Caffeine is a Femme Fatale

Warning: this article has been rated PG-13 for explicit language – which may be unsuitable for children – and misogynistic and religious satire – which may be unsuitable for feminists and religious fanatics.

I want to tell you about a girl called Caffeine. Caffeine is nothing like Leucine. Caffeine isn’t hard to get, complicated or expensive. You don’t have to buy her any drinks or meet her family and she always puts out on the first date. Not too long ago at a wet T-shirt contest where Leucine was doing her thing, Caffeine took the ‘T-shirt’ out of ‘wet T-shirt contest’ and stole the first prize from Leucine. Since then, she’s known as a stimulant. When Leucine called her a slut, Caffeine knocked her into premature menopause.

Caffeine. Who could resist her?

What makes Caffeine so feisty? Caffeine both stimulates the central nervous system (CNS) and direct muscle action. Her performance enhancing effects aren’t very relevant for bodybuilders though, because caffeine’s effectiveness generally decreases for activities the shorter their duration with pretty minimal ergogenic function for purely anaerobic activities (Davis & Green, 2009; Tarnopolsky, 2010). Besides, temporary performance increases aren’t very relevant for bodybuilders anyway, unless they also result in higher gains from training. Caffeine’s use as a fat burner is also widely overstated. Yes, it induces thermogenesis, fat oxidation and lipolysis and it increases your metabolic rate, but only by 3-11% for a few hours and even that takes several hundred milligrams. The net effect of any reasonable amount of caffeine consumption generally amounts to under less than 100 calories per day. Moreover, you develop a tolerance to its effects. Unsurprisingly then, in controlled long term trials caffeine consumption performs no or negligibly better than placebo as a fat burner. Favorable anecdotal reports and studies on ad libitum (uncontrolled) food intake are the result of Caffeine’s appetite suppression effects, which causes people to eat less. They are not the result of actual fat burning by Caffeine. (Jeukendrup & Randell, 2011).

Counterintuitively, it’s best not to make Caffeine wet before taking her. Caffeine supplementation is more effective in anhydrous (powder/capsule) form, for some reason, than forms in which caffeine is dissolved in a liquid, such as coffee (Goldstein et al., 2010).

No, the main attraction from Caffeine is psychological. She’s just so arousing. Caffeine counteracts fatigue and the effects of sleep deprivation, reduces perceived exertion, increases the pain threshold and for some tasks even improves cognition above normal levels (Snel & Lorist, 2011). It also reverses the negative neuromuscular effects of training at suboptimal time points during your circadian rhythm, such as early in the morning (Mora-Rodríguez et al., 2012).

Combined with the facts that Caffeine is dirt cheap – you can literally get her for a few cents – and that there is no law against taking her, unlike for most psychoactive drugs of her kind, many men enjoy her on a daily basis. Now I consider myself a pretty damn tolerant wingman and I don’t like to cockblock, but there’s something you should know about this girl.

She’s mentally unstable. I know saying that about a female is like saying the pope helps pedophiles get away with their crimes, but this one’s a serious clinger and warrants caution. You can’t really fault her for being the way she is though. She’s been the most commonly abused psychoactive drug in the world ever since she was born somewhere in the 9th century. I’m not saying she’s royally psychotic, like Heroin, and acute toxicity requires several grams of Caffeine, although 5 grams can be lethal, but even light caffeine consumption does result in considerable tolerance, side effects and withdrawal. (Juliano & Griffiths, 2004).

At ~750 mg/day the tolerance is complete, meaning caffeine ceases to provide any benefits. Lower dosages generally induce incomplete tolerance, but side effects already occur at ~200 mg/day, including increased anxiety. Sleep disruption is also very common, as caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours, meaning a strong cup of coffee (120 mg) taken 10 hours before bed still leaves 30 mg caffeine active in your system. People don’t experience these effects this way, because human psychology is set up to detect only differences in our mental state and is generally poorly equipped to detect absolutes. This causes you to think caffeine is only working when the effects are still accumulating, which takes 30 to 90 minutes, and think it’s wearing off when it’s only just past its peak. (Juliano & Griffiths, 2004).

Withdrawal occurs at dosages as low as 100 mg/day. That’s just one typical cup of coffee. One study (Field et al., 2003) even found that abstaining from just 41 mg/day for 30 hours decreased blood flow to some parts of the brain by 19-32%. The most common withdrawal symptoms are headache, fatigue, decreased energy/activeness, decreased alertness, drowsiness, decreased contentedness, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and foggy/not clearheaded-ness. Withdrawal is much, much more common than most people think. Many people just assume legal drugs are perfectly safe and only associate withdrawal with illegal drugs, even though there is practically no relation between the toxicity and addictiveness of drugs and their legal status, but caffeine withdrawal is extremely common. In fact, many studies overestimated the positive effects of caffeine, because they didn’t exclude habitual caffeine consumers. This causes participants to be in withdrawal during the study and the so called positive effects of caffeine are then merely withdrawal reversal. If your training sessions are notably poorer without stimulants, you may very well be in withdrawal. Withdrawal also causes muscle stiffness and weakness. (Juliano & Griffiths, 2004).

