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Nowadays more and more people use caffeine instead of the pre-workout stimulant as the main “pic-me-up” before a workout. But how is it possible that on the one hand, a cup of coffee supplies the necessary energy to some people while on the other hand, it causes fatigue and lack of concentration to the others? Let’s take a look at the benefits of caffeine and how to make your workout more effective with it.
Caffeine – why does caffeine affect some and not others?
The Canadian study looked in detail at how the human body treats caffeine.  Nutritionists and researchers at the University of Toronto have researched 101 male athletes, whose average age was 25 years. This group included cyclists, marathon runners, skiers, baseball players, boxers and powerlifters. Using saliva samples, researchers were able to determine the caffeine value that each of the athletes was able to process in their metabolism. And how did they do it? Our body contains a gene called CYP1A2. Changes in our DNA can affect how effective this gene will be against caffeine processing. Based on the results, they divided groups into people with a fast metabolism and slow metabolism and proved that whether caffeine kicked your performance or not was simply in your genes.
How did the research work?
All of these athletes came to the test centre to receive a caffeine or placebo tablet once a week for 3 weeks. The athletes rested for 25 minutes and then did some warm-up exercises. They continued with a pre-agreed combination of exercises, including the so-called Wingate test. It measured the highest aerobic strength or cycling on a stationary bike for 10 kilometres.
After 4 weeks, researchers compared exercise results and CYP1A2 gene test results, finding that caffeine helped 49 out of 101 athletes (with rapid metabolism) and improved performance by 6.8%. The other 44 athletes (with slow metabolism) experienced no change in performance, while 8 athletes with slow metabolism experienced a decrease in performance of almost 14% – because of their CYP1A2 gene response to caffeine.
Where does caffeine come from?
Caffeine is a powerful insecticide in nature that plants produce to kill off their enemy – a pest. As with chocolate or pomegranate, the history of caffeine dates back to the time of our ancestors. There are several stories about its origins, including a Chinese legend in which the ancient Chinese Emperor Shennong accidentally discovered caffeine when some coffee leaves accidentally fluttered into his pot of boiling water 3000 years BC.
Whether it is true or not, it seems that people have known about the effects of caffeine drinks since ancient times. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu called this energetic fluid “the elixir of life” as early as the 6th century BC. 
Coffee has more than a rich history, dating back to the 14th to 15th century, to Arab cultures, where besides the great merchandise for trading, it was also a popular pick-me-up and a way how to not fall asleep during evening prayers. From here, it was just a step towards getting to Europe through the business along with tea and hot chocolate. Much later, around the 19th century, caffeine was first discovered in isolated form by German chemists, and shortly thereafter by their French colleagues. Hence its name “kaffee”, which in German and French expresses coffee. Nowadays we obtain it most often as an extracted product from plants.
How does caffeine affect the physical performance of athletes?
Caffeine influences the central nervous system by promoting spinal cord, irritating muscle fibres and reducing the perception of fatigue and muscle pain. This has been shown to improve physical performance in all kinds of sports. However, it should be borne in mind that caffeine begins to act 30 to 45 minutes after its use, so if you drink your cup of coffee just before training, the expected effect may come later. 
4 main benefits of caffeine for athletes
1. Improved concentration
By increasing dopamine and adrenaline, caffeine can positively affect mood and concentration. However, if you drink coffee regularly, dopamine production will decrease, so your body only needs caffeine to bring the dopamine level to normal. At this point, increased concentration can be only a momentary matter.
Caffeine can also reduce “working” memory, even with people who do not receive caffeine regularly, probably because of strong body stimulation. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found out that caffeine given before strenuous workout could increase exercise intensity and improve concentration. Caffeine intake can also improve reaction time, which can be especially helpful in sports that require quick decision-making – such as football or basketball. 
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2. Increase in physical and strength performance
A dose of 400 to 600 mg of caffeine is one of the most reliable ways to temporarily increase strength and physical performance. People who rarely take caffeine tend to experience a significant improvement in physical performance, especially during aerobic exercises or strength training. Caffeine can also play a role in regeneration after training. Taking caffeine together with carbohydrates can improve the condition of the glycemic stock, which is very important in regeneration, especially if you exercise regularly or more than once a day.
Glycogen (a storage form of glucose in the body) serves as the main fuel for muscle mass, and when it is reduced, one feels tired. The second “fuel” in our body is created by fat stores. As long as glycogen is available, working muscles are able to accumulate fat. Caffeine helps to mobilize fat stores and directs muscles to use the fat as fuel. After taking caffeine before training, the first 15 minutes are critical for glycogen, when it has been shown that caffeine has reduced the utilization of glycogen stores by nearly 50%. Thus, muscle glycogen is available as fuel only at later stages of training, which increases performance and prevents rapid onset of fatigue. Thus, caffeine prefers the use of fat stores as fuel instead of glycogen, which in addition to performance will also support fat burning.
