Caffeine is something most of us are familiar with – but you might not be familiar with using caffeine to potentially increase your power during weight training.
Find out exactly what caffeine can do in your body, how it may affect you, and how much of it is safe and effective if you are trying to boost your strength and follow a healthy lifestyle.
Caffeine is a bitter substance found in coffee, tea, chocolate, certain medicines, and many supplements. It is a stimulant drug that can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine elevates metabolism1 and in moderate doses, it can increase mental focus and energy and improve coordination by increasing central nervous system activity. In very high doses, it can cause agitation, decreased coordination, shakiness, high blood pressure and heart rate elevation.
There is a lot of research about how caffeine affects performance. It does help fat burning, thereby increasing the effectiveness of a reduced calorie nutrition plan. Taken before a workout, caffeine appears to be able to decrease fatigue and improve the total amount of work done over the exercise session. A review paper published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism concluded that taking a moderate dose of caffeine (~3mg/kg of body weight, or about 240 mg for a 175 pound person) can enhance performance across a wide range of sports and activities ranging from endurance exercise (i.e. running), team sports and high intensity workouts like interval cardio and strength training.
The benefits of caffeine with regard to increasing strength and power are less clear, and studies show conflicting results. Some studies234 show no impact; some suggest a positive correlation, and others show a clear benefit.56An interesting study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed that by consuming caffeine before bench pressing, you could complete 3 more repetitions than if you didn’t consume pre-workout caffeine.7
Even with the conflicting studies on strength and power, it is very clear caffeine’s overall effect on exercise performance is positive. When that is combined with its ability to help burn body fat and increase mental focus, it is wise to consider using it under the guidance of a health care professional.
Caffeine is a drug and can cause dependence. In other words, if you consume caffeine regularly and then abruptly stop, you can experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating and anxiety. In addition, over time, you may need to increase to dosage in order to experience a reaction to caffeine in your body, a phenomenon known as tolerance.
If you consume too much caffeine at one time, you may get heart palpitations, tremors, loose stools, anxiety, skin flushing and racing thoughts. If you have certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, ingesting caffeine may make these conditions worse. However, the effect on blood pressure lessens pretty quickly, and if caffeine helps you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, the benefits more than likely outweigh the risks. Still, if you have high blood pressure, watch it closely with caffeine intake and work with a health care provider to make sure you are being safe and responsible.
The doses of caffeine used in studies vary, but a good starting point is about 2-3 mg/kg taken 60-90 minutes before exercise, which is about 175 mg for a 150 pound person. This is on the lower end, but it is always wise to start slowly and assess your tolerance. If you are like most people in the country, you are most likely already consuming caffeine regularly and you will probably be able to tolerate more. For reference, one No Doz has 200 mg of caffeine, one cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine and a Spike Energy Drink has 350 mg. Interestingly, a can of Red Bull has only 80 mg and a hefty price tag (and calorie count).
By using standardized supplements, you can ensure you are getting the desired dose of caffeine, which can vary considerably in beverages such as coffee or tea. Additionally, using supplemental caffeine can simplify things with regard to calorie intake. The sugar in energy drinks will offset any benefit from the caffeine, as will adding cream and sugar to your coffee.
Caffeine, for most people, has a favorable risk to benefit ratio. However, it is always a good idea to work with a qualified professional when using any supplement. If you are pregnant, avoiding caffeine is probably a good idea, and I certainly would not recommend caffeine supplementation for any woman who is or may be pregnant. And like most things, caffeine can be good or bad depending on your individual health. So be responsible and know that more is not always better.