CAFFEINE & TRAINING
Caffeine is a naturally occurring central nervous system stimulant found in guarana, coffee, tea, cocoa, cola, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate.
The ergogenic effects of caffeine have been successfully applied in endurance sports. For example, taking caffeine has been shown to significantly increase muscle endurance. When it comes to strength training, the effects of caffeine on performance such as maximum strength and power are relatively recent studies. In this article, I will tell you what science knows at the moment.
What Science Says
A 2018 research assessed the effect of caffeine intake on 2 indicators - muscle strength and power. The goal was to study the data and come to a general conclusion, as individual experiments show conflicting results.
The scientists concluded that caffeine intake improved both strength and power. In doing so, it was found that caffeine significantly increased muscle strength in the upper body, while muscle strength in the lower body did not significantly increase. The difference in strength between the caffeine and placebo groups averaged 3.5 kg (in favor of caffeine) for the upper body muscles and 1.7 kg for the lower body muscles.
The results of this analysis indicate that caffeine can be helpful for those trying to increase strength and power. In this case, the overall effect of caffeine can be characterized as weak or moderate. However, even small improvements in strength and power indicators can affect the outcome of the competition.
Another 2019 study (Sports Medicine) found that caffeine supplementation can positively affect muscle strength in all types of physical activity, including sports such as powerlifting and weightlifting.
Typically, studies use dosages of 4-6 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. However, at high intensity during explosive exercise (75-90% 1RM), higher caffeine dosages are likely to be required to get the power boost. However, large doses of caffeine can cause more side effects, and this must be considered.
A large number of studies have shown that caffeine has been shown to increase physical performance with proven effectiveness. However, data on the effects of caffeine on strength performance are still mixed.
Possible mechanisms of caffeine's effectiveness.
The exact mechanisms of action of caffeine are still being studied. Caffeine is known to stimulate the central nervous system and provide a refreshing effect, which can lead to improved performance during exercise.
Also, caffeine increases the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum and the recruitment of motor units. This promotes stronger muscle contraction and partly explains some of the ergogenic effects of caffeine during strength training.
Some studies have reported that caffeine can reduce the subjective perception of exercise. That is, we can do more strength work while taking the load as if we are giving all the best.
Caffeine Form, Dosage, and Timing
In most studies, participants took caffeine in capsule or powder form, so the effects of other forms of caffeine are poorly understood. That being said, coffee can be as effective as caffeine from capsules or powder. Therefore, the choice should come from personal preference.
Disadvantage of caffeine intake in the form of coffee is the presence of other ingredients that can reduce the effects of caffeine. Also, in the case of caffeine in capsule form, it is very easy to calculate the exact dosage.
There is growing interest in studying the effects of caffeine in the form of chewing gums, bars, gels, and energy drinks. Some of these forms of caffeine may have a higher absorption rate, which may be of interest in some cases. One study observed that caffeine appeared faster in the circulation with the gum compared with the capsules. It took 84-120 min to reach a peak with the capsule and only 44-80 min with the gum.
As previously stated, the most common dose of caffeine in studies is 6 mg per kg of body weight. This is a relatively high dose, as for an 85 kg person, this amount of caffeine is found in about 4-5 cups of coffee. The effect of lower doses of caffeine (≤3 mg per kg of body weight) is being studied today since even this dose can lead to improved physical performance, but with a minimum of side effects.
A good starting dosage might be 2-3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. The dosage can then be smoothly adjusted according to the individual response.
Peak plasma concentrations occur between 60 minutes after oral ingestion, so the maximum effect can be expected 1 hour after ingestion of caffeine.
What else is important to know about caffeine?
Individuals react differently to caffeine intake. It depends on the genetic characteristics of caffeine metabolism. For this reason, for some people, exercise performance increases, others do not respond in any way to caffeine, and for some people, performance even decreases.
Caffeine is safe when taken in the recommended dosage (3-6 mg per kg of body weight). But keep in mind that about 10% of people start feeling side effects after just 100 mg of caffeine. People should assess their susceptibility to possible side effects such as tremors, insomnia, heart palpitations, headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, muscle soreness, inability to speak normally and to maintain concentration. People with high blood pressure should be especially careful. If side effects appear, it is necessary to reduce the dosage or stop using caffeine and consult a doctor. Health is more important than personal records!
It is not recommended to take more than 500 mg of caffeine in a single dose before training or competition. And with long-term intake of caffeine, the total dosage of 300-500 mg per day is recommended to be divided into several doses.
By the way, the use of caffeine in a dosage higher than 9 mg per 1 kg of body weight can lead to the fact that the level of caffeine in the urine will exceed the permissible threshold, which is set by many sports organizations.
Conclusions and recommendations:
- Caffeine has a positive effect on strength and power performance. The overall effect is small to moderate. A safe dosage is 3-6 mg of caffeine per 1 kg of body weight, however, it is recommended to start with lower doses - from 2-3 mg per 1 kg of body weight. Do not exceed 500 mg of caffeine before training or competition.
- Caffeine can be taken in capsule form or coffee form. With capsules, it is much easier to calculate the exact dosage. The best time to consume caffeine is 1 hour before starting your workout.
- Depending on your genetic features, people respond differently to caffeine, both in terms of physical performance and overall well-being. Pay attention to your caffeine reaction.
- If side effects appear, it is necessary to reduce the dosage, and in some cases, you may have to give up caffeine.
I consider caffeine as one of the few supplements worth spending money on. But only if you are safe with it and do not exceed the recommended daily dosage.