The world's favorite wake-me-up ingredient (caffeine) is in Coffea arabica beans. It's well-known for its research-backed metabolic effects and potentiating stimulants and fat-loss ingredients. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine on receptors and increasing cyclic AMP. The net effect is alleviating sluggishness and boosting metabolism.*
- Boosts cyclic AMP and metabolism*
- Increases maximum strength*
- Potentiates stimulants and fat-loss ingredients*
- Elevates mood sense of well-being*
The Best Way to Use Caffeine
Scientists figure out how much caffeine to ingest before a workout, when exactly to ingest it, and whether habituation is a problem.
It's rare for PhDs to look at a bunch of studies and come up with specific recommendations. That's what makes this recent review on caffeine intake for powerlifting competitions, written by T Nation contributor Dr. Brad Schoenfeld and colleagues, a bit unusual.
The paper offers some useful, concrete recommendations on caffeine dosing, timing, and other factors that could benefit regular lifters and all athletes.
What They Did
Caffeine is the popular ingredient of choice of competitive athletes partly because the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) dropped it from its list of within-competition banned substances.
Powerlifters and weightlifters especially love caffeine, reporting levels in urine samples significantly higher than those of athletes from other sports.
It's no wonder since caffeine can improve maximum strength by 3-4%, which, in the powerlifting world, might mean the difference between winning your weight class and not placing in the top three.
Caffeine's status and effectiveness piqued the interest of Schoenfeld and his scientist friends as they scoured through nearly every study on the subject and filtered out some precise and useful advice.
The Review Highlights
- Caffeine can improve maximum strength from 3-4%. The evidence pertains specifically to the squat and bench press, but there's no reason it wouldn't apply to other lifts.
- Caffeine may also attenuate fatigue-induced decline in muscle strength.
- Optimal dosing is 2-6 mg/kg of body weight, although individual experimentation is needed.
- Repeated dosing may work better for competitions that are longer than two hours. This practice, using smaller doses of caffeine (2 mg. per kilogram) before each event, may maintain steady plasma caffeine levels.
- If using caffeine capsules, take them 60 minutes prior to event.
- If using soda or coffee, drink it 40 minutes prior to event.
Caffeine Habituation and Withdrawal
- Lifters who habitually ingest a lot of caffeine might experience less of a strength boost from pre-competition doses and might consider a dose of at least 3 mg per kilogram or higher before a competition.
- The ergogenic effects of caffeine seem to attenuate after 20 days of consecutive use, suggesting limiting high-dose caffeine only to the highest intensity training sessions or competitions to maximize performance.
- A common practice among powerlifters to maximize the effects of caffeine is to stop all caffeine consumption one week before competition and restart on the day of competition. Too bad the literature doesn't support it. Besides, caffeine withdrawal can lead to headaches, fatigue, decreased alertness, and a depressed mood. It would work better to use the higher doses suggested above on competition days and lower doses for the rest of the time.
- Schoenfeld B et al. Caffeine Supplementation for Powerlifting Competitions: An Evidence-Based Approach," Journal of Human Kinetics. volume 68/2019, 37-48.
- Nehlig A eta al. Caffeine and sports activity: a review. Int J Sports Med. 1994 Jul;15(5):215-23. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-1021049.
- Yokokawa T et al. Caffeine increases myoglobin expression via the cyclic AMP pathway in L6 myotubes. Physiol Rep. 2021 May;9(9):e14869. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14869.
Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations.Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.
- Tabrizi R et al. The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dos-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2019;59(16):2688-2696.
- Ruiz-Moreno C et al. Caffeine increases whole-body fat oxidation during 1 h of cycling at Fatmax. Eur J Nutr. 2021 Jun;60(4):2077-2085.
- Costill DL et al. Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports. Fall 1978;10(3):155-8.