Caffeine – Benefit or Drawback?

Except for the odd few, most people I know are coffee or tea drinkers. I myself am a green tea addict however I love the occasional Americano in its most natural form.

Caffeine itself is quite an interesting debate. It’s impossible to tell how much caffeine there is in a cup of coffee or tea the variants are huge. Many say they can drink coffee and go straight to sleep. Yeah, whatever, just because the coffee tasted strong doesn’t mean that the caffeine content itself is high. It’s purely the roast and flavour of the beans and of course the preparation. That cup of coffee that tasted so strong could have had a tiny 20mg caffeine content which in all honesty could put most people to sleep.

Flavours of coffee’s and teas is one thing but let’s talk about caffeine.

Caffeine is a mild stimulant that occurs naturally in a variety of plant species. There are people who view caffeine as a useful stimulant that increases ones concentration and awareness as well as many other physical traits.  The important thing to remember is that caffeine affects each and every individual very differently depending on the amount consumed, the frequency of consumption, and a person’s individual metabolism.

LETS GET TO THE FACTS:

Scientific proof of caffeine and sports performance is being debated constantly and there are definitely benefits. So much so that at one stage caffeine was banned by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and its now legal but currently on the watch list.

There are advantages that caffeine has which I will go into in a little bit of detail shortly but lets take a look at both sides of the coin.

Caffeine is a stimulant and it does have addictive properties. In a healthy diet, your consumption should be limited and health professionals will recommend around 7 – 10 cups of coffee per a week as a limit. However most people can do this in a day. One thing is certain caffeine does stimulate and it plays with one’s emotional and energy stability. Stimulant drinks such as coffee are also known to be one of the biggest role players in a person gaining weight when blended with awesome syrups and sugars and loaded with milk. Another important consideration is that caffeine impacts the ability to sleep properly and this is crucial from a health and sports recovery point of view. Caffeine also causes a rise in acidity in the digestive system, and from a health perspective one should try to consume a diet that is more alkaline, acid of course can lead to health issues as well as during exercise. Caffeine has mild diuretic properties causing loss of fluid in some people but each person is unique and in others not so much. An athlete that consumes caffeine consistently is actually doing himself a complete disservice.  Caffeine does boost blood pressure medical researchers have found. Although the rise is temporary, researches question whether it’s good for you when it occurs over and over again in other words in excess. However, research has also shown caffeine to be beneficial to the heart long term. Again, this is in moderation and not in excess. My biggest worry is about the boost in blood glucose levels that accompanies caffeine intake with syrups or sugars.

WHATS GOOD ABOUT CAFFEINE?

Looking at research coffee has shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as fatty liver disease. Caffeine can improve memory, decrease fatigue, improve your mental functioning, which plenty of studies suggest. It can improve your short-term memory and speed up your reaction times, according to a study presented in 2005 at the Radiological Society of North America. Moderate coffee consumption — defined as three or four cups a day, providing 300 or 400 milligrams of caffeine (assuming it contains this much because remember it’s impossible to know the exact amount) — carries “little evidence of health risks and some evidence of health benefits,” conclude researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvalis.

Coffee drinking, the researchers say, may help prevent type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver disease, including liver cancer. And it doesn’t appear to significantly increase heart disease risk or cancer. But, they warn, those with high blood pressure, as well as children, teens, and the elderly, may be more vulnerable to caffeine’s adverse effects.

 

What about caffeine in Sport or Physical Exercise?

Well there are two major benefits that caffeine has, the first is that when consumed on its own without sugar it has demonstrated a rise in the amount of free fatty acids available for use as a source of fuel. Fat of course is an incredibly powerful form of fuel and the more free fatty acids you have available for use in an endurance event the more you are able to benefit from it. There is one slight consideration though? That in order for this to work well, a person should be more caffeine intolerant, meaning if you consume a lot of caffeine per a day you won’t benefit as much as someone who takes in less caffeine in a day. In other words not an excessive caffeine drinker. Second thing is the timing of consumption before an event. In scientific testing it’s been shown a consumption of around 1-2mg of caffeine per a kilogram of bodyweight around 3-4hrs before an event is best. It gives the body time to mobilise free fatty acids for use as well as being long enough before the event to remove the acid from the system and of course negate the risk of dehydration if you fall into that category.