Caffeine also helps to block specific receptors in the body that are responsible for making us feel tired. This allows us to do more repetitions and add total energy and stamina to the workout. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found out that 180 mg of caffeine, which was consumed 60 minutes before training, markedly increased physical performance during a workout, resulting in more bench press repetitions, deadlifts or squats. The caffeine supplemented group also had a reduced perception of exertion. In addition, caffeine has improved the power of the lower body as well as running performance. 
3. Fat burning support
There are two main reasons thanks to which caffeine is able to help with fat burning: the thermogenic effect (in the short term, caffeine can increase body temperature) and the weaker lipolytic effect, where caffeine can make triglycerides release fatty acids in the long term and the body can use them as “fuel”. There are also several studies showing the ability of caffeine to burn fat during exercise. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and increases the epinephrine hormone level, both signalling the body to burn fat. While this ability is not directly related to fat loss, a combination of caffeine, a balanced diet, and an appropriate training plan can help you to work out your figure. 
Caffeine can increase the amount of the so-called relaxation energy, the number of calories you burn at rest up to 3 hours after it is consumed. Of course, this does not mean that you can eat everything that comes in hand, but an extra 200 to 300 calories burned each day can lead to a visible change in your weight.
4. Reduction of muscle fatigue
Whether you believe it or not, studies have shown that caffeine greatly helps reduce muscle fatigue by reducing the perception of exertion/pain during your workout. With less muscle fatigue, your performance is better, and you can even repeat some exercises that you wouldn’t otherwise have the energy to do. More repetitions and more work equal better results! 
Caffeine and pre-workout stimulants
As it is clear from the research mentioned above, each person reacts to caffeine differently. So it is up to you whether you decide to take a cup of coffee, caffeine tablets or a pre-workout stimulant before your training. However, sometimes caffeine is one of the components of the pre-workout stimulant itself. This is mainly because caffeine is one of the strong psychoactive stimulants that stimulate the central nervous system. It is its influence on our nervous system that can supply energy, improve concentration and avert fatigue.
Does caffeine also have any side effects?
But, of course, one can have too much of a good thing and it is also true with caffeine. Taking large amounts of caffeine can lead to anxiety, nervousness, increased blood pressure or nausea.
It has been shown that caffeine elicits a slight diuretic effect in the human body, causing a feeling of dehydration. However, the effect is negligible. Scientific studies have pointed out that caffeine drinks hydrate the body just as decaffeinated drinks. Nevertheless, it is a very good idea to increase the intake of liquids when consuming caffeine, especially when you train in a hot and humid environment.
Although many of us believe that caffeine should hype us up, the high amount of caffeine can do the exact opposite. It was found that people who received an extremely high dose of caffeine (1000 mg/day) were more nervous, tired and stressed. However, people who do not often use caffeine may also experience such symptoms. One study tested 25 healthy men, and those who received more than 300 mg of caffeine per day reported that they felt much more stressed than men who took a placebo. However, the caffeine ratio varies from coffee to coffee. For example, one big coffee (“grande”) in Starbucks contains about 330 mg of caffeine. 
It is well known that caffeine is an addictive substance. Addiction may occur if you take more than 200 mg per day. You may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms during the day, lasting on average 2 to 9 days, manifested by headaches, anxiety, depression, or different appetites for all the food you see. You can reduce these side effects by reducing your doses to the required amount. In association with addiction, a study involving 213 participants taking caffeine was conducted, where participants were asked to complete a questionnaire after 16 hours without caffeine. Based on the results of the questionnaire, it was shown that people receiving caffeine on a daily basis had headaches and felt tired. 
Increased blood pressure and palpitation
First of all, it should be noted that these negative symptoms are individual for each person. A study on the effects of caffeine on the heart revealed that high doses of caffeine can cause rapid heart beat and heart palpitation. However, in a study involving 51 people with heart problems, no negative effects were found even after taking 100 mg of caffeine for 5 hours. But if you feel that caffeine affects your body or heart negatively, you should consider reducing your daily dosage. 
What are the most popular sources of caffeine?
A cup of coffee, tea or even caffeine tablets. These are also ways how to take caffeine. Let’s take a look at the most popular sources of caffeine along with their pros and cons.
- Filtered coffee: 60-180 mg in 170 ml
- Espresso: 70-80 mg in 44 ml
- Decaf coffee: 2-5 mg in 170 ml
Who wouldn’t love the smell of freshly ground coffee. This form of caffeine taking can undoubtedly be ranked as number one. This is also evidenced by the fact that many athletes currently prefer a cup of coffee over a pre-workout stimulant. The biggest advantage is a quick preparation and a wide selection of coffee types. However, you should not forget that one can have too much of a good thing so it is necessary to have some limits even with your favourite coffee.
