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.
How does caffeine function?
It seems that one of the major benefits of caffeine consumption is a change in how one 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 drink caffeine before exercising?
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 for upper body training sessions is beneficial. In a similar fashion, caffeine consumption 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.
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