Then caffeine during an event has shown to improve mental performance and from personal experience in endurance sport mental performance = physical performance.

The second major benefit is caffeine for recovery. Yes, believe it. It’s been shown that having caffeine with a complex carbohydrate after exercise has shown to speed up the time taken for glycogen replenishment. Under testing it’s been shown to speed up the process by as much as 60%. As an example, a rolled oats meal and a very strong coffee or two (with a decent amount of caffeine of course). Just remember to hydrate yourself consistently after a session as well. I usually blend the coffee directly into my smoothie if that’s my choice for recovery for awesome flavour and the caffeine

Finally, there is another slight benefit, and this is the wake up effect. If you are feeling tired or fatigued caffeine has the ability to wake up the brain a little. Of course it’s a temporary effect, but during a sporting event this slight feeling of euphoria can give you a lift. Taking caffeine around 60 minutes before a workout will also have a benefit in assisting with mental focus and helping with a better quality driven workout. It takes around an hour for the caffeine to be completely metabolized in the body to become effectively utilized.

If during an endurance race you are wanting a caffeine boost, it can assist with a wake up effect and sense of euphoria however the amount and timing of the caffeine intake needs to be tested in training before a race to get an understanding of your thresholds and digestive system response.

In conclusion caffeine has certain benefits, but it should not be abused because it then becomes a detriment from a health perspective.

On a personal note I will explain how I use coffee or green tea to give me my benefit. Firstly the caffeine in green tea is pretty mild I don’t use that as a caffeine source. It’s the catechins I want which of course contain EGCG which can aid fat burn but also antioxidants for general immune system strength and of course the taste is why I like it. If I want caffeine I switch to coffee BUT I use a coffee where I know exactly how much caffeine there is per a serving.

When do I consume coffee? Generally, before a long hard workout I take in around 90-100mg of caffeine. I use TrueStart as I know that it has that amount of caffeine per a serving it also has a 5-6hr release (natural caffeine from a hydrous process) where all normal anhydrous caffeine is metabolized within 60min on average, so I prefer the stability.

During a session, I also take caffeine but only if its longer than 3-4hrs then I use a 32Gi G-Shot on the go or can drop TrueStart in a shake however I usually train fasted unless gearing for an event and need to train my gut for fuel. I like to take it in regularly. At Challenge Roth last yearas an example, I consumed 10 x 60mg caffeine shots in a 5hr bike ride taking in one every 30 minutes. This needs to be tried and tested however and I never do something I haven’t trained for. I train properly from a nutrition point of view and know exactly how my body responds to anything I consume.

Then post exercise if it has been a tough session and I feel glycogen store depletion I will consume more caffeine to aid the recovery process. On workouts under 2hrs a single serving of TrueStart will suffice. However, on sessions lasting longer I sometimes will go up to 180-200mg of caffeine in my recovery meal to give me a boost and I blend it into a smoothie, or my porridge or pancakes as it helps with flavour as well. Sometimes I just add it to an ice cold 32Gi Recover Chocolate shake on a hot day and make a mochaccino which goes down extremely well.

The point I am making is I understand how much and when to consume coffee / caffeine. It has taken time and  practice to test everything properly. Of course, I consume it for enjoyment as well. I don’t believe in taking in something you don’t enjoy. There those days where I enjoy a good java after a session. But knowing how much and when to consume it will place you in a position of power from a health and a performance perspective.

 

Finally keep your coffee or caffeine drink sugar free, adding sugars have more detriment than benefit.

 

If you are interested in TrueStart Coffee and 32Gi’s G-SHOT they are available at leading Dis-Chem outlets and online at

www.truestartcoffeesa.co.za

www.32Gi.com

 

Mark Wolff is an endurance, nutrition and physiology expert with over 20yrs experience.

An endurance multisport athlete with a triathlon, mountain biking and weightlifting background Mark works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as people with health and weight issues.
He firmly believes that an athlete can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is down packed. Marks focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, weight, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi a sports nutrition company focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is a certified sports nutrition expert as well as a marathon, track, triathlon and cycling coach. He spends most of his time guiding athletes with a very holistic approach to blending training and nutrition for performance and health.

 

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