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Caffeine, friend or foe for performance?

Caffeine is a stimulant that is widely regarded as the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world, but it’s not just our daily java fix where we can tap into the abundant benefits of this potent compound. Since scientists first began isolating and extracting it, they’ve been creating concentrated forms of the compound which are now found in many medicines, various nutritional products and a wide range of supplements – from fat burners and endurance boosters, to pre-workouts.

Cognitive kick

When you drink a supplement that contains caffeine (or a triple espresso before training), the compound is absorbed into the bloodstream and is then processed by the liver. It then travels to the brain, where it elicits its most potent effects.

Once in the brain, caffeine blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter from binding to a receptor, where it would normally accumulate over the course of a day and cause us to feel drowsy and tired. By preventing this binding from taking place, caffeine increases alertness. In response, levels of other neurotransmitters like adrenalin, norepinephrine and dopamine increase, leading to enhanced firing of neurons. This is when caffeine ‘kicks in’ to elevate our mood and leaves us feeling energised by delivering that ‘buzz’.

Performance booster

The benefits of caffeine extend far beyond the brain… Top athletes and coaches have known about the performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine, in all its various forms, for years. It’s therefore one of the most heavily studied and researched substances in the history of sports science.

Caffeine helps to improve performance in a number of ways and it is so effective that it was once listed as a banned substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list.

At the most basic level of performance enhancement – energy production and efficiency – caffeine boosts the efficiency with which your body burns stored fat to deliver sustained energy during prolonged bouts of exercise, like endurance events. And with more free fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream, caffeine also helps to spare our body’s less abundant fuel source, glycogen, which we can then use later on during our more intense sets or at the end of a race.

Pre-workout pick-me-up

Another way caffeine helps to improve performance is by lowering our perception of effort or exertion, as well as pain. This effect is linked to the “brain-benefits” of caffeine and the stimulatory effect it has on the central nervous system, consequently, this has a direct impact on performance.

But it’s not only endurance athletes who can benefit from this potent stimulant. Studies also show that it can improve strength, as shown in the results of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Resistance. Researchers found that men who ingested caffeine before a workout could bench press and deadlift more weight compared to those who took a placebo during the experiment. For these reasons, caffeine has been a popular ingredient in well-formulated pre-workouts.

Fat burner

Let’s not forget the conditioning benefits associated with caffeine, because burning more fat doesn’t only provide our bodies with more energy, but can also improve aesthetics. As already mentioned, numerous studies show that caffeine can increase fat metabolism – by as much as 10% in obese individuals, and 29% in lean people. The potency of caffeine is one of the reasons it is found in so many fat-burning supplements available today.

Count Caffeine in

So, regardless of how you choose to get your kick, there are numerous benefits to consuming caffeine. When used correctly, there is no doubting its ability to improve focus and alertness, boost energy, enhance fat metabolism, increase strength and reduce levels of perceived exertion. As such, if your supplement of choice doesn’t offer a formulation that contains caffeine, you’re definitely missing out!