Caffeine is one of the most commonly used and researched supplements/ergogenic aids. It's been shown time and time again as being effective in increasing alertness, mental focus, and athletic performance. But how much caffeine is too much? Isn't caffeine dehydrating? Are pre-workouts safe? Does caffeine help burn fat? In this blog (and this youtube video), I answer all these questions and more to help you decide how, when, and if you should use caffeine. As the title states, here is everything you need to know about caffeine:
What is caffeine? What does it do?
Caffeine is an alkaloid that's found naturally in the seeds and leaves of certain plants such as coffee and tea. Caffeine has found it's way into many medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, pre-workout supplements, energy drinks, soda, and candies. It stimulates the central nervous system and increases your serum levels of epinephrine. Research has shown caffeine to increase mental alertness and concentration. It's also been shown to help improve athletic performance by increasing time to exhaustion and boosting both power & endurance.
So if I'm an athlete looking to improve my performance, should I use caffeine??
It depends. Caffeine effects people differently. Some people are more sensitive than others, so it's important to avoid using caffeine for the first time right before a big race or game. It's also important to know how much is too much, as high doses can trigger cardiac arrhythmias, nervousness, headache, nausea, digestive issues, or dehydration. Studies have shown that excess caffeine does not give you a further boost in performance, but rather it actually decreases it. If you're new to caffeine, I recommend first trying it from a natural source - such as coffee or tea - rather than that 5-hr energy shot or Monster energy drink. Your blood levels of caffeine peak at 45-60 minutes post-consumption, so for best results plan ahead and have it 45-60 min before your workout.
How much caffeine is too much? Is caffeine dehydrating?
Exceeding 300 mg of caffeine per day can lead to increased risk of dehydration. The average cup (8 oz.) of coffee (home-brewed) has about 100 mg, so this is about 3 cups of coffee. Always read labels on supplements to make sure you know how much you are consuming!! And if the supplement doesn't list the amount of caffeine (some just list "proprietary blend") don't use it. You'll have no idea how much you are consuming, and if you're consuming other foods/beverages containing caffeine throughout the day you may be going way overboard. Check out the chart I made below for caffeine & sugar contents present in a variety of beverages.
What about pre-workouts? Should I use them?
There's a good chance if you're using a "pre-workout" it's packed with artificial sweeteners and flavors. No matter how "natural" the company makes their product sound, if it lists the following ingredients you may want to avoid using it pre-workout: sucralose (a.k.a. splenda), acesulfame K, aspartame. Artificial sweeteners lead to gas, bloating, and stomach aches/cramps which is the last thing you want during a workout. If you're someone who eats or drinks foods with artificial sweeteners quite often you may not notice these effects as much.
Also, contrary to popular belief, the excessive amounts of Vitamin B12 found in your pre-workouts do not specifically provide energy. B-vitamins aid in the transition from glucose (carbohydrates) to ATP (energy). That's why it's important to consume adequate amounts of both carbohydrates and B12 sources (found naturally in lean protein sources) as a more effective way to increase your energy levels. That being said, pre-workouts are pretty unnecessary. They're a mix of excessive amounts of Vitamin B12, caffeine, and junk (a.k.a. artificial sweeteners/flavors). My advice is have a shot or two of espresso instead and you'll be getting the same energy boost from caffeine, without the junk.
Does caffeine really help burn up all my body fat?
No. Caffeine is often found as an ingredient in "fat-burner" type pills, and although caffeine promotes fatty acid release, fat burning does not appear to be increased with consumption. Just another reason to avoid bogus weight loss pills. If you're looking for healthy ways to burn body fat, check out a few of my blogs such as this one on weight loss.