Caffeine is the world’s most popular drug, with more than 90% of the population consuming some form of caffeine on a daily basis.
The mental and physical stimulation it can provide makes it an addictive choice.
More specifically, benefits of caffeine consumption can include (but are not limited to):
- Increased performance in both anaerobic and aerobic capacities.
- Improved strength and power.
- Heightened fat oxidation.
- Increased alertness and awareness.
- Reduced risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and certain forms of cancer.
Caffeine works, and there is a mountain of research supporting its long list of benefits and uses.
At UP, we are always looking for an extra edge to give to our clients on their body transformation journeys.
In this article, we will explain how we like to use caffeine to improve clients’ fat loss and performance results in the gym.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine comes from various sources of seeds, nuts or leaves of different plants native to South America and East Asia, with the most common source being the seed of Coffea plants.
It is a methylxanthine and primarily acts through its ‘competitive inhibition’ of adenosine receptors in the brain. In normal circumstances, adenosine bonds to receptor cells in the brain to put brakes on the central nervous system.
During the body’s natural daily rhythm, adenosine levels build up and cause your body to release less active neurotransmitters, and trigger tiredness.
Caffeine works by antagonising this process, and almost impersonating adenosine’s action in the brain, only with an opposite effect.
Caffeine and Fat Loss
If you’ve read the ingredients of any popular fat burner supplement, you will almost always see caffeine included.
Caffeine’s influence on fat loss is in part due to its ability to drive a catecholamine response through adrenaline and noradrenaline release.
These can activate the lipolytic cascade by binding to β-adrenoreceptors. Further, its role as a phosphodiesterase inhibitor means that cyclic AMP will upregulate, and able to deliver its stimulatory effect in lipolysis.
Increased lipolysis will result in a greater release of fatty acids available for fat oxidation. This initial step in fat loss is important and explains why a cup of coffee before training can be a good idea.
What about performance?
Some of the most relevant benefits of caffeine for our clients are the increased ability to train harder with less fatigue, and improved workout quality and capacity. Volume is one of the determinants in body recomposition (something we should all be striving towards), and if we can take, or drink something that will increase our tolerance to quality training volume, we should consider it.
Further, caffeine can work effectively in helping express maximal strength. The decreased perception of fatigue and pain, as well as more forceful muscle contractions (via intramuscular calcium release) can make it a potent tool to keep in your arsenal.
If we want to maintain and ideally build some muscle during a calorie deficit, building upon your strength levels should always be the goal.
So how do we like to dose it?
If you are new to caffeine, start with 100mg, which equates to about one cup of coffee. Research tends to indicate at dosages of 4-6 mg/kg bodyweight for performance benefits, and 200mg minimum for fat burning.
These numbers aren’t set in stone, and can certainly titrate up and down depending on the individual.
Of course, these effects of caffeine only provide the extra 1% that you’re looking for once the rest of the diet and training is all dialled in.
How can we maximise caffeine intake for our goals?
When setting up a diet and supplement protocol for body composition, we need to support the following goals:
- Fat loss
- Build strength
- Improved work capacity
Caffeine ticks all the boxes, so you may think to include it from the beginning right the way through. However, this would be a mistake. Throwing all your tools out the toolbox leaves you with few tricks up your sleeve when things get tough and you really need it.
During a 12 week transformation, for example, it makes the most sense to include caffeine in the last 4-6 weeks when calories are lower, and fatigue starts to build through the high volume of energy output.
Depending on whether the client had been drinking caffeine or not, and their individual tolerance, 200-400mg around 30 minutes prior should do the trick initially.
The key with caffeine is to use it when you really need it. Repeated ingestion of caffeine can create tolerance and mask any real benefits from it.
If you do use it for extended periods of time specifically for body composition goals, make sure you spend time after abstaining from it. This will help normalise the brain’s receptors and sensitise your body again to its use.
Before guzzling five cups of coffee in search of the benefits we’ve discussed, there are a few things you need to consider.
Individual Genetic Tolerance
The reason there has been such a wide array of research conducted on caffeine is that many of the topics explored almost always produce mixed results. One of the reasons is that there are genetic variations in caffeine metabolism, so the individual response can vary from person to person.
One of the issues of continuous caffeine consumption is building a tolerance to its effects. If you’re not used to caffeine, you will experience all the great benefits we know. However, habitual caffeine consumption can make you immune to these effects, as it becomes ‘normal’. This is when people run into trouble. To get past normal, you need more and more, and you’ll quickly find yourself entering a vicious circle of fatigue, tiredness and euphoria.
The bad news is that caffeine tolerance can develop very quickly, sometimes as little as 2-4 days. Caffeine tolerance develops because the brain develops more adenosine receptors to compensate for those blocked by caffeine.
The initial ‘high’ you may experience from caffeine can diminish in a couple of days unless you increase your dosage, to compete with the additional adenosine receptors. This can quickly escalate to the point where you find people drinking almost 10 cups of coffee just to feel normal (which is not uncommon!).
At our gyms, we come across a lot of clients with high caffeine tolerance and dependence. For these people, adding a bit of caffeine pre-training won’t do a thing. Instead, the real benefits for their mental and physical health would be to try weaning them off it through a ‘caffeine detox’.
Whether you do this by gradually decreasing consumption (by one cup a day) or going cold turkey, at some point, you’ll need to give it a break to resume normal functioning.
Initially, you’ll experience fatigue, headaches and possibly gastric distress, simply from the overabundance of adenosine receptors developed in the brain, with now nothing to compete with.
If you choose to go cold turkey, these symptoms will be a lot more severe than the gradual method.
Using Caffeine Occasionally
This is the best way to consume caffeine, and where all the benefits come from. Limiting to a cup or two of coffee a day, and using caffeine supplementation before very tough workouts would be the most effective method of consumption.
This goes without saying, but caffeine use should be cut off at least 6 to 8 hours before bed to prevent sleep quality and duration being affected. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, so if you consume a cup of coffee (100mg) at midday, you will still have 50mg at 6 pm.
This rule applies to those tolerant to caffeine too, as you’ll still experience the wakefulness effect it can stimulate.
Stress, Anxiety and Gut Issues
If you suffer from high levels of stress, it’s best to limit caffeine. Stress in combination with high amounts of caffeine can throw natural cortisol rhythms out of whack, and amplify any normal cortisol response to much higher levels.
Similarly, if you have gut issues, or are in the process of improving your digestion through an elimination protocol, caffeine is best avoided. Caffeine can affect the GI tract and trigger stomach irritation and acidity issues.
Learning Your Caffeine Response
This should be the main takeaway from this piece. We know caffeine can be great, and we know it can be bad. However, how you specifically respond will be very individual, and so experimenting with your caffeine intake while listening to your biofeedback is better than any article recommendations.
Our recommendations are to stay away from caffeine supplementation unless it’s for a final push in body composition and used for physique purposes. Otherwise, enjoying one or two cups of coffee in the morning (provided you haven’t been abusing it before) can be healthy and enhance your productivity and motivation for the day.