The severity and duration of withdrawal is dose dependent, but you should have dealt with the worst of it after 3 days and pretty much all of it after 9 days. Afterwards, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good just 100 mg taken on an empty stomach can make you feel. (Juliano & Griffiths, 2004).

 

The Verdict on Caffeine

This girl is excellent one-night-stand material and cheap to boot, but don’t get involved in a relationship with her. She will suck the life out of you and make you her bitch. If you’re currently involved with her on a more than friends-with-benefits basis, stop now. Call her again after 9 days and make sure you don’t take more than an average of 100 mg daily, preferably in powder form.

 


References

A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Juliano LM, Griffiths RR. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 Oct;176(1):1-29.

Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action. Davis JK, Green JM. Sports Med. 2009;39(10):813-32.

Caffeine and creatine use in sport. Tarnopolsky MA. Ann Nutr Metab. 2010;57 Suppl 2:1-8.

Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. Mora-Rodríguez R, Pallarés JG, López-Samanes A, Ortega JF, Fernández-Elías VE. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33807.

Dietary caffeine consumption and withdrawal: confounding variables in quantitative cerebral perfusion studies?Field AS, Laurienti PJ, Yen YF, Burdette JH, Moody DM. Radiology. 2003 Apr;227(1):129-35.

Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition. Snel J, Lorist MM. Prog Brain Res. 2011;190:105-17.

Fat burners: nutrition supplements that increase fat metabolism. Jeukendrup AE, Randell R. Obes Rev. 2011 Oct;12(10):841-51.

International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance.Goldstein ER, Ziegenfuss T, Kalman D, Kreider R, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Taylor L, Willoughby D, Stout J, Graves BS, Wildman R, Ivy JL, Spano M, Smith AE, Antonio J. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jan 27;7(1):5.

 

32 Comments

  1. A nice article Menno, and a very succinct metaphore.
    I'm interested to know to what extent do you use caffine when training?

  2. dmitry says:

    Hi Menno,
    As always great article. I thought there was a girl thing on the subject ;=)
     

  3. Menno Henselmans says:

     

     
    I just figured out I don't get notifications for FB comments, so here are my belate replies on some questions.

       

      • Ines Subashka · · Top Commenter · ???? ????? · 252 subscribers

        Great post! I loved the way you wrote it! I am totally linking to it! :)

         

      • Simone Losi (signed in using Hotmail)

        Hey Menno, I really like your work. Supplements companies must hate you.

        I am italian and coffee here is not only a drink, it's like a social tradition.

        I have recently cut completely coffee from 4 espressos to 0. I experienced withdrawal sympthoms the first few days and I didn't touch any caffeine (chocolate, coffee, supplements, tea…) for 2 weeks.

        Now I drink 1 espresso in the morning and that's it, but if I don't drink it I don't feel like I am functioning properly, I feel sleepy have headaches, lack of focus. Do you think that drinking 1 espresso a day is detrimental? Also does coffee raise cortisol so much that it interferes with testosterone production?

        I would like to read an article from you about "must take" supplements in the future. Have a nice day!

        •  

          Menno Henselmans

          Oh supplement reps really hate me indeed, especially on BB.com.

          Coffee definitely shouldn't interfere with testosterone production in those amounts, but it does seem you may be sensitive to it and experience significant withdrawal after just one cup daily. If the espresso is strong, that's not unusual, so I suggest limiting intake even further to avoid your symptoms.

          Must take supplements are a bit of a contradiction in terms, heh. I will write more about specific supplements though, including ones that work and I advise to clients.

           
           

         

      • Willem Koster · Groningen

        *lol* @ pro-tip. But apart from that nice article. Any follow-ups on the claimed health benefits of daily coffee/caffeine usage? (or it's pain-killing effects).

        •  

          Menno Henselmans

          Coffee is definitely healthy, but the beneficial amounts practically require consumption via a decaff version, otherwise the health benefits come at the cost of addiction symptoms.

    • Ines Subashka · Follow · Top Commenter · ???? ????? · 252 subscribers
      Great post! I loved the way you wrote it! I am totally linking to it! :)

    • Simone Losi (signed in using Hotmail)
      Hey Menno, I really like your work. Supplements companies must hate you.

      I am italian and coffee here is not only a drink, it&#39s like a social tradition.

      I have recently cut completely coffee from 4 espressos to 0. I
      experienced withdrawal sympthoms the first few days and I didn&#39t
      touch any caffeine (chocolate, coffee, supplements, tea…) for 2 weeks.

      Now I drink 1 espresso in the morning and that&#39s it, but
      if I don&#39t drink it I don&#39t feel like I am functioning
      properly, I feel sleepy have headaches, lack of focus. Do you think that
      drinking 1 espresso a day is detrimental? Also does coffee raise
      cortisol so much that it interferes with testosterone production?

      I would like to read an article from you about “must take” supplements in the future. Have a nice day!

      • Oh supplement reps really hate me indeed, especially on BB.com.

