[Premium Content] The Truth About Coffee & How To Maximize The Benefits Of Caffeine

 In Magazine Articles, The Everyday Athlete

According to a March 2017 report from the National Coffee Association, 62% of Americans drink coffee daily. Coffee has become an integral part of our morning ritual, but do you remember your very first cup? Perhaps there was a sense of excitement and a remarkable ability to focus—maybe even euphoria. Compare that with the slightly-less-sleepy feeling that followed your third cup this morning. So, what gives?

This article first featured in the March 2017 issue of Strength Matters magazine. It is best viewed in our beautiful app. Download your copy now via the Apple or Android store. 

Found most notably in tea and coffee, caffeine is the world’s most popular stimulant. For most of us, a cup of coffee means happiness, even relief, but in others, it can promote anxiety. Unfortunately, only people new to caffeine—we’ll call them “caffeine naïves”—will get to enjoy all its benefits. Chances are that if you drink coffee daily, you no longer experience its euphoric buzz.

Chances are that if you drink coffee daily, you no longer experience its euphoric buzz.Click To Tweet

Do you want to maximize the benefits of caffeine? The first step may be to wean yourself off it and allow tolerance to fade. Or, to be more specific, you may have to use caffeine less frequently; in other words, to cycle it. Cycling caffeine, however, would be an unimaginable sacrifice for many of us, and not all of us would bene t equally. Keep in mind that not all benefits of caffeine disappear, so the first thing you need to decide is which ones you value most.

Caffeine can block different adenosine receptors in the brain, with varying effects. By blocking the A1 receptor, which promotes sleepiness, caffeine can increase wakefulness. By blocking the A2A receptor, which helps regulate catecholamine production, caffeine can increase the brain levels of dopamine and epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline). The A1 receptor doesn’t seem to get desensitized, which would be why caffeine doesn’t lose its awakening effect. The A2A receptor, though, does get desensitized, which is why coffee veterans don’t feel true stimulation even after drinking several cups.

In other words, when you drink coffee regularly, your dopamine and epinephrine productions downregulate so that you need caffeine just to regain normal levels. At this point, the increase in focus you feel may just be withdrawal reversal. In short, whereas caffeine promotes concentration and attentiveness in caffeine naïves, it is needed by regular consumers just to concentrate normally.

If you use caffeine to boost your athletic performance, there is science to back it up. Caffeine can boost both anaerobic performance and, to a small extent, aerobic endurance. The first effect wears off; the second does not. Moreover, everyone can bene t from caffeine’s effect on post-exercise recovery: ingesting caffeine alongside carbohydrates can improve the rate of glycogen replenishment, which is particularly important if you work out very frequently or more than once in a day.

There are also two distinct effects that contribute to caffeine’s fat-burning properties: a thermogenic effect (in the short run, caffeine increases heat production) and a lipolytic effect (in the long run, caffeine causes triglycerides to release fatty acids, which the body can then use for fuel). The (stronger) thermogenic effect decreases sharply with caffeine tolerance; the (weaker) lipolytic effect does not.

This article first featured in the February 2017 issue of Strength Matters magazine. It is best viewed in our beautiful app. Download your copy now via the Apple or Android store. 

If what you want most from caffeine is an increase in strength or focus for specific events, then yes, you should cycle it. Taking higher and higher doses would not only be dangerous but counterproductive, as you’d soon reach an insurmountable tolerance—a tolerance that no dose can overcome. If, however, you love coffee mostly for its taste, or caffeine for its wakefulness effect, then no, cycling isn’t necessary. Also, if you take caffeine to counteract headaches, you’re in luck because caffeine reduces cerebral blood flow equally in caffeine naïves and caffeine veterans.

“CAFFEINE CAN BOOST BOTH ANAEROBIC PERFORMANCE AND, TO A SMALL EXTENT, AEROBIC ENDURANCE”Click To Tweet

Fortunately, most of the downsides of caffeine also wear off with tolerance. That includes caffeine’s tendency to increase blood pressure and heart rate as well as its propensity to interfere with glucose metabolism, which is good news if you’re at risk of diabetes.

If you are thinking about cycling caffeine, you should take a measured approach. It takes about two weeks for caffeine tolerance to develop. If your intake is as high as 500mg, you can become tolerant in less than a week. Being more precise is impossible, for the exact time it takes to develop tolerance varies between individuals, as does the time it takes to wear off that tolerance and become sensitive again. Should you wish to reset your tolerance, start by taking at least two weeks off caffeine, then try a small dose (50–200mg). If you find the stimulation acceptable, you can resume using caffeine more often; if you don’t, take another week off, then try a small dose again.

To keep tolerance at bay, consider taking caffeine only when you need it most: 200– 600mg half an hour before each of your two most strenuous workouts of the week. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to use caffeine to boost your workouts, then having a morning coffee habit could very well interfere by making you more tolerant to caffeine’s stimulatory effects.

Keep in mind that we all respond differently to stimulants. If you are new to caffeine, start with 50mg, then maybe try a higher dose on another day. In pre-workout supplements, caffeine is often combined with other stimulants, such as synephrine. If you are new or sensitive to stimulants, you should first try caffeine by itself.

Caffeine can disrupt sleep when consumed in the evening or late afternoon. Even if it doesn’t prevent you from falling asleep, in most cases it will impair the quality of your sleep. In healthy adults, the average half-life of caffeine falls between five and six hours, but this is yet another number that can vary greatly between individuals, because of genetics and other factors. For instance, heavy smoking can double the rate of caffeine metabolism, whereas pregnancy can halve it.

There you have it. Caffeine is one of the best studied and most reliable performance enhancers, but making the most of it requires some planning. Are you up to it?

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The Truth About Coffee & How To Maximize The Benefits Of Caffeine
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The Truth About Coffee & How To Maximize The Benefits Of Caffeine
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According to a March 2017 report from the National Coffee Association, 62% of Americans drink coffee daily. Coffee has become an integral part of our morning ritual, but do you remember your very first cup? Perhaps there was a sense of excitement and a remarkable ability to focus—maybe even euphoria. Compare that with the slightly-less-sleepy feeling that followed your third cup this morning. So, what gives?
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