Caffeine is familiar to most people in the form of their morning cup of coffee or tea.
…and who doesn’t love a good brew?
Students often drink coffee to stay awake through long nights of study.
But should weightlifters take caffeine supplements?
Does caffeine have bad side effects?
There is much more to caffeine than just feeling ‘the buzz’.
This plant-based drug can increase your motivation and make working out feel like less of a chore.
And that’s not all…
So, what is caffeine?
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is one of the world’s most popular psychoactive drugs.
A 2005 survey revealed that 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine every day.
It has been consumed in the form of tea for thousands of years, and evidence for the drinking of coffee dates back to the fifteenth century.
Brits love a cup of tea!
Caffeine is found in many plant species, especially those from South America.
The plants use this bitter substance to naturally deter predators.
If insects do try to eat caffeine-rich leaves, they can be paralysed and killed by its toxic effects.
The presence of caffeine also prevents seeds from germinating nearby.
It would take a very large amount of caffeine to have any toxic effect in humans – anywhere from 50 to 100 cups of coffee all consumed within a very short timeframe.
However, although caffeine supplements are generally considered to be safe, a tablespoon sized amount of pure powdered caffeine can be toxic to humans.
Caffeine is used as a supplement by athletes and weight lifters who want to benefit from its effects on the brain, muscles and nervous system.
This potent stimulant can increase mental alertness, decrease feelings of fatigue and improve performance.
The effects of caffeine can be felt no matter where you choose to get your intake from – tea, coffee, chocolate, or a supplement.
Unfortunately for our taste buds, too much chocolate is fattening.
However, it can be hard to say exactly how it will affect each individual.
The intensity of the effects can vary widely depending on whether you are a ‘naive’ (occasional) user or an ‘accustomed’ user.
Your individual genetics can also affect how you will react.
What Does Caffeine Do?
The very short answer is that caffeine is a stimulant.
It affects many different systems in the body, including the central nervous system.
How much will caffeine affect me?
This depends on how much caffeine you currently consume and your genetics.
Researchers have discovered that there are six gene variations that operate together in the metabolism of caffeine.
Some of the variations affect the response to caffeine and its metabolism, while the others affect glucose and lipid metabolism.
Whether your body reacts strongly depends on which combination of genes you were born with.
When you drink a cup of coffee or take a pill, the caffeine is absorbed by your gut.
The liver takes it from the bloodstream and then metabolises it into three different things – paraxanthine, theophylline, and theobromine.
Caffeine appears in the blood about 30 to 45 minutes after ingestion and peak effects start at around 60 minutes.
Because caffeine can dissolve well in fatty substances, it can cross the blood-brain barrier easily.
Scientists don’t really know if the main effects of caffeine occur in the brain, nervous system or muscles.
Generally, caffeine can have acute strength benefits, make you feel euphoric, help your body burn fat, and reduce feelings of drowsiness and fatigue.
It can also help you to feel mentally focused and pay attention better.
What benefits does caffeine have for athletes?
Caffeine is a stimulant that increases mental alertness, and temporarily gets rid of feelings of sleepiness.
However, it really pays off for athletes in its physical stimulatory effects.
This plant-powered substance has been found to increase the number of reps weightlifters can perform before exhaustion.
It can also increase power, scientists found when they studied sprinters who were faster after taking caffeine.
If you can run further, faster, and lift more, you will see both short and long-term performance gains.
A Metabolism Booster
Caffeine also pushes the lipolysis process into overdrive; this is the system in the body which releases energy by breaking down fat.
Because of this, people often take caffeine supplements as an aid to weight loss.
An Endurance Booster
One study found that weight lifters were able to bench press more reps after taking a caffeine supplement.
They also reported less fatigue during their workouts and felt better in terms of mood while they were working out.
A review of 21 studies in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism showed that all participants in endurance trials improved after taking caffeine.
A Performance Enhancer
For short-term performance boosts, caffeine is also very effective.
Studies have shown that sprinters can complete their distances faster after a caffeine supplement than those who received a placebo.
How Much Caffeine Should You Consume?
Many readers ask ‘how much caffeine should I take?’
Recommending an average dose of caffeine has proved to be very difficult due to the wider range of responses and levels of tolerance among those who take it.
Caffeine can also be taken in many forms, and working out exactly how much of the drug is in each source can be tricky.
Caffeine from different sources also appears to be ingested at varying rates.
Researchers most often dose at between 4mg and 6mg per kg of bodyweight.
Doses higher than this have not been found to be more effective, and the disadvantages of high doses may outweigh the benefits.
Performance benefits have been noticed with doses as low as 3mg/kg.
For fat burning, supplements typically use doses of about 200mg.
Doses of 500mg or more can increase strength for a short time.
