Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that is found in common beverages such as coffee, tea, soda and also in common over the counter drugs.
Its use is thousands of years old and its effects on the body are well documented although the exact mechanism by which it causes the effect is still not understood.
The legend is that it was first used by Ethiopian herdsmen who noticed that when goats chewed coffee berries they seemed a lot more excited. Naturally they got curious, tried the berries themselves and not long after coffee as we know it was born!
Today I’d like to talk about caffeine’s effect on your muscles. First I’d like to debunk the myth that use of caffeine breaks down muscles. There is simply no evidence of this to date in all the numerous double-blind scientific tests that have been conducted.
The three well established facts about caffeine and sports performance are:
a) It enhances one’s endurance in activities like jogging, running cycling
b) It aids in the breakdown of fat (not muscle)
c) It is less useful for activities requiring short bursts of energy such as sprints, power lifting etc
Caffeine’s achieves the first two effects listed above through process known as glycogen sparing. What is glycogen sparing?
Under normal circumstances the body obtains all of its energy from glycogen-the readily available form of carbohydrate energy. When you deplete the glycogen in your body you feel fatigued and can no longer perform as well physically.
When caffeine is present in your bloodstream it causes the body to tap its fat reserves for energy even when there is still glycogen available. In some instances the body will turn to fat for energy while there is still up to 50% of glycogen left. The effect of this is two-fold.
First you are able to perform strenuous physical activity much longer since the glycogen goes a longer way and two, it aids in burning fat. In studies where athletes were asked to report their Rating of Perceived Exertion aka RPE (loosely understood to be how much effort you are putting into a physical activity) while having consumed caffeine, many reported significantly lower RPE’s. Put another way, they were performing at high level physically but only perceived their effort to be much less.
If your goal is fat loss you will be pleased to know that caffeine can help you toward this end per the second effect discussed above. What is still not clear is how caffeine actually does this and it is an area of much fascination for researchers.
So should you use caffeine to enhance sports performance? That is a choice you have to make individually because it is also known to have various side effects which may or may not outweigh the benefits. For one, it is a mild diuretic and can cause dehydration.
Test using it under different conditions and then make your choice.
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