hill 2004, (Series Editor).