I started diving a little deeper into my supplement post then I had originally thought. It’s still a work in progress but here’s a sneak peek:
As long as you’re taking the right doses, caffeine is awesome. There is a reason it’s the most widely used drug in the world. It’s cheap, easily accessible, and it’s clinically proven to have positive effects on cognition and physical exertion. I’ll focus specifically on the effect of caffeine on physical exertion and leave the effects of fat oxidation to another post.
Predicted results: Besides the cognitive side effects of caffeine intake (increased short-term memory, mental alertness) the physical side effects tend to manifest on the higher rep range of training. Most studies look at isolation exercises of various reps, or aerobic training (either LSD or short sprints). You won’t get a new 1 Rep max deadlift, but you’ll be able to perform low level aerobic activity for longer and at higher intensity, as well as anaerobic activity (think 12 rep max) at higher intensity before you hit the wall. Hypothetically, this means that caffeine could help either very short workouts or higher rep, medium weight met cons.
Dosage: This varies by study. As a general rule, most of the research currently opts between 3-6 mg/kg of bodyweight.
Issues and follow up: Here’s where it gets a little tricky. According to the British Coffee Association, a “mug” (very technical term, that) of coffee, whether instant or brewed, has about 100mg of caffeine in it. (An energy drink only has about 80 mg per can so you won’t get lucky there)
If you’re a 85 KG male, at 5mg/kg, you’d need about 425 mg of caffeine. That’s more than 4 mugs worth of coffee to get the full benefits pre-training. The delivery mechanism becomes an issue now, as it’s easier to take caffeine in pill or tablet form pre training.
I’m not a huge fan of caffeine pills.
The majority of caffeine pills on the market are sold as diet pills and it’s deceptively easy to have a “more = better” approach to try to get faster results. My exposure to people who’ve tried this method was either as mental health case studies in my undergraduate or more recently as horror stories when I started training clients.
The result is not pretty. Think chemically induced bipolar disorder followed by extreme burnout.
Personally, I’d rather avoid that. I’m a much bigger fan of simply increasing my espresso consumption (55-75 mg per dose) pre training.
The other issue that will come up is compromised recoverability. The half life of caffeine is long (assume 6 hours), which means that depending on when you take it, it’s going to affect your ability to go to sleep, which affects your body’s ability to recover. Then there’s the added bonus that caffeine can cause a cortisol spike, which further compromises your recoverabilty.
What that means for you:
Does caffeine help in training? Clinically it does. It has physical effects at higher doses (300mg range) and cognitive effects at low to medium doses. (75mg)
Is it practical? In my opinion, not for Crossfit. You can’t get the recommended clinically tested dose through coffee consumption efficiently and I would never recommend caffeine pills. Caffeine causes an increase in cortisol production and disrupts sleep patterns, both of which are going to further compromise ability to recover from a training session.
Bottom line: Having a cup of coffee or an espresso won’t negatively impact your training. Drink coffee early in your day for the cognitive side effects and to avoid messing up your sleep. (Think of laying off by 2-3 PM).
There are more effective ways to improve work capacity then caffeine, specifically with Beta-Alanine and Creatine.