I'm sure that by now most of you have heard the buzz around caffeine and kilos. But is it really true that caffeine can help improve your snatch and squat numbers? Absolutely. The positive impact of caffeine on athletic performance has been well documented over the last few decades. So why does caffeine make you feel so awesome and put you at the top of your game? Normally I would tell you to go read my book "Meathead" to find out, but I'm feeling extra nice after a big win for Team Terminus at the Atlantic Regionals. I went through and pulled out some of the caffeine related highlights from "Meathead" that should answer most of your questions on how responsible use of caffeine can help you become a better CrossFitter.
Why Do I Feel So Awesome After I Slam That Double Espresso?
Video Credit: Jackie Demiro @jackie_demiro
"In the brain, caffeine blocks the actions of a specific signaling cascade: adenosine. Adenosine is produced and released from glia, which make up 90% of the human brain because glia provide structural support, physical protection, and nutritional sustenance for nerve cells, and help to remove pathogens. Adenosine is largely responsible for sleepiness, at least physiological sleepiness, wherein adenosine causes nerve cells that are responsible for keeping us awake to fire less and nerve cells that are responsible for sleep to fire more. Caffeine, however, is capable of blocking adenosine-induced sleepiness, allowing nerve cells that drive wakefulness to fire longer. Caffeine also has a long half-life; a standard measure of drug action in the field of pharmacology that is used to characterize how long a drug acts in the brain and body. Caffeine’s half-life is 5 hours, which means that a cup of coffee can act on the brain for roughly 10 hours." - Meathead
I Know Caffeine Gets Me Wired, But Can It Really Improve Performance?
"A recent study that has grabbed the attention of sleep research and Crossfit® communities found that the time at which one consumes caffeine and works out can have a significant impact on power and stamina, particularly for weighlifters. These exercise physiologists recruited subjects with experience in power lifting: squatters and benchers. The researchers compared power output generated by major muscle groups while the subjects back squatted or bench-pressed 75% of their best weight. This was done either in the morning at 9 AM or in the evening at 7:30 PM. During this time, the subjects took a capsule containing a high amount of caffeine--3 mg per kg of body weight--equivalent to two cups of strong coffee. Individuals training in the morning had lower power output compared with those lifting in the evening. However, someone who took a caffeine pill in the morning could improve performance to the level of someone lifting in the evening without caffeine." - Meathead
Wonderful, How Much Of This Stuff Do I Have To Take?
"In the world of exercise physiology, caffeine is widely known to increase endurance by means of initiating the breakdown of fat, which is a long-lasting fuel source. In the nervous system, caffeine decreases the perception of exertion by means of making it easier for the neurons innervating the muscles to be activated. Many studies show that doses of caffeine equivalent to a cup of coffee (100-150 mg) can have a performance-enhancing effect. The caveat is that tolerance destroys this performance-enhancing effect. This means that a person who drinks a cup of coffee a day is unlikely to experience a boost in endurance from that one cup. They would have to drink two or more and so forth. This strategy may seem reasonable, but there are cardiovascular, digestive, and other health risks related to the overconsumption of caffeine." - Meathead
So What's The Downside Of Caffeine?
Video Credit: Jackie Demiro @jackie_demiro
"Despite the benefits for muscle and mental performance derived from caffeine, people develop tolerance to caffeine extremely quickly and also suffer from caffeine withdrawal extremely quickly. We have all met someone who is highly volatile and suffers from a headache if he or she doesn’t have a cup of coffee by lunchtime. I am no different. The biological reason for headaches caused by a lack of daily caffeine is fairly straightforward. Caffeine causes blood vessels of the brain to constrict—which is why consuming caffeine immediately prior to a doctor’s visit may overestimate your true measurement of blood pressure. In the absence of caffeine, the blood vessels overcompensate and dilate too much thereby causing a headache. Sleepiness is also amplified in the face of caffeine tolerance or withdrawal." - Meathead
I'm Competing In A Sanctioned Event, IsThis Stuff Legal?
"As for athletes, many drug-doping agencies place strict limits on caffeine consumption during a competition or throughout the sporting season. The limit for the NCAA is 500 mg at the time of drug testing, which is about five cups of coffee. While it seems absurd that anyone would consume that much coffee prior to a competition, there are many pre-competition workout drinks aimed to improve focus, power, and exertion wherein a single-serving is far more than 500 mg of caffeine. This is ludicrous, and even more ludicrous that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate health and PED supplements unlike most food products. Because of this lack of regulation, companies selling health supplements are not required to put what their products contain or the dosages of the active ingredients on their labels. Most importantly, a lack of regulation coupled with improper knowledge of what is being consumed and what the ingredients are doing have caused tons of athletes to fail drug tests, banning themselves from the competition or worse, future play, which for professional athletes, has a direct effect on income. I have seen this happen in collegiate and Crossfit® communities on numerous occasions with overconsumption of caffeine being a primary reason for why an individual or team are penalized, albeit short- or long-term, for consuming an otherwise “safe” beverage. " - Meathead
In Conclusion - Don't Be An Idiot
Now I know what some of you are thinking. "I'm going to go out and chug a bunch of C4 or Red Bull before my next competition and I'll be amazing at CrossFit!" Don't be an idiot. Too much caffeine can negatively impact your body and potentially lead to health problems or irregular sleep. Any of you that read "Naked Sleep Is Better Sleep" know just how important sleep is to your recovery and ultimately your performance on competition day. Like most things in life, caffeine is a substance best used in moderation.
About Allison Brager:
Professional: Academic Researcher with a focus on neurobiology @ Morehouse School of Medicine and professor at Morehouse College
PHD Info: Kent State with a focus on neurobiology (PHD from Department of Biological Sciences)
CrossFit Games Experience: 2015 Regionals - Team, 2014 Regionals Athlete, 2013 CrossFit Games - Team, 2012 Regionals Athlete
Collegiate Athletic Background: Brown University Track & Field, 4 year varsity letterman, specialist in pole vault and hurdles
Facebook: Meathead: Unraveling The Athletic Brain
Allison's Blog: www.dormivigilia.com
Instagram and Twitter: @beastlyvaulter
Notice those awesome pictures in the post? That was our former Athlete Of The Week Jacelyn (Jackie) Demiro from CrossFit West Essex. She front squats 235 lbs, power cleans 205 lbs and can do strict muscle ups. She's kind of amazing. Want to see more of Jackie? Of course you do. Check out her Athlete Of The Week page or you can find her on Instagram @jackie_demiro.