How Caffeine Improves Your Performance

How Caffeine Improves Your Performance

The golden age of bodybuilding didn't have all the fancy supplements we have now. The likes of Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't use citrulline malate to get a massive pump, or go through loading phases of creatine to influence greater strength.

Instead, many of the pioneers of bodybuilding and strength looked to a simple source of stimulant based energy to power their workouts. This stimulant, of course, was caffeine.

Caffeine comes in many forms, either through coffee bean, tea leaves or even as a chemical extract - caffeine can be used to push your workout to the next level without the side effects of traditional stimulants.

Many studies have even shown caffeine to be a very effective substance to help prolong life and lead to healthier states of body composition.

Caffeine, in many respects is one of the easiest and most effective supplements you can take to increase your performance without becoming a chemist and trying several different kinds of amino acids and pre-workouts.

With that in mind, there are still many versions of caffeine, some of which are more effective than others. Some sources of caffeine have been specifically designed for exercise, while others are more natural in the sense that they are found only in the leaves of plants - either way, most, if not all sources of caffeine can be used to increase your performance in the gym.

Let's break down the in’s and out’s of this fascinating compound.

What is Caffeine?

For milenia caffeine has been used to help provide energy and vigor to warriors. The ancient warriors of the amazon used to eat coffee beans prior to a hunt, even the notorious Samurai used to drink green tea prior to a battle.

Caffeine has had a place in the human species since the beginning of time - but where did it come from?

Caffeine is actually a plant insecticide. Plants such as tea leaves or coffee beans will produce caffeine in an effort to ward off bugs from eating the leaves. If a bug does eat a caffeine rich tea leaf they will experience the same stimulatory effect we do, yet on a much larger scale due to their miniature size.

For this reason, caffeine rich plants have become very easy and efficient to grow and mass produce - the plant is very strong on its own.

This is the primary reason why when you drink coffee or tea your body develops a heightened feeling - almost a euphoric state that, for many people, wakes them up.

If you’ve ever entered a powerlifters gym you will notice two things right away. The smell of coffee and the sound of barbells smashing the ground. The question is, are these powerlifters really getting some form of performance enhancement, or are they simply having a placebo effect?

Caffeine and Performance

Fit man in squat position lifting kettle bell in a gym

Many people believe that caffeine is one of the most effective forms of pre-workout stimulants to boost performance and increase strength - but are these claims justified?

A 2016 study found that caffeine ingestion improved performance on young female athletes in multiple ways. First, caffeine ingestion helped the athletes to perform at a higher level for longer during a fasted run. Following the exercise the athletes leg strength was then recorded and observed much stronger results than the placebo group. Even 12h after the test, athletes who ingested caffeine scored higher in strength tests than compared to the placebo group.

This study provides a clear conclusion that caffeine consumption can lead to greater strength and even faster recovery.

Numerous other studies have been completed that show performance increases in strength and endurance when caffeine is supplemented.

It should be noted that most of the research conducted on caffeine have been completed using caffeine anhydrous - a concentrated and dehydrated version of caffeine.

Benefits of Caffeine 

  • Increased strength (gross motor performance)
  • Increased endurance (long distance running)
  • Reduces appetite
  • Can be effective in the reduction of headache
  • Can protect against parkinson's disease
  • Faster reaction time
  • Faster recovery time

Are There Any Downsides?

Well, yes, there are some. Caffeine is, on the most simple level, a drug. Caffeine can promote a dependency and you will develop a tolerance as you supplement it. This, in combination with its diuretic properties (dehydrates the cells) can make it a difficult supplement to use effectively for the older population or when hydration is not watched.

Especially as a powerlifter or strength athlete you need to ensure your bones and muscles stay hydrated. Supplementing with caffeine on a daily basis can dehydrate the cells and potentially put you into an injury spectrum. Caffeine consumption over the years can also lead to a lack of calcium absorption in the bones which can lead to osteoporosis if not watched.

For this reason, many people prefer to drink coffee rather than take them chemical caffeine extracts.

The water content in the coffee can help to limit the diuretic properties which, in some cases can cancel out the dehydration of muscles.

A simple fix is to ensure that you are always drinking lots of water while supplementing with caffeine.

NOTE: caffeine may also cause adverse side effects or limit the effect of creatine supplementation. Although major research has not yet been fully conducted on this, many small-scale studies have shown that when caffeine is consumed the absorption of creatine goes down.

So, we know know that caffeine is highly effective when implemented properly and taken at the correct times, but which form of caffeine is best?

Forms of Caffeine

Black coffee pouring from urn into coffee cup

Coffee Bean

Perhaps the most common way that the world takes their caffeine. Coffee bean has been used for millennia and has some of the highest absorption rates among other forms of caffeine.

One cup of coffee contains approximately 75 mg of caffeine - which for many people should be enough to produce some form of stimulation.

Although Coffee bean is a very natural way to ingest caffeine, when it comes to our training, we cannot accurately dose the amount - which limits our ability to track results and see progress markers.

Caffeine Anhydrous

This is the most common version you will see in pre-workout amplifiers. Caffeine anhydrous simply means caffeine without water. The caffeine is extracted or produced chemically and does not contain any water. In other words, it is a highly concentrated form of caffeine.

Caffeine Citrate

A fairly new addition to the world of bodybuilding, caffeine citrate has long been used as a medicinal version of caffeine.

Caffeine citrate is produced by combining anhydrous caffeine with citric acid monohydrate and sodium citrate dihydrate. In more simple terms, this caffeine is used because it is not as readily bioavailable as traditional caffeine.

You can use this form of caffeine if you are looking for the stimulant feeling in a very small effect size, although it may not have the best benefits to performance.

Caffeine Citrate is perfect for endurance runners who don't want a massive crash, or those who want a relief from headaches.

Tea Extract

Interestingly enough, tea leaves and tea extracts fall perfectly in the middle of all these different forms. Depending on the type of tea you consume and how you steep it one cup will give you between 30-90 mg of caffeine that is readily absorbed and does not have huge dietetic properties due to the large amount of water.

Perhaps not the best form of caffeine for performance enhancement as a strength trainer, but many people will turn to tea-based caffeine sources on off day recovery as the caffeine produces a milder stimulant effect and still assists in recovery of soft tissue.

Which Works Best?

This comes down to your personal goals. If you are a runner and you are only concerned with increasing your speed and distance than tea or caffeine citrate may be the best options for you as they are much milder but will still provide you with the stimulation needed to perform better.

Those under the realm of strength and power should turn to coffee bean of caffeine anhydrous as they are much more potent and have decades of science to back up their effectiveness.

Caffeine: The Most Effective Supplement

Caffeine packs a pretty good punch considering the amount you need to take to yield an effect.

Caffeine can be used for those looking for weight loss, those looking to increase strength or anyone who is just looking to enjoy a nice cup of coffee on a summer’s day.

With minimal side effects and generations of concrete science to back up its effectiveness you should include this supplement into your lifestyle and training program without fault.

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