Coffee is without a doubt the most popular and most consumed beverage worldwide, and caffeine, one of the most available supplements. Besides coffee, caffeine is also found in many tea varieties and caffeinated beverages. Caffeine, (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, in its chemically pure form is a legal neural stimulant and its structure is often changed in order to increase both physical and mental performance.
The molecule was discovered by Friedlieb Runge in 1819, but it was the work of Costill et al, which brought the benefits of caffeine to prominence. His research was the first which proved the tremendous increase in athletes’ endurance and “time to exhaustion (TTE) after consumption. Thus began the era of supplementing with caffeine.
What does caffeine do to your body ?
It seems that one of the major benefits of caffeine consumption is a change in how a person percepts pain.
The “rate of perceived exertion” is decreased significantly, while the work intensity, the total work done and time to exhaustion. In simple terms, exercising feels much easier.
This happens because of caffeine’s affinity to bind with adenosine receptors in the muscles. When adenosine binds to the receptors, the resulting reaction triggers an increase in one’s pain perception, making actual work feel much harder and increasing the chances of stopping exercising.
Caffeine is a known antagonist to adenosine, which means it works against it. It binds to the receptors, substituting adenosine, which in turn prevents the increase of pain levels. Basically, caffeine doesn’t change the exercise’s intensity or difficulty, just the way we perceive the pain while we exercise.
As previously discussed, this makes caffeine a powerful Central Nervous System stimulant and has been proven to improve alertness, decision making and cognitive processing, especially in a time of extreme stress or fatigue.
Studies done on elite military units, discovered that after prolonged lack of sleep, caffeine consumption increased both mental and physical performance.
People who do ultra-marathons, triathlons and iron man races this can find this quite interesting, since it suggests that their endurance can be significantly improved after caffeine consumption.
Supplementing with caffeine has also been connected to an increased circulation of adrenaline, which promotes greater free fatty acid availability and increased utilization of fats as an energy source(lipolysis) when training at sub-maximal intensity. The levels of plasma beta-endorphin are also increased, which again decreases the perception of pain.
Additionally, caffeine is assumed to increase the availability of calcium inside the sarcoplasmic reticulum, which results in an increased capacity for contraction/excitation at muscle fiber level. This translates to being able to contract the muscle fibers in a more forceful manner, which is definitely a bonus when trying to, for example, gets yourself up from the bottom of an especially heavy squat.
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Should you consume caffeine before your workout ?
Caffeine has been shown to be extremely beneficial for endurance sports like cycling and running, intermittent team sports like football and rugby, intermittent sports like tennis and high-intensity sprints running 90-180 seconds (500m, 900m).
Unfortunately, studies have not been so conclusive in regards to power and strength athletes. As discussed previously, the effects of caffeine on calcium’s availability in the sarcoplasmic reticulum which is where the sliding filaments are located, would theoretically make caffeine beneficial to explosive lifting.
Research is still more or less contradictory on this point. Numerous studies have concluded that performance was improved, while just as many have not, and there were even some which have found caffeine consumption having a negative impact.
Also, studies have shown something peculiar, in that caffeine seems to have a much greater impact on exercises involving the upper body than the lower, leading researchers to conclude that supplementing with caffeine before an upper body workout sessions is more beneficial.
In a similar fashion, caffeine consumption before a workout seems to have a much greater effect on individuals with training experience. People who take caffeine or drink caffeinated beverages on a regular basis, do not develop resistance to caffeine over time, but the acute response to caffeine decreases after prolonged exposure, lasting around three hours in regular users and six hours in non-regular users.
The current general recommendations for caffeine dosages range between 3 to 6 mg per 1kg, 30-60 minutes before exercising.
When it comes to caffeine, “the more is better” rule, does not apply. On the contrary, some studies suggest that taking more than 10mg per 1kg can be lethal. Even though this is highly unlikely and a huge amount of caffeine to consume, it’s essential to point out that consumption needs to be monitored. Anything above 6mg per 1kg, has been proven to have no added positive impact on training performance and is only detrimental to your wallet.
In addition to needlessly spending more money, doses above 6 mg per 1kg, have been related to inhibition of glycogen phosphorylase, an essential enzyme in the metabolism of glycogen. Put simply, you’ll recuperate at a slower and less efficient rate after exercising, with glycogen deposits not being filled as fully and quickly and with inhibited performance.
What is the most effective form of caffeine to take before a workout
It is believed that caffeine is most effective and beneficial when taken in the form of capsules. But, if you like drinking beverages, then a cup of espresso made of proper ground coffee is your best bet, having 107mg in a cup.
- Instant coffee (60mg in 250ml)
- Tea (28mg in 250ml)
- Red bull (80mg in 250ml)
And you’ll notice that getting the required dosage for your body weight can be hard, needing to ingest more than a liter before you meet your required dose.
One study has suggested that the caffeine absorption can be affected by the circadian rhythm and that consuming it in the morning can be a lot more beneficial. There’s not been too much research in this area, which is why more studies are needed before broad recommendations can be made.
Possible side effects
As we said previously, consuming more than 10mg per kg can be lethal, which is why you should avoid over-consumption. Reaction to caffeine varies a lot in individuals and a certain dose can be fine for one person and insufficient or excessive for another. That’s why, supplementing should be started at the lowest possible dose and adjusted accordingly.
The “better safe, than sorry” rule applies perfectly here. Possible side effects include:
- migraines and
- heart palpitations.
This is why you should monitor your body and stop consuming it if any of these occur. If you aren’t sure about the symptoms always consult with your doctor. People with blood pressure issues, CV diseases of nervous issues shouldn’t consume caffeine.
In populations which do not suffer from any of the conditions mentioned above, supplementing with caffeine is thoroughly researched and it’s been proven to significantly improve performance.
Recent studies have also discovered that caffeine is not a diuretic at all, as previously believed, which means that consuming it shouldn’t lead to dehydration, provided that you drink plenty of water already. Caffeine is an excellent pre-workout supplement and should be taken prior to doing endurance or intermittent activities.
1. Caffeine taken before the workout helps with endurance, intermittent team or individual sports and sustained-sprinting events.
2. Caffeine has inconclusively been shown to help power/strength athletes, especially upper body performance.
3. Suggested dosage is 4-6mg per 1kg, 30-60 minutes before exercise.
4. Taken in capsules, caffeine seems to be most effective.
5. Start consuming it at the lowest dosage possible and then increase per your body’s needs.
6. People suffering from high blood pressure, CV disease or nervous system issues should consult their doctor before supplementing with caffeine.
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