Caffeine is found in almost all pre-workout supplements. It is found in energy drinks (like Red Bull, Monster, etc), as well as in coffee. It is also present in various other things we often don’t suspect, like chocolate, soft drinks, and even cold and flu capsules.
For the moment, lets ignore inadvertent consumption of caffeine. I’m going to focus on those who intentionally take caffeine with the purpose of seeking an energy boost. Considering how many coffee drinkers there are in the world, caffeine is one of the most commonly used “drugs” globally! So many of us feel like we can’t even function before having that morning coffee!
But what’s really the deal with caffeine? And how can it effect performance?
Mental and Physical Performance
Let’s cut the chase: caffeine “works”! It’s true. The “energy boost” experienced by those who take caffeine is not imaginary or placebo. Caffeine actually does aid physical and mental performance. Caffeine has a positive effect on both muscle cells and brain cells. It can provide better focus, as well as better exercise performance.
And there’s more! Caffeine can also aid fat burning too!
Caffeine increases the production of heat and epinephrine (adrenaline), which helps burn more fat during exercise.
When to Take Caffeine
Caffeine is absorbed into the blood stream quite quickly. Following an intake of caffeine, levels in the blood stream seem to peak after about 60 – 90 minutes. So, it makes sense to take caffeine approximately this time frame out from a workout, event, race etc.
How Much to Take
Recommendations are in the range of 3 – 6mg per kg of bodyweight to improve performance. So, a person weighing 80kg would take anywhere from 240mg to 480mg.
For your information, one 500ml can of Monster contains 169.05mg of caffeine. Or one cup of regular strength coffee has about 95mg of caffeine. A pre-workout supplement usually has about 400mg.
There are a few points to consider when it comes to caffeine use.
Firstly, note that caffeine has a half-life of 4 – 6 hours. In other words, after 4 – 6 hours, half of it will still be in your blood stream. It is for this reason that you don’t want to be taking caffeine too late in the day, otherwise you will struggle to sleep.
Another point to note, is that your body develops a tolerance to caffeine if you use it regularly. So, if you already regularly consume lots of coffee, or even chocolate, soft drinks, or other caffeine containing products, you may need to take higher caffeine doses to see any benefit. For this reason, it would make sense to keep caffeine use low / infrequent, to save it for when it is really needed.
Furthermore, it is debatable, but caffeine does appear to be addictive. This is another reason not to take caffeine too frequently, or to use it in unnecessary circumstances. Save it for events / hard workouts only.
Also to consider, are some of the side effects caffeine can have. Some of these include, trembling, jitteriness, anxiety, and rapid heart rate. So, don’t go overboard on your caffeine usage.
Are Pre Workout Supplements Worth it?
This isn’t such a black and white question. As mentioned previously, pre-workout supplements usually contain about 400mg of caffeine. Compare this to a 500ml can of an energy drink, which contains about 169.05mg. Or one cup of regular strength coffee has about 95mg of caffeine.
Pre-workout supplements usually do come with a higher price tag. But, considering that they can provide a simpler means of getting an adequate intake of caffeine to aid performance (you’d need to drink several cups of coffee, or probably two or more 500ml cans of energy drink to get a comparable caffeine intake), they might be worth it.
Caffeine is one of the limited supplements available that are proven to deliver performance enhancing results. Caffeine can improve physical and mental performance, as well as enhance fat loss.
If you choose to use caffeine, take it an hour or so before hard physical activity.
But to avoid building a higher tolerance to it, and to avoid addiction, don’t use caffeine too regularly.
Be wary of the other possible side effects of too much caffeine.
And how you obtain your required caffeine intake to aid performance is up to you. Pre-workout supplements are the simpler yet pricier option. Otherwise you could opt for coffee or energy drinks.