Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, largely because it’s legal and unregulated in almost every area of the world. Most people know it as the substance in coffee that keeps you awake, but you can also consume caffeine in a powder or pill form for more precision over your dose. The most common use of caffeine is simply to help people stay awake and prevent drowsiness.
Brief Overview of Caffeine
When you consume caffeine it acts as a stimulant on your central nervous system, which gives you the boost in energy you associate with consumption. Despite most people believing caffeine boosts your energy levels, it actually works by preventing drowsiness. This means if you consume caffeine while fully awake, you will not feel an increase in energy levels.
While these two actions can seem similar, they activate in very different ways. The feelings of drowsiness come from the accumulation of a chemical called adenosine. This chemical then binds to adenosine receptors after accumulating which makes you feel drowsy after a prolonged period in a wakeful state. Caffeine prevents adenosine from activating the adenosine receptors, keeping the feelings of drowsiness at bay instead of increasing existing energy levels. These actions are why some people feel very little effects from caffeine while others find it difficult to function without it. It’s all based on your level of drowsiness at the time of consumption.
Through these effects, caffeine provides a number of health benefits and is even listed on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. It can treat and prevent some infant breathing disorders such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia and apnea of prematurity. Some studies also show that caffeine might offer a level of protection against Parkinson’s disease. With its easy availability, relatively low cost, and high level of safety, caffeine makes a great choice for a wide range of health benefits.
Caffeine as a Pre-Workout
Consuming caffeine before a workout offers a few benefits that other supplements simply cannot provide. The most significant benefit as a pre-workout revolves around the way it can help boost your metabolism which increases the amount of calories you burn during a workout. This happens from an increase in the hormone noradrenaline. Through these thermogenic effects, it becomes easier to increase your heart rate during a workout which in turn makes you burn more energy and calories.
With the way caffeine boosts your metabolism, you also receive the added benefits of heightened mental alertness and more sustained energy. Through this heightened mental alertness, you will be able to push through heavier weights and have an increased reaction time for any sports-based workouts. When you have more sustained energy from caffeine, you also might find that you can handle more reps or push through extra miles when doing cardio. Essentially, through taking caffeine as a pre-workout you can improve your overall athletic performance.
Caffeine for Muscle Endurance
Caffeine can have a significant impact on your overall endurance throughout an entire workout. It improves both how long you can workout for and can significantly improve upper body strength. One study found that healthy runners who took caffeine were able to run up to two miles further than those who consumed the placebo. This was after a dose of approximately 400 milligrams of caffeine. It can also reduce your perception of effort throughout your workout allowing you to work out for longer periods of time without feeling like it.
As for increasing your upper body strength, a meta-analysis found that out of ten other studies, caffeine improved strength by about 20% and power by about 17%. However, this effect seems to only occur in the upper body, but the effects are significant. Any increases to lower body strength were found to be insignificant. It is still unclear exactly how caffeine produces these effects, but trial after trial continues to confirm the effect exists.
Caffeine for Energy
Consuming caffeine throughout the day can significantly increase your energy levels and mental alertness. As mentioned earlier, it prevents the chemical that causes drowsiness from activating its receptors. This prevents the feelings of drowsiness from coming on allowing you to sustain a more wakeful energy level for a longer period of time. Once this happens, your body starts to produce higher levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which improve mental sharpness.
These mechanisms of action bring with them a wide range of benefits. It improves your ability to perform aerobic activities at a higher level. In one study, some runners were able to run up to two miles further with caffeine than with a placebo. It can also significantly improve your overall upper body strength and power. Consuming even low doses of caffeine can also enhance your overall cognitive abilities from your memory to critical thinking, particularly when drowsy.
Caffeine for Weight Loss
Caffeine is one of the most effective fat-burning supplements available. It works by boosting your metabolism through its thermogenic properties. Some studies show this increase in your metabolic rate can be as high as 11%. With this boost in metabolism, your resting and active energy expenditures increase which results in a higher number of calories burned. These effects are more than just theoretical, they actually result in high levels of fat-burning directly from caffeine. One study showed that caffeine can boost fat burning by up to 10% in obese individuals and up to 29% in lean individuals. It’s still unclear what causes this large difference between fat burning in obese individuals and lean individuals, but likely stems from the significance of the boost in metabolism.
Caffeine for Focus
Another major benefit of caffeine is the way it can help individuals focus particularly in suboptimal conditions. This stems from the way caffeine prevents drowsiness to improve your alertness and wakefulness allowing you to function as though you were not drowsy. With this in mind, it makes sense why the cognitive effects of caffeine are most prominent in suboptimal conditions.
The way caffeine helps with focus has also been shown to help you shift your focus, particularly when mixed with L-Theanine. This means you can switch tasks with a greater level of effectiveness lowering the time it takes you to refocus on the new task. With the way it improves your overall focus and ability to switch tasks, one study found that after caffeine consumption shift workers were far less prone to making mistakes. Caffeine makes for a great way to improve your overall cognitive abilities, however, daily consumption can lower the magnitude of these effects as your tolerance builds.
Brief Side Effects of Caffeine
Even though caffeine has an extremely high toxic dose at about 10 grams per day for an adult, it can still cause some side effects well before you hit that toxic dose. One of the most significant side effects is the way it can affect an individual’s stomach. It can reduce gastrointestinal motility and gastric acid secretion, making it more difficult to digest food which can cause stomach pains from unbalanced acids. Another major side effect is a psychological one. It can cause anxiety and insomnia particularly in individuals with pre-existing conditions in this vein. There are a few other side effects of caffeine such as the way it can act as a diuretic, but the primary issues are stomach problems, anxiety, and insomnia. Even with these side effects, caffeine still remains on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines for its relatively high safety levels when consumed and easy access.