If you’re like most people, you probably consume caffeine in some capacity - be it your morning coffee, energy drink, or as part of a pre-workout supplement you take before exercise.
Indeed, caffeine has an incredibly broad spectrum of effects within the body and is considered to be one of the best legal supplements for energy, motivation, and cognitive function.
Most folks use it to wake up in the morning and boost their work or school productivity. But, caffeine can be incredibly beneficial for fitness folks, as the compound appears to improve our performance.
To that end, here is everything you need to know about the ergogenic effects of caffeine.
Caffeine On Strength, Power, and Endurance - Mechanisms of Action
One of caffeine’s primary functions is to block the effects of adenosine (which, when it binds to receptors within the brain, creates tiredness, increases the perception of pain, and more) (6). At its core, one of caffeine’s effects is to prevent us from feeling tired.
Another effect of caffeine’s block of adenosine is that it brings about stimulation and a feeling of euphoria. These effects help us better handle exercise as we become more motivated, we feel less pain, and our perception of fatigue lowers.
Another way in which caffeine serves as an ergogenic aid is through metabolic pathways. Research has found that folks who consume caffeine have higher outputs of catecholamines - namely, norepinephrine and epinephrine (7). This, in turn, increases the mobilization of free fatty acids for energy and has a glycogen sparing effect (6).
So, through a combination of these effects (the glycogen sparing effects, the increased strength, and power output, and the boost in muscular endurance), we can use caffeine as an ergogenic aid, especially as it relates to strength exercise and cardio.
Caffeine on Cognitive Function, Focus, and Productivity
Another everyday use of caffeine is for its cognitive benefits. More specifically, caffeine has been shown to improve cognitive function, alertness, ability to focus, and overall productivity.
One paper from the distant 1994 looked at the effects of caffeine on cognition, alertness, and mood on sleep-deprived people (8). What they found was that doses of 200 to 250 mg elevated mood for up to three hours, and doses of about 300 mg significantly improved alertness in both well-rested and sleep-deprived folks.
One study from 2010 suggests that caffeine’s benefits primarily come from its effects on arousal, mood, and concentration (9). But, that’s mostly speculative.
One thorough review from 2016 looked at a wide range of caffeine’s effects (10). Researchers looked at numerous peer-reviewed papers and reports that were available through the end of spring 2016.
What they found was that caffeine improved cognitive function and alertness in rested and sleep-deprived individuals and that the effect appears to be dose-dependent. Meaning, the more caffeine one consumes, the higher the effects are. But, there comes the point where more caffeine doesn’t help and it can instead lead to anxiety, nervousness, jitteriness, and gastrointestinal distress (10).
So, as with most things, too much of a good thing can be bad, and caffeine, like everything else, should be consumed in moderation. According to the same review, doses of 300 to 400 mg per day appear to offer many of the psychological and physiological benefits with minimal side effects.
But What If I Don’t Enjoy Drinking Coffee?
Let’s say that you want to reap the benefits of caffeine but don’t enjoy drinking coffee or energy drinks.
What should you do then? Give up and look for another compound? No.
You can get your daily needs from caffeine tablets, which are great because they are easy to consume, and you don’t have to drink coffee if you dislike it or prefer not to have it for one reason or the other.
What’s even better is, you can strategically consume caffeine tablets to obtain that extra boost for activities like working out, working a job, studying, or something else. Thirty to sixty minutes before the activity (for example, the workout), appears to be an excellent time to consume caffeine.
How Much Caffeine Is in Coffee, Anyway?
The average espresso can contain as little as 50 mg of caffeine, and some offer over 320 mg (11). This makes it incredibly challenging to dose your caffeine and know how much you’re consuming. What’s more, people with a higher sensitivity to caffeine, and those who should limit it (pregnant women, folks with liver disease, hypertensive patients, and more) might unknowingly ingest much more caffeine than they should.
Caffeine tablets, on the other hand, such as the ones from F-Eat, offer 200 mg per serving, which is over the 140 mg average amount found in a range of espressos from different sources (11). Meaning, they could potentially provide you with a stronger stimulating effect compared to drinking a single espresso. They are also cheaper than coffee, and you know exactly how many milligrams of caffeine you’re ingesting.
1. Effects of caffeine intake on muscle strength and power: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Jozo Grgic, Eric T. Trexler, Bruno Lazinica, and Zeljko Pedisic. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018; 15: 11.
2. The influence of caffeine ingestion on strength and power performance in female team-sport players. Ajmol Ali, Jemma O’Donnell, Andrew Foskett, and Kay Rutherfurd-Markwick. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016; 13: 46.
3. Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Graham TE. Sports Med. 2001;31(11):785-807.
4. The Effect of Acute Caffeine Ingestion on Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Southward K, Rutherfurd-Markwick KJ, Ali A. Sports Med. 2018 Aug;48(8):1913-1928.
5. Caffeine and endurance performance. Tarnopolsky MA. Sports Med. 1994 Aug;18(2):109-25.
6. Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action.Davis JK, Green JM. Sports Med. 2009;39(10):813-32.
7. Effects of mental workload and caffeine on catecholamines and blood pressure compared to performance variations. Christos Papadelis, Chrysoula Kourtidou-Papadeli, Emmanouil Vlachogiannis, Petros Skepastianos, Panayiotis Bamidis, Nikos Maglaverasa Kostantinos Pappas. Brain and Cognition Volume 51, Issue 1, February 2003, Pages 143-154.
8. Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood, and Alertness in Sleep-Deprived Humans.David M.Penetar, Una McCann, David Thorne, Aline Schelling, Cynthia Galinski, Helen Sing, Maria Thomas, and Gregory Belenky. NBK209050
9. Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer? Nehlig A. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S85-94.
10. A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance.Tom M. McLellan, John A.Caldwell, Harris R. Lieberman. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume 71, December 2016, Pages 294-312
11. Espresso coffees, caffeine and chlorogenic acid intake: potential health implications.Thomas W. M. Crozier, Angelique Stalmach, Michael E. J. Lean and Alan Crozier. DOI: 10.1039/C1FO10240K