What is caffeine? How does it work?
Caffeine comes from coffee beans, but can also be synthesised artificially. It is a powerful stimulant which acts on the CNS. It raises heart rate and increases energy and focus. In a sporting application, it can be used as a performance enhancer to increase strength and endurance.
Caffeine has been studied pretty extensively for its effect on the brain when ingested. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, which play a role in sleep cycles. Caffeine prevents adenosine from binding to those receptors, so that we do not feel as tired. This does NOT mean that we need any less sleep.
Positives of Caffeine
Caffeine can not only positively affect physical performance, but it can boost cognitive performance, as it is a nootropic.
-Benefits anaerobic exercise
-Increases power output
-Increases fat oxidation
-Decreases RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion)
However, chronic over-consumption to caffeine can build such a tolerance that we are no longer able to experience the energy boosting effects of caffeine. Instead, it reduces ability to sleep with no impact on fatigue. This is the point at which we need to question our intake.
Recommendations and Serving sizes
Up to 400mg a day is considered safe for most adults. However, most sources would recommend sticking to 200-300mg a day. Considering most pre-workouts have this amount in, it is easy to exceed this!
In humans, the half-life for caffeine averages 4-6 hours, therefore it is always a good idea to avoid it from mid afternoon onwards. There are plenty of excellent non-stimulant pre-workout products available for those who train after work.
In addition to obvious caffeine sources such as coffee and energy drinks, fizzy drinks and even chocolate contain a certain amount of caffeine. Be aware of these when trying to reduce your intake. Interesting fact: diet coke actually contains more caffeine than full sugar!
Some symptoms that you might be consuming too much caffeine include:
-elevated heart rate
How to cut down
One of the issues with having a high caffeine tolerance, which becomes a dependence, is that going cold turkey can cause lots of issues, including severe headaches. It is a good idea to cycle off caffeine regularly, or to just taper down intake when you notice it getting too high. This will resensitise you to caffeine so that you can experience the benefits to your training again.
A good time to cut caffeine is when taking a break from training or having a deload week. During this time, pre-workouts won't be as necessary.
Try to introduce caffeine free alternatives when a craving hits, such as herbal tea or flavoured fizzy waters.