Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Does caffeine increase performance?

My mom was a coffee connoisseur; she had her own blend of preferred coffee beans that she ground fresh every morning.  The sweet smell of fresh brewed coffee permeated the house and it smelled sooo goood.

One day I asked if I could try coffee, I was about age 14 I think (can't really remember). One sip and I spit it out.  Coffee is an acquired taste.

My grandparents (RIP) said that in order for me to behave like an adult, I'd have to start drinking coffee, can't drink milk and water all my life.  Interesting.

I've had coffee drinking friends advise me that yeah, coffee can be bitter.. to get used to it, add lots of sugar and cream to cover up the taste.

I never saw the point of that.  Why not simply drink something you like the taste of in the first place?

Sure, but then you don't get the caffeine buzz.

When I've asked people if they liked the taste of coffee when they first tried it, most said they didn't.  They kept drinking it because of the buzz and it was the social thing to do.  Over time they got used to the taste, some coming to love it, others continuing to rely on the cream and sugar to tollerate it.

That's what most told me.  Maybe my infrequent casual survey of only a few is not representative, but still, the whole process has never appealed to me.

Aside from providing the masses with a morning pick-me-up buzz, caffeine also has a sports performance angle. Studies have shown that caffeine can increase performance in some people, but some studies show no effect or only placebo effect.

I thought I would give caffeine a try before a weight training workout to see if it affected my workout one way or the other.

I bought caffeine pills because the caffeine dose in coffee is highly variable and I wanted to ensure I could control my dose.

I started with a large dose, 200 mg 2 hours prior to, then another 200mg of caffeine 45 minutes before training.  About the same amount of caffeine in 2 to 3 cups of coffee.

On my walk to the gym I was feeling agitated.  Waiting for a light to change at a crosswalk I felt anxious and wanted to bolt across the red light.  I didn't, but I thought to myself, how do people put up with this feeling?  I found it near intolerable. My focus wasn't increased on caffeine, it was scattered by feeling jumpy.  Strike one for caffeine.

Nevertheless I continued onto the gym and thought, who knows, maybe this is just how you feel on caffeine, but exercise performance is still positively effected.

My focus was far worse on caffeine.  I know how to mentally get myself into "the zone" for training, and found my ability to do so was impaired by the caffeine.  Ironically I had to dig deep into my already trained ability to focus to overcome the reduced focus induced by the caffeine.

I managed 3 more repetitions on bench press than I did last time.  Was this a positive effect of caffeine? Maybe it was.  Right on, I thought, this is great!  On my calf raises I was baked.  Not the day for calves.  What about the supposed caffeine response?  How can caffeine positively effect my pectoral muscles, but not my calves?  Impossible.

Alas, I was simply experiencing the normal progression of training where when you're more recovered and adapted to the previous workouts you can do more work, and when you're not completely recovered you burn out early.  Not all muscles are always recovered to the same degree on the same day.  This day upper body was good to go, legs, not so much.

Caffeine had no positive effects on my workout, only negative.  I suppose one could get all hyped up about how they think caffeine will help them, so when they feel the brain buzz effects of caffeine they choose to become more motivated.  Caffeine has been shown to decrease sensitivity to pain durring exercise, so maybe thats how some find a benefit.

I would think though that if pain sensitivity was reduced risk of pushing too hard would increase, plus you never get to tune into your body because you're on drugs.  I say it's better to learn how to monitor discomfort levels during exercise so you can make the right decisions for when to push a bit more or back off.

Caffeine was a bust for my workout, strike two for caffeine.

The worst part was yet to come though.  I felt agitated and restless for the rest of the day, was up to 3 in the morning due to caffeine induced insomnia and felt like crap the next two days.  Strike three for caffeine.

A small but very interesting, and well controlled unique study on Placebo effects of caffeine on cycling performance was done in 2006.

Well trained cyclists were told they would be taking either no caffeine via placebo, a moderate dose, or a large dose of caffeine, then asked to perform 10 kilometre time trials on their bikes.

The unique aspect of this study is that all three trials received no caffeine, everyone got a placebo.

The results?

A 1.4% decrease in power compared to their baseline when the believed they had ingested a placebo, 1.3% more power when they believed they received the moderate dose of caffeine, and 3.1% more power when they believed they had taken the higher dose.

I think I hear a little bell ringing.  It's Pavlov.

For me the most interesting part of the study was that when asked how they felt, the cyclists in the study all reported feeling caffeine related symptoms (caffeine buzz).  The study subjects spoke to each other about how the caffeine increased their performance and they could really feel it, which caused the athletes to congratulate each other on feeling the buzz.  That would be the fake buzz that they didn't realize they were making up.

A similar study was done in 2009 on the Placebo effects of caffeine on short-term resistance exercise to failure

Similar set up to the cycling study.  Those who thought they were on caffeine had a lower rating of perceived exertion, and they pumped out a couple more reps. The performance increase results were the same as studies that use real caffeine.

These two studies are very important because they call into question the results of other studies that don't account for placebo effect.

I think for the most part caffeine use in sports is either useless, or near useless, interferes with athletes developing better body awareness, promotes the idea that performance comes in a pill, and promotes dependancy on pills for performance.

The studies show that athletes can improve their performance by feeling very positive about their abilities.

My study on myself showed that for me, caffeine is a nightmare.

Effects of caffeine on repetiti... [Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007] - PubMed - NCBI

Placebo effects of caffeine on ... [Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2009] - PubMed - NCBI

The effects of different doses of caffeine on e... [J Sports Sci. 2012] - PubMed - NCBI

Effects of caffeine ingestion on rati... [Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005] - PubMed - NCBI

Effects of caffeine ingestion on rati... [Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005] - PubMed - NCBI

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