In full disclosure, I absolutely love my morning cup of coffee, especially because I’m typically up 4 am to hit the gym. I’m not afraid to admit that coffee is one of my favorite beverages and I’m typically a 2 cup a day kinda guy. So how about you guys? Ever stop into a local coffee shop or perhaps a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts before hitting the gym to grab that pick me up before an intense workout? What is that caffeine that we are ingesting actually doing for us, particularly our workouts? Is it benefiting your bottom line, or is it just kick starting the engine to get us up and moving? Lets take a closer look!
Caffeine has a number of effects that will make a difference during your workout, so much so that it was once on the Olympics’ list of forbidden substances, with the blood-level equivalent of 8 cups of coffee enough to get an athlete banned from the games. Though caffeine is no longer banned, the IOC still tests for its presence, reserving the right to re-ban it if it starts finding elevated levels in a large number of competitors. Of course as I’m writing this, 8 cups does seem a little excessive. I for one would be bouncing off the walls.
How Caffeine Works:
Caffeine is a stimulant. It gives you extra stamina and increases your heart rate, improving blood flow from the heart to the rest of your body. Caffeine is ergogenic, helping you to perform difficult physical tasks by eliminating fatigue. It also increases the amount of adrenaline in your system, causing a rush of extra glucose and oxygen to your muscles. Caffeine has been found to help with two kinds of exercise: endurance activities like a marathon or Iron Man competition, and short, power-intensive activities lasting about 4 to 8 minutes.
Caffeine And Weight Loss:
According to research cited by the Australian Institute of Sport, caffeine can trigger your muscles to use fat as an energy source instead of using the sugars from carbohydrates, although this effect is short-lived and inconsistent from person to person. Caffeine has also been found to enhance an athlete’s performance during endurance activities by increasing the body’s ability to draw extra energy out of the fat reserves during an event. Coffee also has a diuretic effect that ill contribute to weight loss after exercise. The MayoClinic.com says while caffeine may provide a slight weight loss or even prevent weight gain, there’s no conclusive evidence that increasing your consumption will lead to a significant or permanent weight loss.
Caffeine As A Pre-Workout:
Before you make Starbucks part of your pre-workout warm-up in order to harness the effects of caffeine, be aware that simply downing a grande may not give you similar benefits found in these studies (especially if your adding cream, sugar etc). A recent Canadian study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology compared the effect of coffee and caffeine on run time to exhaustion. A group of nine men took part in five trials. Sixty minutes before each run, the men took one of the following:
- A placebo
- Caffeine capsules
- De-caffeinated coffee with caffeine added
- Regular coffee
Performance times were up to 10 times longer in subjects using the caffeine capsules, with no differences in times among the other trials. Since the level of absorption was similar during the caffeine trials, researchers concluded something in the coffee itself that interferes with caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects. This makes sense considering that there are literally hundreds of compounds dissolved when coffee beans are roasted, ground and extracted. Results of this research suggest that if benefits of caffeine on endurance times are desired, caffeine capsules work better than coffee.
Negative Aspect Of Caffeine:
Despite coffee/caffeine’s positive effects on psychological states and performance, there are numerous documented risks that must considered when consuming caffeine, whether for performance-enhancing effects or simply as a part of daily dietary consumption. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can produce restlessness, headaches, and irritability. It also elevates your heart rate and blood pressure.
Over the long-term as your body gets used to caffeine, it requires higher amounts to get the same effects. Certainly, having your body in a state of hormonal emergency all day long isn’t very healthy. Caffeine is also a diuretic and causes a loss of fluid, which then leads to a dehydrating effect. This is obviously not conducive to fitness activities such as resistance training, as fluid is needed for the transfer of nutrients to facilitate muscular growth. It is also important when considering the further loss of fluid while exercising in hot environments. Perhaps the most important long-term problem is the effect of caffeine on sleep.
The half-life of caffeine in the body is about 6 hours. If you drink a big cup of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine at 4PM, at 10PM you still have about 100mg in your body. By 4AM, you still have 50mg floating in your system. Even though you may be able to sleep, you may not be able to obtain the restful benefits of deep sleep. What’s worse, the cycle continues as you may use more and more in hopes of counteracting this deficit.
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