Is Caffeine a hero or villan?

There is a lot of confusing information out there regarding the subject of Caffeine. Is it good or is it bad for you? If so, how much is OK to drink? Well the truth is, it depends. In this article I give you the facts, explain the pros and cons particularly from a gym-goers perspective, then let you decide.

Over 80% of the worlds population consumes at least one Caffeine product a day (90% in US). For most this is an average of 2 cups of coffee or tea each; although soft-drink consumption over the past two decades has increased significantly also. Below is a chart showing the levels of Caffeine found in the most common sources. Worth noting though I have omitted ‘Energy Drinks’ here since they vary greatly. Some can be as high as 250mg per can!

Caffeine is a stimulant and is known to have addictive qualities. Like most stimulants, over-consumption can cause headaches, heightened anxiety and induced insomnia – to name but a few effects. However, moderate consumption is considered quite safe. It is generally recognised that a Safe amount of Caffeine to consume per day is less than 400mg. Typically this will be 3-4 cups (maximum) of Coffee or Tea a day. Although since it has a half-life of 5h, which means that it takes 5h for half of the quantity to leave the system, it is not recommended to be consumed late in the day if you wish to sleep at night!

So why consume Caffeine at all?

Well, in moderate quantities, it has been shown to have a number of health benefits. Such as:

  • It Boosts the metabolism, thus helping to burn bodyfat contributing to weight reduction.
  • Combats type2 diabetes and heart disease
  • Contains Antioxidants (particularly high in Green Tea) which helps to fight cancer
  • And Improves brain function and concentration levels
    • Where recent studies have shown it to be particularly good at reducing the effects of dementia in the elderly

Although some headlines have suggested Caffeine increases mortality rate, since it is often associated with the addition of other addictive substances such as smoking, the effect on mortality is actually misrepresented. More specific studies have shown that when adapted for the negative effects of other stimulants Caffeine does in fact reduce motality.

From a sportspersons perspective, Caffeine has been shown to boost performance during exercise. For example, with endurance activities, caffeine not only heightens awareness and decreased perception of effort but can have a positive effect by increasing time to exhaustion. Equally, during resistance training or short power activities in particular, it has been shown to improved muscular force. So Caffeine it would seem is most beneficial when consumed within an hour prior to an exercise session. Which is something I have tried myself with relative success; especially during a ‘cutting’ phase (more on this later).

In conclusion

So like most supplementary additions to the diet, moderation is the key. Personally, I think the positive effects of drinking a little bit of Caffeine, perhaps a cup (or 2) of tea or coffee a day will outweigh the negative. Besides the nutritional aspects, there are of course psychological ones too. Let’s face it, what can be better for pepping you up than having a ‘nice cup of tea’.

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