Bottled/canned coffee beverages
- 70-180 mg in 220 ml
A widely available product, usually with added protein in the form of milk with coffee aroma/flavour. However, it is very important to pay attention to nutritional values with these products, as many of them contain extreme amounts of sugar, which will certainly not please your body.
- 75-120 mg in 230 ml
Energy drinks are suitable for the body, but they contain large amounts of sugar unless you choose some “sugar-free” versions, which are becoming more and more available. But here again, you should not overdo it with energy drinks.
- 40-80 mg in 150 ml
As for the caffeine content in tea, it varies greatly depending on the type of tea. However, it is known that black tea usually contains more caffeine than green tea.
Various energy gels
- 30-100 mg per gel
Energy gels are designed especially for endurance athletes who perform severe physical activity. However, it is not a rule that all gels must contain caffeine. Those containing it are intended to promote low sugar levels in the blood of athletes. Energy gels need to be used with a large amount of water for better absorption of the gel.
- 100-200 mg per tablet
Caffeine tablets are one of the most effective ways to take caffeine without figuring out whether you really take the required dosage without any other unnecessary substances. However, the disadvantage is that 1 strong tablet may cause nervousness or other side effects. That’s why you should start with low doses and make your body get used to caffeine slowly.
Green tea extract
- unknown caffeine content
Although data show that green tea affects metabolism, most manufacturers do not report the exact caffeine content of this fat burner.
BCAA Energy drinks
BCAA Energy drinks have recently enjoyed great popularity, mainly because of the taste similar to the energy drink and ability to provide energy and regeneration in one. One of the ingredients of BCAA energy drinks is exactly the caffeine, which ensures long-term energy supply. By the way, have you tried our new BCAA Energy drink in a can?
The most common questions related to caffeine
1. Does caffeine reduce the effects of creatine?
It has not been shown that caffeine negatively affects the effects of creatine during aerobic exercise or HIIT training. On the contrary, it has been proven that caffeine is beneficial for the overall outcome of the training.
2. Do I need to take caffeine regularly?
There are certain benefits associated with regular caffeine intake and there are also benefits from occasional use. It is only up to your preferences and your caffeine tolerance.
3. Are energy drinks harmful to us?
Case studies have shown that energy drinks can have a particularly adverse effect on our cardiovascular system. Generally, if you only receive the recommended daily dosage, energy drinks do not show any negative effects on the body. However, it should be noted that the majority of energy drinks also contain a lot of sugar along with caffeine. Therefore, always check the nutritional values of the drink in addition to the composition or choose the sugar-free version.
4. How does caffeine work in our brain?
You become tired during the day when adenosine connects to the so-called A1 receptor in your brain. Caffeine prevents adenosine from connecting to this receptor, which will help combat fatigue.
5. What is a safe dosage of caffeine?
Safe caffeine dosage is a very relative term because it depends on many factors as well as your health. Some people do not experience any negative symptoms after taking more cups of coffee per day. On the other hand, for another group of people, one cup of coffee is enough and their blood pressure can rise rapidly, they have problems with sleeping, headaches, they can experience nervousness and fatigue. Safe dosage of the caffeine for adults is 400 mg per day. Pregnant or nursing women should not consume more than 200 mg/day. People with cardiovascular problems should keep caffeine doses on a minimum. 
This figure shows the amount of caffeine (mg) contained in the popular beverages we normally consume. The highest amount, 280 mg of caffeine contains the energy drink JOLT, while a cup of ground coffee contains about 163 mg of caffeine.
How many drinks do we have to drink to reach the recommended 400 mg caffeine intake limit?
This illustration shows how much energy drinks, coffee, black or green tea you would have to drink to achieve a daily caffeine dose of 400 mg.
How to use caffeine?
If you want to increase your sports performance, there are a few points that you should not miss.
You can already feel the effects of caffeine at 20 mg (0.3 mg/kg of your body weight). If you have never used caffeine before, start with the lowest possible dose. Many people consume large amounts of caffeine without realizing its strong effects on metabolism.
If you drink a cup of coffee containing 100 mg of caffeine in the morning, then 150 mg in a fat burner (containing caffeine) and 200 mg before training, this is the amount of caffeine that may cause symptoms such as tremor, anxiety, nervousness or palpitation. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the dosage and adjust it to your body, physical performance or ability. 
You can increase the caffeine level in the blood 60 to 90 minutes after its consumption. Therefore, you should take it 1 to 2 hours before training. Remember that caffeine has a relatively long duration of action, about 6 hours, which means that if you take tablets containing 200 mg of caffeine in 18 hours, you will still feel half that of that dose in your body until about midnight.
This can have a detrimental effect on your regular sleep cycle. You should also be very careful with caffeine if you have heart problems or suffer from heart disease. 
In what form do you take caffeine? Is it better than a pre-workout stimulant? Let us know in the comments and if you liked the article support it by sharing.