Caffeine is one of the most popular stimulants on the planet. These days, almost every adult consumes it in one form or another: coffee, energy drinks, pre-workout supplements, and more.
Regardless of how you feel about it, caffeine works. It makes us focused, alert, and more motivated.
The question is, why is that? More importantly, why does caffeine fuel a good workout?
Caffeine’s Mechanisms of Action
Despite what some people think, caffeine primarily works to prevent us from feeling tired. This is different from providing us with energy, given that caffeine has no energetic value.
To achieve this, one of caffeine’s primary functions is to block adenosine. When that compound binds to brain receptors, it creates feelings of tiredness and increases pain perception. Also, by blocking some of the adenosine’s effects, caffeine can bring about a sense of euphoria, making us more alert and motivated to do things.
Beyond these effects, caffeine also plays a role in specific metabolic pathways. Specifically, consuming caffeine stimulates the production and release of catecholamines - hormones made by the adrenal gland. These hormones raise blood pressure, improve mental alertness, make us stronger, and prolong the time to fatigue. They also stimulate fat-burning and offer a glycogen-sparing effect. In simpler terms, the body begins to use more fat for energy, which spares our carbohydrate stores.
So, thanks to these effects of caffeine, we get to enjoy multiple benefits. Let’s see what these are.
Caffeine’s Practical Benefits For Trainees
The most notable benefit of caffeine - and one you’ve probably experienced – is the feeling of vitality. After consuming some caffeine, you become more alert, your mood improves, and you’re more motivated. As you can probably imagine, these are fantastic for your training.
But besides the apparent caffeine effects, the stimulant appears to impact our physical abilities, too. Specifically, when taken in a large enough dose, caffeine improves muscular strength and explosiveness.
Research also shows that caffeine prolongs time to exhaustion and improves our endurance, essentially boosting our work capacity.
Coupled with caffeine’s effects on our mood, alertness, and motivation, this stimulant can profoundly benefit our training performance.
Timing, Dosage, and Other Important Caffeine Considerations
Since caffeine is a stimulant, the body naturally develops a tolerance to it. The more we take it, the less of an impact it has on us. Meaning, it’s difficult to say what dose would work for you.
In general, it’s best to start with around 150 mg 30-60 minutes before your workouts and see how that impacts you. If you’re a particularly large person, you can go even as high as 200 mg.
But, keep in mind that caffeine has a half-life of around six hours. Meaning, if you ingest 200 mg at 5 pm, you’ll still have 100 mg coursing through your system at 11 pm. That can disrupt your sleep. So, if you plan on training in the evenings, you might want to skip the caffeine dose.
To keep your tolerance under control, it might also be good to cycle caffeine. For example, take it for three weeks, then take a whole week off it. Alternatively, take it for five days, and take a couple of days off.
You can also ingest caffeine only before your most challenging workouts and avoid it at other times. That’s also a good way to keep your tolerance in check.