«You can achieve everything you set your mind to» – Coffee
Caffeine is the molecule that moves the modern world, and it also improves performance. In fact, it is one of the few supplements that is worth spending money on.
Its main source is coffee, which could actually be considered a food, with countless studies supporting its health benefits (meta-analysis).
Today we review the effect of caffeine on athletic performance and fat burning. You will learn how it works, the recommended dose and the ideal time to take it.
Mechanisms of action
The mechanisms of action of caffeine are multiple (detail, detail), affecting three main systems in an integrated way:
- Central nervous system (CNS). Caffeine increases dopamine and adrenaline (study, study). Therefore, it raises the threshold of pain and effort (study, study, study, study), making exercise more pleasant (study). It also benefits cognitive performance, being considered a nootropic.
- Muscular system. Improves the recruitment of motor units (study), enhancing muscle activation (study). Reduces muscle pain associated with training (study).
- Energy systems / metabolism. Caffeine facilitates the mobilization of fat (study, study, study), increasing its oxidation during physical activity (meta-analysis, study, study, study, study). It also slightly increases the EPOC effect during the hours after training (study, study).
From a hormonal point of view, it appears that high doses increase testosterone, but also cortisol, so the end effect is not clear (study), but is generally associated with lower body fat (study).
Caffeine and Physical Performance
The greater availability of fatty acids especially benefits the yield in resistance tests (study, study, study), by conserving glycogen and postponing fatigue (study, study, study).
The effects of caffeine on the CNS, for example in the transmission of nerve impulses, also seem to improve performance in explosive efforts of short duration (study, study).
As if this were not enough, caffeine also raises the anaerobic capacity (detail), facilitating a greater volume of work (study) and increasing strength gains (study, study, study). Also in women (study).
Although caffeine should be taken mainly as a pre-workout (now we will go deeper), it also provides benefits after exercise. Optimize for example synthesis of new muscle glycogen (study), in part by elevating GLUT-4 receptors (study).
If you do double workouts, post-workout caffeine (along with carbohydrate) speeds up glycogen recharge and performance in the second session (study, study).
Athletes, Sleep and Coffee
The days leading up to competitions are often busy, with travel, nerves, new surroundings and even time changes. The result is a performance loss right at the worst time.
A known strategy to mitigate this effect is the so-called sleep banking. It basically consists of accumulating some additional sleep the nights before the trip, taking advantage of the fact that sleep works as a kind of checking account. Yes you save I sleep for several nights, it will not hurt you so much the fact of sleeping little the following days (study, study).
In addition to accumulating hours of rest, you can use caffeine to improve your situation on the day of the competition. Caffeine increases physical and cognitive performance in conditions of sleep deficit, reducing reaction time and increasing jumping power (study).
Most studies use 3-6 mg / Kg. That is, if you weigh 70 kilos, you should aim for 200-400 mg before training. As always, start in the lower range. Some people may notice gastrointestinal problems or excessive stimulation.
In the morning you can use higher doses than in the afternoon, thus avoiding impacting the rest. The half life of a substance is the time it takes the body to eliminate half of the ingested dose, and in the case of caffeine varies between four and nine hours. If your specific genetics are six hours, and you have your last coffee at six in the afternoon, at midnight you will still have half of its caffeine running through your veins.
As I explained when talking about nutrigenomics, different variants of the CYP1A2 gene produce very different rates of caffeine metabolism (study, study), and therefore different impact on performance (study).
To get the benefits described above, you must take caffeine 45-60 minutes before training, although its effect lasts longer. For example, fatty acids remain elevated in the blood for more than three hours (study).
Spinning finer, the absorption time depends on the route of administration. Coffee is faster than pills (study).
Plus, coffee is so much more than caffeine. For example some of its polyphenols contribute to increased fat oxidation (study), regardless of caffeine. The ergogenic effect is equivalent (study), but you get more nutrients.
The main benefit of the tablets is the precision of the dose, much more difficult to adjust with the coffee, whose caffeine content varies according to the preparation and the type. As reference, an espresso provides about 100 mg of caffeine.
In long-term tests you can supplement also during exercise and keep your benefits (study).
Caffeine with Creatine?
A study from the 1990s seemed to indicate that caffeine interfered with the benefits of creatine, but more recent studies have not replicated this effect (study, study).
In fact, this study finds the opposite, and shows that caffeine enhances the effect of creatine, producing greater force.
Another study also shows better sprint interval performance when creatine and caffeine are combined.
Many pre-workout supplements combine creatine with caffeine without observing interference (study, study), but we would need longer-term studies to be sure.
In any case, my usual recommendation is to take caffeine before and creatine after (study).
Tolerance and cycling
As we saw, caffeine acts on both the nervous and muscular levels. The effects on the CNS are attenuated with chronic consumption, but the rest of the benefits on performance are maintained (study, study).
A recent study shows that performance enhancement in endurance activities is not reduced in regular caffeine users.
In sports that require more strength or explosiveness, where the central nervous system plays a fundamental role, chronic consumption could reduce its effectiveness (study).
In these cases, it is advisable to cycle caffeine, reserving it for the toughest workouts of the week and performing 7-10 day breakss from time to time. One way to make the process more bearable is by drinking decaffeinated coffee. It maintains most of the benefits of coffee, but you fool your brain with the placebo effect.
If you need to optimize results in a specific competition, limit caffeine for at least the previous four days (study). This will enhance its effect when you reinstate it.
And if you are more into tea, read this article.