I am very particular about my diet, especially when I’m actively training or on race days. I try to eat clean as much as possible and stick to lean proteins, although I totally admit to having a slice of pizza every now and again. When most people look at ways to improve their diet, they often consider trying to cut back on caffeine. It might surprise you to know that I’ve been doing the exact opposite—I look at caffeine as a key part of my workout and diet routine. I make espresso daily and look for opportunities to add caffeine into my training days.
What are the benefits of caffeine?
Caffeine has been shown to promote muscle fiber recruitment while giving you energy and decreasing muscle pain and fatigue. It’s shown meaningful performance improvement in endurance athletes, weightlifters, sprinters, and many other types of people engaged in sports activity. Caffeine also helps you improve your focus, making your workouts more effective, and it may help muscles burn more fat. All of that considered, doesn’t it almost sound like the Holy Grail of exercise?
Where do you get caffeine?
- Coffee – This one is obvious. The average 6-ounce cup of coffee has 60-180 mg of caffeine, and espresso has 70-80mg per 1.5-ounce espresso shot. In addition to caffeine, coffee has lots of antioxidants that can decrease muscle damage from weightlifting.
- Tea – A 5-ounce cup of coffee has 40-80 mg of caffeine plus antioxidants, too.
- Soft drinks – A can of soda typically has 40-50 mg of caffeine. Stay away from diet versions that often have more sugar and artificial ingredients.
- Caffeine capsules – Has 100-200 mg per pill
Look for opportunities to incorporate caffeine into your life in heathy ways. For instance, if you’re going to drink more coffee or espresso like I do, don’t load it up with cream and sugar—instead, use almond or coconut milk and cinnamon or maybe stevia. You can also add coffee into smoothies with other healthy ingredients.
What are the side effects?
Too much caffeine can make you jittery or contribute to feelings of anxiety. It’s also important to know that it can have a slightly diuretic effect, so it’s important to hydrate appropriately. Of course, if you are exercising or actively training for a race, you should be drinking plenty of water anyway.
It’s also important to keep in mind that caffeine can impact your sleep. Since you don’t want to be overtired ever—but especially while training because you can injure yourself—avoid drinking coffee or soda or otherwise taking caffeine within several hours of your bedtime.
How should I take it?
Most likely, you’re already taking caffeine in some for, so you probably don’t need much advice from me on this. Caffeine peaks in your bloodstream about 60-90 minutes after consumption, so it’s best to take it about 1-2 hours before working out.
Many studies show that the benefits of caffeine appear to be maxed out at around 200 mg (3 mg/kg of bodyweight). If you’re taking caffeine to help improve your performance, make sure not to overdo it beyond these guidelines, or you may do more damage than help in the long run.