One 250ml cup of average strength coffee typically contains between 80mg and 125mg of caffeine.
If you are new to caffeine, then it is recommended that you build up from a low dose of about 100mg, carefully observing the effects.
If you are using a caffeine supplement, take the advice of the manufacturer, and be aware that you will build up a tolerance to the drug.
What Foods Contain Caffeine?
Caffeine is found naturally in many foods, the main ones being coffee, tea, some soft drinks, cocoa beans and kola nuts.
A can of cola contains about 40mg of caffeine whereas, a 250ml cup of coffee can contain 80-125mg.
Some coffees contain much more caffeine at about 450mg per cup.
Chocolate contains more caffeine with higher cocoa content, and even some ice creams can contain flavourings that contain caffeine.
Energy drinks often contain caffeine – it can come from plant sources, like guarana, or be added in from the by-products of de-caffeinating teas and coffees.
If you decide to take caffeine from foods and drinks, watch your calorie intake.
If supplements are more your thing, then don’t forget to keep an eye on how much caffeine you take in from food.
When to Take Caffeine
Studies measuring the effects of caffeine have found that it takes longer to reach the blood from some sources than others.
After taking coffee, caffeine levels in the blood peaked at about 40 minutes.
Cola had a similar effect, with caffeine levels at their maximum 39 minutes after ingestion.
Caffeine capsules took longer to get into the system, though, peaking at 67 minutes after ingestion.
So when should I take caffeine to enhance my workout?
Taking your dose 35 to 60 minutes before your workout should help you get the maximum benefit.
This is because caffeine makes for an excellent preworkout supplement.
Side Effects of Caffeine
The general side effects of caffeine are relatively well-known, due to its popularity.
Some of the following side effects are typical after taking this supplement, but others are seen only in certain groups.
Caffeine is known to be mildly addictive.
Some people note laxative effects after taking in caffeine, and reducing intake slowly will help avoid this.
Perhaps one of the most well-known effects of caffeine is that it makes you feel awake.
Some people take caffeine because this is exactly what they want, but for others, this can be an unwanted side effect.
Consuming Caffeine at Night
Drinking caffeinated drinks late at night, or simply taking in too much caffeine throughout the day, can keep you awake when you wish to sleep.
And it will also affect the quality of your rest – that’s if you do manage to fall asleep.
Caffeine and Existing Health Problems
If you have heart problems then caffeine may make them worse.
This is most likely because of its vasoconstrictor effects which raise blood pressure.
Pure caffeine supplements appear to raise blood pressure more than caffeine taken in as coffee.
In people who already have hypertension, the effects last for longer.
One study found that people with hypertension had raised blood pressure for twice as long (three hours) as people with ‘normal’ blood pressure after taking the same 3mg/kg dose of caffeine.
Doses of 250mg are high enough to cause an acute rise in the blood pressure of ‘normal’ people. There is typically around 100mg of caffeine in a cup of coffee.
If you have heart problems or hypertension, check with your doctor before taking caffeine.
In patients who already have open angle glaucoma, caffeine has been found to increase the pressure inside the eyes.
No effects were measured in the eyes of people without glaucoma.
Caffeine and Pregnant Women
Is it safe to drink tea or coffee when pregnant?
Pregnant women are advised to limit their intake of caffeine.
There is no placental barrier to protect the unborn child from its harmful effects, including low birth weight, and problems later in life.
High levels of caffeine have also been linked to miscarriage.
In an adult, the half-life of caffeine (the time it takes blood levels to reduce by half) is 2.5 to 4.5 hours, whereas in a newborn baby it is as long as 75-100 hours.
Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
Caffeine is also well known for the withdrawal symptoms most people endure when trying to cut down.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises caffeine withdrawal as an official diagnosis.
What are the withdrawals symptoms of caffeine?
Symptoms begin within 12-24 hours of stopping and include headaches, irritability, and anxiety.
Other symptoms include: difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, fatigue, sleepiness, impaired cognitive and psychomotor function can also be experienced.
Do You Need to Cycle Caffeine?
The quick answer to this question is ‘it depends’.
But what does it depend on?
Well, you will see different benefits from long-term consumption of this stimulant than you will from short-term consumption.
Whether or not you choose to cycle depends on which benefits you value the most.
If you want the fat burning, and appetite suppressing effects of caffeine then it is recommended that you cycle.
These effects will decrease as your body builds a tolerance to the drug.
Be aware, though, that if you do cycle to have a permanently ‘fresh’ reaction to caffeine.
You will also have a permanently ‘fresh’ reaction to its disadvantages, like increased heart rate and higher blood pressure.
Effects on the feelings of exhaustion during exercise are not thought to reduce over time.
If more reps are what you are after, then there is no need to cycle.
Right, time to make a cuppa!