Updated: Mar 4, 2020
“Please Dan don’t make me stop drinking coffee”. Don’t worry I’m not going to. Off record, I love coffee too and I’m not in hurry to give it up either!! I’m sure you’ve all heard mixed things, some people are for it and others against; its worth adding both parties have a lot of truth. Caffeine actually has great benefits towards training, but also comes with negatives too. Below, I provide guidelines on how much caffeine is considered ‘good and/ or bad’. The lines are definitely blurred, which is why I say guidelines as apposed to definite quantities. It is recommended that these guidelines are personalised, as quantities will vary depending on tolerance, size of person, daily stressors, sleep and whole host of other things.
It’s worth adding that this gets pretty detailed, so please bare with me, it will be worth read… have a coffee if needed. ; )
Firstly, let’s quickly discuss what it is that’s so great about drinking coffee and the reason some morning’s just can’t go with out it. So when we consume caffeine it blocks adenosine. Adenosine normally attaches to receptors in the brain to make us feel tired. Essentially caffeine fills it’s place blocking the adenosine making you feel more awake, acting as a stimulant increasing focus and blocking tiredness. Where training is concerned, blocking the feeling of tiredness is useful tool. It’s shown, during sessions, to lower your rate of perceived exertion so you can often push harder, even when tired. It has slight metabolic adaptions too; this is why it's in a lot of fat-burners. Therefore, this certainly causes a raise in performance. Its also worth adding that those effects are dampened if we build a tolerance. A tolerance occurs because the more caffeine you consume, the more your body adapts by creating more receptors sites. Therefore meaning more caffeine is needed to result in the same effect. Which would mean by this point caffeine probably wouldn’t be that helpful.
Not only that, caffeines biggest attribute is equally its biggest weakness. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline and noradrenalin. Essentially, what we call the flight or fight hormones. These are age old hormones that were there to protect us in danger. This is why some people drink coffee and experience anxiety symptoms. At a more severe level these hormones can make us use untapped potential. Imagine running away from a lion, believe me, you would be running faster than ever before because adrenaline and noradrenalin are aiding you. Also the adrenal glands are in control of cortisol production, also known as the stress hormone. Now its worth adding that cortisol isn’t bad like you’ve been led to believe. Cortisol is actually what helps us get out of bed in the morning. Cortisol in a healthy person is naturally higher at the start of the day, and then dissipates throughout the day until melatonin comes in to help you sleep.
People who consume to much coffee through the day and particularly late on in the day are keeping cortisol levels higher. Therefore, your body will have a hard time regulating cortisol like it normally should. As a result, you will find it hard to sleep, we refer to this as tired and wired, where your brain wants to sleep but your body is in a state of stress due to caffeine.
By now, you should have more of an understanding on the effects of caffeine. Therefore, this following section should make more sense. When using caffeine to enhance performance the dosages are going to vary. To put this in perspective, if any of you have tried pre-workout some of them can pack quite the punch and typically have 300-500mg of caffeine per portion (500mg is about 6 cups of coffee). I know some of you are thinking thats a whole lot of coffee. This is my point exactly, if caffeine consumption to enhance your training performance is so much that it will effect sleep then its not worth having. As quality of sleep is much more beneficial.
After all that reading … this is my simple guide to caffeine consumption. Try to drink all your caffeinated drinks at least 10 hours before bed. Try not to consume more than 3 cups a day. The best time to have coffee is the first few hours when you wake up, as cortisol is already high, and yes this is also a good time to workout too! We should aim to get most our daily stressors as early in the day as possible. Yes caffeine will enhance performance slightly but if thats ever at a cost to sleep then don’t bother. So anyone having pre-workout or a coffee when they finish work before going to the gym because they feel tired, then I would advice it is avoided as its likely to cause sleep disturbance.
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