Sweet, sweet caffeine. The stuff that we turn to when we want to wake up in the morning, stay awake at night, or to not fall asleep when your accountant is telling you about his (not very) exciting new investment strategy.
It’s one of the most commonly used stimulants around the world, found in drinks, sweets, gum, pills, and a whole assortment of other foods. There’s even a company that sells caffeinated dehydrated beef. They call it “Perky Jerky”. True story.
What is it?
Caffeine is the clean underwear of the stimulant world: You probably rely on it’s support and would have a hard time getting through the day without it, and you will likely feel a bit less comfortable without it.
Oh sure, plenty of people are just fine without any caffeine at all. These people are either very health conscious and should be admired for their mental strength, or suspicious characters that should not be trusted.
Caffeine is found naturally in lots of different plants, such as tea leaves, cacao pods and cola nuts, and of course coffee beans. In its pure form, caffeine is very bitter tasting white crystalline powder.
What does it do?
Caffeine a bit like adrenaline, and it has a lot of the same effects. You’ll feel more alert, less blood will go to your stomach and you’ll be primed for action. Unlike adrenaline, it can last a few hours.
It can also suppress appetite and increase metabolism, prompt your body to release fatty acids into your bloodstream as well as delay fatigue in your muscles and your mind. Because it’s so much like adrenalin, it pumps your body up so that it goes into “fight or flight” mode. Not as much as actual adrenaline, but enough that you feel a lot more perked up.
Why do I need it?
The effects of caffeine can be a great way to get yourself moving when you’d rather be laying on the lounge in your pyjamas, watching reality TV and eating leftovers.
Besides that, because it suppresses appetite, mobilises fat and flushes water out, it’s great as a fat burning ingredient. Because of that, you’ll find that a lot of fat burner supplements have a fairly high amount of caffeine, so keep that in mind when you’re using them. Have too many extra coffees and you might find yourself with some pretty high caffeine levels, and risk a caffeine crash.
By delaying fatigue, it can also help you work a bit harder for a little longer.
So it can motivate you, help you use more fat and keep you working harder. That’s three great reasons why you might be interested in putting it on your favourite ingredients list!
There are drawbacks though, so don’t go out and stock up on it until you’ve considered them.
Which supplements have it?
Pre-workouts and Fat burners are very likely to have caffeine in them, but there are loads of other supplements too. (Note: There are now caffeine free pre-workouts available.) If it’s meant to pep you up, it will probably have caffeine in it. If you’re not sure, look for any of these ingredients:
Green tea extract
If you see these on the ingredients list, it’s likely that the product has a fair bit of caffeine. Try to avoid consuming more than one product containing these ingredients.
How much should I have?
With caffeine, it’s really important not to go overboard with it. up to 300mg per day is probably OK for most people, unless they have health issues. That’s about 3-4 large plain coffees, 2-3 energy drinks or 2-3 scoops of preworkout.
You should also take caffeine based supplements in cycles. This means you give your body time to recover, and you can avoid caffeine addiction – and it is definitely addictive.
Can I get it from food?
Caffeine is in lots of food. Tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, gum and loads of other stuff. It’s usually much lower than you’d find in a supplement though, and usually pretty high in sugar. I mean, you could eat two kilos of chocolate and get the same amount of caffeine as a pre-workout, but you definitely wouldn’t feel as pumped up. Just sick, and probably at risk of having a sugar crash.
Does it stack well with other supplements?
Caffeine does stack well with other supplements, but you need to remember that it dehydrates you too, so if you’re taking other supplements that do the same, you’ll need lots more fluid. Tyrosine and Creatine are two examples, so if you’re taking these you really need to drink lots of water. You should be making sure you get plenty of water anyway, bust especially with these supplements.
Are there any side effects?
Caffeine can be a great helper, but can very quickly turn nasty.
Firstly, it is addictive. If you don’t have it in cycles, your body can become dependent on it, and you’ll get withdrawal symptoms if you go without it for a little while. Headaches, irritability, anxiety and nervousness are common.
A common cycle is 4 days with it, three days without it, but some people choose to go with a two week on/two week off cycle, or even one month on, two months off. The longer you use it, the longer you’ll need to rest your body between cycles.
Like a lot of other drugs (and caffeine IS a drug) you can also build up a tolerance to it. This means that over time, you’ll need to take more to get the same effect.
If you’re pregnant, nursing, have heart issues or any other health problems, you should be very careful about taking caffeine, and definitely don’t do it without speaking to a Doctor.
Is it safe for women too?
In moderate doses, caffeine doesn’t come with a lot of risk to women. As I said above, it’s a really bad idea for pregnant or nursing women to take supplements with it (or supplements in general)
Keep in mind that it can increase anxiety too, so if you’re taking it to deal with stress, it may not be helping at all!
Caffeine can do a lot of good for you, but it can turn against you pretty quickly too. Just remember to keep cycling off it every once in a while, so you can get the benefits without the drawbacks!