Caffeine 101

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Today’s guest post comes to you courtesy of Examine.com’s own Sol Orwell. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past year, Sol and the team at Examine.com have easily become the go to source for anything and everything related to supplements and supplementation.

Whenever I need a quick reference to anything supplement related – whether it’s information on the efficacy of BCAAs, who should be taking vitamin D, or asking the one question that’s on everyone’s mind:  will overdosing on creatine give me a third nipple? – I can easily hop on their site and get unbiased, scientifically researched answers.

There’s absolutely no agenda outside of giving people solid information.

What’s more, their resource, Supplement Goals Reference Guide, is undoubtedly the most comprehensive book on supplements ever put together, amounting to over 900 pages, 25,000 studies (including 2000 human studies).

And, just as an FYI:  it’s on sale from NOW until Friday (Nov. 8th) at midnight.

With that said, I asked Sol if he’d be willing to write up a quick Cliff Notes version on caffeine and this is what he came up with.

Enjoy!

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is an alkaloid compound that belongs to the structural class of purine compounds. It is found naturally in a variety of plants. Most famously, it is a component of cacao beans, which have found their way into the food supply of most nations. Caffeine can also be found in the camellia sinensis plant, the source of green tea. Usually, caffeine is associated with coffee.

What does caffeine do in the body?

Caffeine is a stimulant and a sleep suppressant. This stimulation comes with an elevated mood state and an increase in physical power output. Its antisleep properties negate side-effects of sedation, improving focus, power and attention, but only if the imbiber is already tired.

How does it work?

Caffeine is a rare kind of supplement, because almost all of its biological effects are linked to a single mechanism: the adenosine receptor antagonism. ‘Antagonism’ refers to caffeine’s ability to block the adenosine receptor. Caffeine also amplifies dopamine signaling, which is responsible for the stimulatory and power increase effects.

Though the adenosine blocking effects persist for as long as caffeine is taken, the effects on dopamine signaling are short lived and eventually stop altogether.

How do I use caffeine optimally?

Caffeine is a performance enhancer. It causes stimulation through its dopamine amplification and anti-sleep properties. It is easy to become desensitized to the dopamine signaling stimulation, which is what leads many people to down several pots of coffee a day.

Note from TG:  and, for some, leads to an unhealthy affiliation with energy drinks.  Throwing myself under the bus I drink one Spike (300mg caffeine) per day regardless of my training plans. Two if there happens to be a Star Wars convention nearby and I have to pull an all-nighter and watch both trilogies or if I know my girlfriend is going to want to try to talk about our “feelings.”

On one hand I understand that all I’m really doing is drinking a bunch of chemicals (at least with coffee and tea there’s the antioxidant benefits) and that my ‘tolerance’ has definitely increased as the years have gone by. I almost feel like I’m at a point where I need to directly inject Spike into my left ventricle in order to feel anything.

But on the other, like everyone else who prefers to rationalize their actions, it’s my one vice.  Some people smoke, others watch way too much internet porn, and some prefer Pepsi over Coke.  Hey, I’m not here to judge.

I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I lift heavy things, I eat a crap ton of veggies everyday, and I call my mom once a week.  I’m allowed one energy drink per day dammit. I said ……..DAMMIT!!!!!

To benefit from caffeine’s anti-sleep properties, take caffeine in a dose that works for you, usually in the 70-200mg range, whenever you want to stave off tiredness.

To benefit from caffeine’s stimulatory and power output properties, dosing needs to be more specific. Stimulation from caffeine is known to possess ‘insurmountable insensitivity’, meaning that not only do the effects of caffeine dull after a while, but just increasing the dose cannot overcome tolerance. Once tolerance is achieved, the only way to become desensitized is abstinence from caffeine.

If you do not already consume caffeine, take a large dose 30 to 45 minutes before a workout. Most studies use a dosing protocol of 4-6mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight. This means a 150 pound person should take between 270-410mg. Anyone weighing more than 150 pounds can dose between 400-600mg of caffeine.

Obese people should not calculate dosages based on bodyweight. Instead, determine what bodyweight you would be at with a normal amount of fat mass and calculate off of that, or stick with 500mg to prevent a potential overdose.

Begin dosing caffeine once a week. Pick a workout that needs the most help, like a killer deadlift session. If you feel yourself starting to become desensitized, lengthen the duration between doses to 9 days.

If you’re already a coffee addict, you will only benefit from caffeine’s power increasing properties if you break your habit. Stop caffeine consumption for as long as it takes to start being stimulated by it. This can take up to a month. Then, follow the dosing protocols above.

What should I expect if I use caffeine properly?

Used properly, caffeine will provide the same kind of stimulation your first cup of coffee blessed you with, every time. This stimulation can be used as an indicator for power output. The less stimulated you feel, the less caffeine is helping you in the weight room.

Like other stimulants, caffeine will increase heart rate and blood pressure. Normally, desensitization to caffeine numbs these effects, but if you are dosing to preserve sensitivity, these effects will also persist.

When used properly, caffeine can provide up to a 10-15% increase in power output.

Who shouldn’t take caffeine?

Anyone with a known hyper-responsiveness to stimulants should not supplement caffeine, particularly not in the infrequent way discussed above. Caffeine should not be used by anyone with known cardiac conditions. If caffeine impairs your function or has ever caused noticeable cardiac arrhythmia, do not use it.

As noted above, the Supplement Goals Reference Guide is on sale NOW through Friday (Nov. 8th) until midnight. It’s a resource that will continue to have a lifetime of updates, and in addition to that, Examine.com just expanded their team to include a medical doctor, two PhDs, as well as a PharmD, so you can expect world domination to follow.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

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  • Nate Palmer

    I was super desensitized to caffeine while I was drinking it every day, but I detoxed from it for about 2 weeks, and now I only drink it 2-3x per week, and I get a massive earth shattering buzz everytime. Worth it.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I probably need to do the same. But Spike tastes so damn good!

  • I’ve been experimenting with this to increase power output since talking to Greg Robins about it a few months back. I definitely get a buzz from coffee again only drinking it 2x/wk but it’s looking like my 8oz coffee should be more like a venti redeye. Will report back with my jittery findings….