Nutrition

Caffeine Before a Workout

Grant Dryden

Leadership and Nutrition Editor

Caffeine… for some, the word conjures up images and the aroma of coffee being brewed.  When we think coffee our mind is drawn to caffeine – the two are inexorably linked in American society.  Caffeine is a psychoactive drug found in coffee that some of us ingest daily through our coffee in order to wake up in the morning.  It is the widest non-regulated psychoactive substance in the world.  Before you get too scared about the term “psychoactive substance”, this term is being used in the technical to refer to any chemical which changes brain function and results in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior.  Coffee wakes you up, that’s the point, which means it effects your consciousness, ability to think, and behavior.  Therefore, it is a psychoactive substance.

Although mankind has been drinking coffee for at least 700 years (we can trace knowledge of coffee trees back to 16th century Ethiopia), every function that caffeine performs is not 100% understood.  However, we do at least have a good idea of how it keeps us awake.  Every second of the day, neurons in our brain are firing and producing a chemical called adenosine.  Adenosine is waste that our bodies will eventually need to flush from our system and this is done while we sleep.  In order to know when this maintenance should be done, our brain monitors the amount of adenosine present.  This is done through adenosine receptors, and when the level of adenosine present in our brain reaches a certain level we begin to feel tired.  Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors which makes our brains think there is less adenosine present than there actually is.  Voila!  When adenosine goes undetected we don’t get sleepy!

In other words, Caffeine doesn’t press the gas on our brains, it prevents it from using the brakes.

How does caffeine help?

First off, Caffeine is good for fat loss because it helps cause fat cells to be used for energy before glycogen.  Glycogen is energy stored in your liver and muscles.  Normally, this gets burned before fat cells because its readily available, but caffeine reverses the order of this energy access to help you lose weight.

Secondly, it helps you train longer and produce more power output during your workouts.  Combine this with the fat burning effects and you can start to see why caffeine is a helpful pre-workout supplement.

That’s not all though, studies show that caffeine improves focus and output for straightforward, non-creative tasks.  Workouts are typically straightforward, so caffeine will improve your ability to remain focused on the exercises.

When should I take it?

Caffeine is absorbed directly from the stomach within 15-45 minutes of ingestion.  Peak effects occur between 30-75 minutes.  So, you are best off taking this about an hour before a workout.

Since caffeine blocks adenosine, a smart idea is to take it in the morning when you work out.  At this time, you’ve just slept and your adenosine levels are low.  You’ll get all the benefits of caffeine at this time without the risk of allowing your brain to overproduce adenosine past the “I’m sleepy” mark.  For comparison, if you take caffeine before an evening workout your brain has already produced a lot of adenosine and has been monitoring it to know when you should go to bed.  If you’re like most Americans, you probably get too little sleep as it is.  Using caffeine late in the evening could cause your sleepiness to go undetected which has the effect of “borrowing” energy from tomorrow in order to do more today.  Recovery will take longer and you’ll feel worse in the morning.  This is something to consider when using caffeine as a pre-workout supplement.

Optimal Dosage

The effects of caffeine vary from person to person, so finding your optimal dosage will take some trial and error.  For reference, the typical cup of coffee has about 80-175mg of caffeine.  It is safe to start at 200mg of caffeine and dial it up or down as you feel is necessary.

Your body will build up a tolerance to caffeine over time, so be careful not to constantly increase dosage to a point where you become dependent on the substance just to function.  Caffeine withdrawal will cause pretty bad headaches and you’ll appreciate not having to endure those.

Side Effects

If you take too much caffeine you may feel jittery or paranoid.  You can also become dependent on it and build up tolerance causing a particular dosage to become less effective over time.

Is it safe?

Yes, it is safe if taken within optimal doses.

However, caffeine can be toxic at very high doses of 10 grams per day.  No need to worry, this is the equivalent of 50-100 cups of coffee or half a bottle of caffeine pills.  The only time to be wary of overdosing is if you are using pure caffeine powder where you might mis-measure.

As always, please follow any instruction given to you by your physician regarding caffeine consumption.

If you would like to try this supplement, we recommend the pill form since it is easiest to control dosage.

Prolab Caffeine Tablets, 100-Count

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