Tonawanda News

August 5, 2013

FIT FOR LIFE: Studies show caffeine enhances your workout

By Chris Tybor
The Tonawanda News

— Each day, nine out of 10 Americans ingest some form of caffeine. Two-thirds comes from the morning coffee slam, and the rest is spread across sodas, tea, energy drinks, supplements and chocolate. We may be hyped about caffeine, but caffeine doesn’t deserve its hype as an addictive, dehydrating and dangerous drug. Far from it.

Used the right way, caffeine can provide a healthy stimulating effect.

Wait, you say. Caffeine is good for me?

Mounting evidence shows that pre-workout caffeine can increase endurance, which means more reps, more sets and longer sessions, which translates into bigger muscles.

Not counting creatine monohydrate, caffeine is probably the most effective performance-enhancer, Caffeine doesn’t directly affect muscles; instead, it influences the central nervous system [CNS] to increase your pain threshold, so it’s easier to push through those final reps of squats/deadlifts and prowler pushes.

Research also confirms that caffeine can immediately increase muscle strength. Scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported that weight-trained men who took a caffeine supplement one hour pre-workout increased the number of reps they could complete on the bench press using 80% of their one-rep maxes.

Use, Don’t Abuse

More isn’t always better. Gulping cans of Red Bull won’t automatically produce a bull-like physique (especially if it isn’t sugar free, those calories add up).

You have to consume the right amount based on your weight, and at the right time, for caffeine to work. Everyone reacts to caffeine differently, but most studies suggest the ideal zone is from 100-200 mg with some studies suggesting 450mg.

Less than that doesn’t appear to help and any more doesn’t provide additional benefits. A good formula to follow is 3-6 mg per kilogram or 1.4-2.7 mg per pound of bodyweight; a 180-pound guy needs about 250-490 mg. (In comparison, the average person’s daily intake is about 300 mg.)

Caffeine is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine, and takes 45-60 minutes to reach maximum concentration in the blood. Yet you can often feel the kick within 10 minutes when levels reach one-half its concentration, according to a 2008 University of Barcelona study. The full effect can last two to three hours and diminishes within 12 hours.

Tolerance Level

Make sure not to overdo it; you need to find your ideal tolerance level. Overindulging can trigger symptoms of caffeine intoxication such as insomnia, overexcitement, restlessness and, in severe cases, muscle twitching, and rambling thoughts and speech. These reactions often strike soon after consumption but wane as caffeine levels fall. 

You can still benefit from caffeine by consuming it in smaller amounts.

Drink Up

Caffeine pills like NoDoz maximum strength may have higher amounts than most beverages (200 mg in one tablet) but take longer to digest. Caffeine in liquid form is absorbed and takes effect more quickly. The best liquid jolts: coffee and energy drinks. A regular 8-ounce home-brewed java boasts an average 133 mg of caffeine, if you need a stronger shot, a regular Starbucks coffee contains more than 300 mg per 16-ounce serving.

Energy drinks

If coffee isn’t your idea of a pre-workout beverage, pop open an energy drink. Popular brands Amp, Red Bull and Rockstar vary from 74-80 mg. Additives like sugar and extras such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng and vitamin B won’t interfere with absorption or diminish effects, but be aware if you’re taking any prescription medication and check with your health care provider. Be conscious of any additional calories youre taking in as well (most likely all sugar).

Works for everyone

Research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism in 2009 compared pain tolerance of 25 college-age men who were split into two groups: high caffeine users (400 mg per day, or 3-4 cups of coffee) and low consumers (100 mg or less). 

Afterward, both groups reported less quadriceps pain compared to a placebo team.

Take a breather

Do you huff and puff on cardio day? Ingesting caffeine within an hour of exercise can reduce symptoms of exercise-induced asthma (EIA) such as chest tightness, cough and shortness of breath, reports a 2009 Indiana University (Bloomington) study.

As with anything in life, moderation is key. Use the above information at your discretion, and it may help you get a few more reps out and keep you on the path to your dream physique.

Chris Tybor is a personal trainer and owner of Christfit, which has locations in Lewiston and Niagara Falls. For more information visit