90% of Americans consume caffeine daily, and eight out of ten drink coffee. (100% of lego men drink coffee).
If you spend all day at a desk job, I’m going to guess you make a few trips to the break room for a cup of joe every day to stay get through the day. Is this okay? Or should caffeine should be avoided?
However, caffeine is kind of like getting a green shell in Mario Kart – it’s readily available, can certainly help you win, but has to be used properly or it can end up doing more harm than good.
Fortunately for you, we’ve done all the research so you don’t have to.
Today, you will learn how to properly wield the power of caffeine!(cue the Zelda treasure box opening music)
How caffeine works
However, as we work all day long, a chemical called adenosine builds up and binds to receptors in our brains, and we get tired. Adenosine is Superbrain’s personal Kryptonite. See exhibit B (below)
Fortunately, this is normally where Superbrain’s pal caffeine saves the day. Caffeine blocks the adenosine from binding to receptors, and Superbrain is free from any groggy and debilitating effects. Essentially, it’s like encasing adenosine in a lead, kryptonite-proof box.
But wait! There’s more.
Now that the bad stuff is blocked from slowing down your brain, your neurons start firing faster, freeing up your brain to work overtime. Now that your brain is working extra hard, it thinks something REALLY important must be going on outside…so it releases adrenaline and dopamine.
These two chemicals can help Superbrain dominate, including kicking the crap out of this ferocious T-rex.
Coffee, Tea, and Calories
Let’s say you just finished a one-mile run, and burning roughly around 100 calories. So you decide to reward yourself for being healthy by popping into your into Starbucks and grab your favorite orange mochafrappachino. Unfortunately, you just consumed 500 calories after burning only 100….which means after pushing hard to run a mile and then sipping on a cool drink, you’re now 400 calories worse off than if you had decided to just sit on the couch and skip the drink.
Now, while undoubtedly delicious, a few smarter drink choices can dramatically improve your progress.
Take a look at this chart below tracking calories vs caffeine (click for larger view):
Be aware of your caffeinated drink choices – Stick to black coffee, espresso, or tea (especially green!) if weight loss is your primary goal. You may even notice that caffeine from an espresso shot hits your body differently than with an equivalent amount of tea or black coffee.
Know what you are drinking – A few hundred calories of espresso and milk is very different than chocolate syrup and flavoring. Not all calories are created equal.
If you plan to wield caffeine like the Hammer of Thor, you need to have a rough understanding of the calories and caffeine in each drink. If you opt for a fancier coffee drink, you need to know what you are drinking or you could end up sipping on a 500+ calorie beverage.
Now that you’re avoiding the Triple Chocolate Whip Cream Frappuccino, let’s talk about how much caffeine you should drink!
How much caffeine is the right amount?
If used properly, caffeine can help you muster the motivation to never miss a workout, energize your routine, and kick-start your metabolism.
When used improperly, a caffeine addiction can drag down your energy levels all day, and you’ll end up consuming more calories than you burned.
So let’s figure out the correct amount. The average American consumes around 250 mg of caffeine per day. That’s about two small cups of coffee, or 3 (.33, repeating of course) shots of espresso. Note: The average cup of coffee can vary GREATLY in caffeine content. Some coffee shops may be brewing coffee at 100 mg per cup, while others…cough, Starbucks…can exceed 300 mgs per cup. Check out EnergyFiend for details.
To get the best of both worlds, you want to consume as little caffeine as possible, while still receiving the benefits of the caffeine boost. You don’t need to drink an extra large coffee to get the benefits of caffeine. Especially if you haven’t yet built up a tolerance, you’ll be able to get a full boost from a very small amount.
- On the low end, take your body weight (in pounds) and divide by two. Drink that number in mgs of caffeine. If you live elsewhere, consume 1 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight.
- On the high end, take that number and multiply by 5. You should never need to exceed this amount in a single day. If you do, you will probably experience diminishing returns. Or worse, the coffee could be negatively affecting you, causing things like restlessness, irritability, sleep problems, or an upset stomach.
Start on the low end, and work your way up until you notice that caffeine boost. If you are wired with a single small cup of coffee, stop. When you opt for the extra large unnecessarily, you train your body to need an extra large.
Weight and body composition aside, caffeine affects everyone differently. Listen to your body, and learn from it.
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: Caffeine and Working Out
You name it, caffeine can potentially improve it: endurance, strength, concentration, creativity…even your metabolism. Caffeine can be like real-world NZT. It works both physically and psychologically, though everybody reacts to it differently.
- In one study, subjects who consumed coffee performed significantly better when performing the deadlift, bench press, and squat.
- If cycling or running is your thing, another study found caffeine improved endurance.
- It even has been shown to reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
In fact, 3 out of 4 Olympic athletes have caffeine before their competitions.
Our advice, try it out. If it works for you, run with it…but don’t use it all day, every day, or you’ll stop seeing its effects. If not used in moderation, it can become just another hurdle.
Here are some tips to optimize get the most of out caffeine as a workout tool:
- Work out about an hour after consuming caffeine: Although caffeine has a half-life of about five hours, you’ll likely notice a drop in energy before then.
- Drink plenty of water: Caffeine works best when your body is fully hydrated and prepared for a jolt. Make sure you’ve had plenty of water before you drink that coffee to ensure you receive the best kick.
