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Caffeine: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Like most people, I start my day in need of some caffeine. Sometimes I even treat myself to one of those $4.00 specialty coffees from Starbucks. No matter where it comes from, the goal is always the same: get my body some caffeine. The substance 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione, which is the scientific name for caffeine, is the most used psychoactive drug in the world. It comes in many ingestible forms, but the most popular are in coffee, tea, pills, gums, and energy drinks. Let’s dive in to some of the different sides of the world’s most used drug.

The Good

Caffeine contributes to the following:

• Reduce sensation of fatigue

• Improve mental acuity and technical skill

• Potentially enhance fat utilization for energy

• Increased time to exhaustion in endurance, sprint, power, and strength exercises

The easiest way to track exactly how much caffeine you are getting is with a pre-dosed pill. When it comes to coffee, different roasting times and techniques of flavoring coffee beans will alter caffeine content. Darker roasts, like french roast, have less than lighter roasts, such as a blonde roast. If you are a stickler for consistency, stick to the same bean or a measured out pill or gum.

The Bad

Being that caffeine is a drug and can enhance performance, some organizations only allow a certain amount to be in the blood during competition. The NCAA allows 15 micrograms per milliliter of blood, and anything more results in a positive drug test. The good news is that, to achieve this level, you need to drink the equivalent of 6-8 cups of coffee within a few hours before competition. If you are a habitual user, you can still benefit from your normal dosage, but you also may need more over time to get the same effects as when you first started taking caffeine.

The Ugly

Caffeine is one of the main ingredients in a multitude of pre-workout energy supplements. The ugly truth is that most pre-workouts are full of other unnecessary ingredients including artificial dyes, flavors, and sweeteners. For competitive athletes, it is essential to know that the FDA does not regulate supplements, meaning a pre-workout may not be listing all of its ingredients or the exact dosage. Using pre-workout supplements may be risky for athletes because a banned substance may be lurking somewhere in the shadows. When it comes to getting your pre-workout energy boost, it is best to find simple things that work best for you. Always check the source of what you ingest. It is up to you to know what ingredients are in your products. If you are a habitual pre-workout user, try to simplify your approach with a caffeine-only product.

Final Notes on Caffeine

• It is mistakenly believed to be a diuretic. However, the original research drawing this conclusion were very inconsistent. Further research shows it to have the same diuretic effect as a glass of water.

• It doesn’t have an effect on your thermoregulation (how your body adjusts its temperature). Previously, researchers believed caffeine made it more difficult for the body to thermoregulate; however this theory is now disproved. It is fine to supplement with caffeine, even in the Arizona heat.

• It is best to ingest no longer than 60 minutes before activity. If you are embarking on an event or workout longer than 2 hours, re-supplementation during the event is warranted.

• Ingesting 3-6 mg per kg body weight is most effective. For example, if you are 150 pounds (68 kg), anywhere between 200-400 mg before a workout would be sufficient. This is equivalent to about two 8-ounce cups of coffee or two 100-mg caffeine pills. (Note: an 8 ounce cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine.)

If you find you are feeling sluggish for a mid-day workout or just want something simple to take you to the next level, consider trying caffeine and see how it affects you!