We always wonder about this and it has been a debate for decades and the IOC changes their stance on caffeine at every Olympic Games, but I suppose we need to dig a little to find out if there is a smart way to consume our regular java and reap the benefits in our daily lives and our training.

So let us start at the beginning. What is caffeine? Coffee was discovered about 1000 years ago and in all these years the product itself is still shrouded in mystery of what exactly it does to our bodies.  Caffeine is an active substance that is found in coffee, tea, guarana, soft drinks and chocolate.  Caffeine is absorbed at a rapid pace. It has been believed for a very long time that caffeine helps with performance by activating the central nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system (no, this is not the one that feels sorry for you…) and because of that reason the high and mighty at the IOC has put high or upper limits on the amount of caffeine that is allowed in your body when you compete at the Olympic Games (this changes every Olympic Games by the way, probably got something to do with, I don’t know, a little thing called research?) The current limit is about 5 or more cups of coffee for a person weighing in at 70kg to be over the legal limit. But this is all very technical and very much not in the average person’s interest. Hell, we only want to get a boost for our daily workout or just a pick me up from a flat start to the morning. The question now is. Is our caffeine consumption putting the brakes on our fat burning and muscle building efforts? Let us dig a bit deeper.

What happens when we drink our favourite cuppa in the morning? Caffeine is absorbed through the stomach and gets to the bloodstream in between 45 – 60 minutes. Once it is in the bloodstream, there are a couple of things that happen. Your blood pressure and heart rate increases and the production of stomach acids increase. The next one is pretty cool. Fatty acids are broken down and released into your bloodstream and all these processes will last anything up to 12 hours. This is good news, yes? Well, if it sounds too good to be true it usually is. So within 4 days of using your coffee as a stimulant, the body develops a tolerance to the caffeine and the wonderful effect it has on you. So if you are an irregular user, it will increase your heart rate and blood pressure but if you are a regular drinker of the java, it has barely any effect on you.

What about health issues? Like any drug, and believe me, caffeine is a stimulant and therefore a drug, you have to consider your health before you drink it. Because it increases the stomach “juice” you might want to lay off the coffee if you have a stomach ulcer. Struggling to sleep at night?  It is then advised that you do not consume coffee in the evenings. It the long term, you will have disruptive sleep patterns even though you might not realize it. This will lead to lack of energy and fatigue during the day.

What is the effect of caffeine for my everyday training?

Let us start this section with a bit of a research study. The study was conducted on Navy Seals that was deprived of sleep for 72 hours. They were tested in a shooting scenario where they had to shoot at targets with laser guns to see what happens to their accuracy when they are sleep deprived. Obviously all the stats went down, from target spotting, to lining up the target, to pulling the trigger but with 200 – 300mg of caffeine given to some of the Seals, their accuracy in all of the above mentioned tests were better than the Seals that did not take any caffeine.

Ok, so we are not in the Navy Seals and we do not have to work under such stressful situations, but believe me, and I experience this as well, we all get run down by too many hours on the job, too little downtime, bad diet and lack of willpower to exercise and then we need all the help we can get. What is the effect of caffeine on weight training then?  Again, we reach for some reliable stuff called research to get to the bottom of this. This study was done in Texas and it was labelled: “The effect of habitual Caffeine intake on Lean Body Mass and strength performance during 12 weeks of Resistance Exercise Training.” It has been known for a while that caffeine has a bigger influence on long term endurance exercise and almost no effect on short burst anaerobic type exercise (like sprinting) but what about the good old pushing some heavy stuff around while grunting loudly? 58 Sedentary adults all over the age of 60 were put on a basic 12 week strength training program with nutritional advice included in the study. They had to report eating habits for 4 of the 7 days of the week and their strength was tested before and after every training session.

These people were divided in 3 groups, low, medium and high caffeine users (he he, sounds like druggies) Low group got less than 150mg caffeine (that is about 1 and a half cups of coffee a day), medium group got between 150 and 300mg of caffeine (between 2 and 3 cups of coffee) and the high group got more than 300mg of caffeine (3 or more cups of coffee) The results were not as accurate as they wanted it but it actually showed that it had a negative effect on weight training. This is due to the increased release of cortisol and a decrease in the release of growth hormone in the body and both of these may decrease muscle growth. Now before your bubble is completely burst. This study was done on older individuals with no history of their caffeine habits and of course they were all very inactive. We don’t know if they followed their nutritional plans completely and if they were honest on their feedback sheets. Further studies will be done on the good old rat that cannot cheat like humans can.

All in all and in a nutshell, caffeine can give you that boost you need for a training session, it can increase your endurance by up to 18% and your power output during weight training is greater with a smaller measure of pain and fatigue as per the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. Use caffeine sparingly and only when you really need it because long term use will reduce the effectiveness of it. Use this advice and see how you can reach for the stars when all you are feeling is like reaching for another doughnut. Remember, the big problem with most of us is that we cannot just drink a cup of coffee. We have to “invest” it with bad stuff like milk and sugar. This is not beneficial to your health at all and it is advised that you slowly wean yourself off the “bad” stuff that you throw in your coffee.