- Use caffeine more sparingly: Instead of using it as a regular crutch, try using it only when needed. When you’re having a rough morning or you know you’ve been stalling in your workouts, activate your secret power-up to push forward and level up.
- Eat something substantial: If you’ve ever gotten a weird reaction when drinking coffee (first try consuming less), eat something substantial before you pop by the café.
Whether we’re talking about World of Warcraft, Minecraft, alcohol, or coffee, addiction can be crippling (note: addictions to Nerd Fitness are okay). As you progress as a coffee drinker and outpace your tolerance, you may feel inclined to drink slightly more each week to keep up that buzz.
When dealing with this dilemma, you have a few options:
Maintain a steady routine: Don’t increase the size or the amount of cups you drink each week. Instead, simply maintain a moderate amount of caffeine consumption, such as a small cup of coffee in the morning, or a cup of tea twice a day. This keeps your addiction in check, and once you develop the habit, it’s an easy thing to stick to. If you enjoy tea and coffee as beverages (not because you NEED the caffeine), this option is tough to beat. The drawback? As you get used to the amount of caffeine, you won’t receive nearly the same benefit as you did initially.
Don’t consume caffeine regularly: Don’t let your body establish a tolerance. Try only consuming caffeine once or twice a week when you need it most. You’ll certainly get a much bigger kick when you DO decide use that power-up. The drawback? You don’t get to drink coffee or tea regularly 🙂
Push the Reset Button: Start with a very moderate amount of caffeine (a cup of tea), and increase every other week or month, as you require more caffeine to get the same kick. Once you reach your tipping point (ideally BEFORE you’re drinking coffee like water), reset your caffeine tolerance and start over. Fortunately, it only takes seven days for your caffeine tolerance to completely reset. How?
- Go cold turkey: Tough out a few mornings of moderate headaches, and in only a week you’ll be back to enjoying caffeine like you’ve never had it before! Depending on how much you’re drinking, this can be fairly easy or incredibly difficult.
- The two-week reset: Say you’re drinking 600 mgs of caffeine (three 200 mg cups of coffee). On day 1, have only two cups. On day 7, cut to only one. At the end of the two weeks cut to only a cup of tea, or go without caffeine completely.
- The sloowww recovery: If you’re drinking several large cups of coffee a day, you may need to resort to the slow recovery. Don’t cut anything too drastic at once, as you may be in store for some unbearable and unproductive days. Instead, cut very slowly. Not a cup at a time, but maybe order that last coffee as a medium, not a large. Slow and steady. This may be the only option for those of you who are dependent on coffee, or can’t afford to have a few days of sluggishness and discomfort.
If you’re running a race or competing in any fitness event, I recommend you reset your tolerance at least partly beforehand. Studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers with a very high tolerance received less of a single use benefit than those who were not regularly jacked up on the java juice.
No matter which route you take, simply being aware of your caffeinated decisions can go a long way.
What about energy drinks?
Ahhhh, yes…the 6000 pound elephant (with wings) in the room: energy drinks!
Sure, Red Bull is a hell of a marketer. In fact, I happen to LOVE Redbull’s marketing, because they produce incredibly inspirational videos that make you want to run through brick walls.
Other than Red Bull, we have Monster Energy, N-OS Energy, 5-Hour Energy, crack cocaine (kidding), and more. Are these drinks good or bad for you?
In this nerd’s humble opinion, I’d say they’re not worth the hassle:
- They aren’t regulated by the FDA, which means they tend to have an excessive amount of caffeine.
- They tend to have way too much sugar and other chemicals and additives. Sugar is the enemy, and these drinks have a tremendous amount of it.
- Beverages like 5-Hour Energy are essentially shots of caffeine that can be consumed in one gulp. For the unsuspecting, this can lead to over-consumption and addiction. On top of that, 5-Hour Energy has been linked to some not so great press lately.
Again, if you need your caffeine, we recommend getting it from coffee, espresso, or green tea. If you ARE going to consume these drinks, go with the sugar-free versions that don’t have aspartame (which is in both Diet Coke and Diet Red Bull). And please don’t mix energy drinks and alcohol – that really messes with your heart and brain. Make better decisions when out drinking.
Susan Lacke over at No Meat Athlete has a fantastic write-up on energy drinks that’s worth the read.
Get wired and level up
As you begin to master your routine and caffeine, try some of these advanced tricks:
- Take a caffeine nap.
- Invest in a coffee maker can be set to automatically brew coffee as you wake up.
- Save extra coffee or espresso from the day before in the fridge, and make iced coffee the next day.
- Skip the coffee shop. There’s no need to spent $5 every day on coffee, even if you prefer espresso over black coffee. For under $30, pick up a stovetop espresso maker such as this one (aff. link), or if you really want to geek out about your coffee, experiment with the Aero Press (aff. link).
What’s your caffeine routine?
What other tricks do you have to share with the Rebellion?
PS from Steve – Congrats to Tim Ferriss for putting out his latest masterpiece today, The Four Hour Chef (aff. link)! I have the book in my hands right now (seriously, I’m holding the book in one hand while typing with the other) and it’s MASSIVE – over 600 pages and full of high-quality photos and recipes and stories. It’s a book about cooking for people who hate to cook or don’t know how. Sound like anybody you know? Hmmm?