        Coffee definitely shouldn&#39t interfere with
        testosterone production in those amounts, but it does seem you may be
        sensitive to it and experience significant withdrawal after just one cup
        daily. If the espresso is strong, that&#39s not unusual, so I
        suggest limiting intake even further to avoid your symptoms.

        Must take supplements are a bit of a contradiction in
        terms, heh. I will write more about specific supplements though,
        including ones that work and I advise to clients.

    • Willem Koster · Groningen
      *lol* @ pro-tip. But apart from that
      nice article. Any follow-ups on the claimed health benefits of daily
      coffee/caffeine usage?

    • [Automatic import of Facebook comments completed.]

    • Robert Dean says:

      Hey Menno,

      I’m just wondering, what’s your opinion on nicotine taken in gum? I ask because nicotine is the only stimulant I seem to get any benefit from, but I’m unsure as to what affect it has on health in general.

      Thanks.

      • Aside from being highly addictive, it has a few benefits for fat loss, notably appetite suppression. If you like the effect and aren’t susceptible to addiction, I can recommend it in very low dosages.

    • Gilles says:

      Any supp to help curve cravings? Cofee works to some extent, but as you say, it builds tolerance, so it’s not good in the long run.

      Also, I sometimes get insomnia and when I am on a diet and didn’t sleep well the previous night, then the cravings become unbearable and I end up bingeing. Any advice or supp to help sleep better, or to fall back on when I had trouble sleeping the day before to prevent/curve cravings?

      • Improving sleep quality would definitely address the root cause. Sleep deprivation can mess up hunger regulation beyond help from most (legal) supplements. How is your sleep schedule? How much time do you sleep per day? Do you have trouble falling asleep?

        • Gilles says:

          Actually, most of the time I can sleep pretty well. I go to sleep until I’m very tired which is usually between midnight and 1 am. I usually fall asleep in less than 5 minutes. I don’t use an alarm clock and usually wake up naturally at 9-9:30. So I think my sleep habits are quite good.

          However, there are these seemingly random days when it is well past midnight and I still feel quite alert, when this happens I only feel tired until past 4 or 5 am.

          These days are seemingly random, and occurr about once every 2-3 weeks, when I am lucky I go a month without insomnia. I haven’t been able to identify a pattern as even when I was drinking 4 cups of coffee a day I could sleep quite well except for these once in a while days. After I quit coffee, there is no change, I sleep well most of the time except for these random days.

          So, I don’t know.

          • The most likely explanation for that would be stress or just enthusiasm. Try meditation, as in: visualize something that does not evoke any emotion and focus on it so that you think about nothing else. It works very well to ‘reset’ your mind.

            If that fails and you’re not stressed, try 3 mg melatonin on these days. It should make you sleepy in 20 minutes.

    • “Must take supplements are a bit of a contradiction in terms, heh. I will write more about specific supplements though, including ones that work and I advise to clients.”

      I’ve read from Alan Aragon here:
      http://www.simplyshredded.com/nutrition-expert-alan-aragon-talks-with-simplyshredded-com.html & here:
      http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/creatine-17-common-questions-answered that creatine monohydrate is one of the few legal things that works (the other suggestions being a cheap multi-vitamin, fish oil for those that don’t eat a lot of fish, a calcium & Vitamin D supplement for those that don’t/can’t eat dairy. He also noted he considers protein powder like whey more ‘convenient food source’ than supplement. I like that.).

      What would be an optimal dosage/time to take it do you know as a general rule? Also, would this be one of the supplements you plan on writing about in the future?

    • ac says:

      is there any benefit or downside to taking caffeine post-workout? like say you are morning training

    • Shane says:

      Ayy this article really highlights my caffeine addiction. Even though I’m reading this right before heading to bed, and even though most of what you said was bad, this article really has me hankering for a cup of coffee!

    • Shaun says:

      Hi,

      I was just wondering, how soon before your workout do you take the 50-100 mg of caffeine? 15-30 minutes, or more?

      Thanks! Great website my friend.

      • Thanks, Shaun. I generally recommend taking caffeine between 30 and 60 minutes pre-workout, depending on the time of day and meal timing in relation to the caffeine intake.

    • Stefan says:

      Thanks so much for the great article. I currently drink about 10-20 cups a coffee a day, and have decided to take your advice and give up coffee for two weeks, however am experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, particularly, muscle stiffness and brain fog.

      Menno, my question is, is there any reason why I should give up coffee even if I suffer from withdrawal when not having it, as I will always consume it anyways. Can I not just take it indefinitely when I like to function at a “normal level”? Do you think my mental ability will be reduced without caffeine once my withdrawal is over? Will a tolerance be built up if I take 50-100mg daily for training?

      Thanks so much
      Stefan

    • Tom says:

      Wow, she sounds A LOT like my ex-GF.
      Maybe that’s why I got back to caffeine now.

      Thanks for this reminder: don’t get involved if you see the red flags, but keep yourself in the fun zone!

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      Pro tip: Next time you copy my articles, copy the image locations of the pictures as well. Makes it look legit.

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