When I put out content like I did a few months ago, I often receive hate mail from people who assume that I’m strongly against things like caffeine. Given that I love coffee and drink it most mornings, this idea is laughable. Honestly, I love caffeine. In my early twenties, I was told that caffeine would help increase my strength, so it gained huge points there. My affinity only continued to grow over the years as I read about the increased fat-burning effects of caffeine and its other various health benefits. For years, my blind love for coffee grew, and I used the stimulant more and more as a crutch to compensate for my poor sleep patterns and lack of intelligent weight training. As I grew bigger and stronger, my ignorance eclipsed the need for anything but anecdotal evidence.
It was only once I had gained too much weight and realized that I was out of shape and fat-strong did a light bulb finally go off in my head. Maybe I wasn’t doing everything right. Maybe there was more to gaining strength than the simple sum of stimulants, heavy weights and endless calories, so I started doing research. I also started taking better care of my body. I improved my sleep patterns and eating habits and started programming my lifts in a more calculated manner. I did all of this while eliminating pre-workout stimulants, and can you guess the result? Not only did I not suffer any loss of strength, but over the course of a couple of years, I also went from an Average Joe 200-pound milk bag to one of the strongest 175-pound men in the world. It’s a long story, but one that I’m quite proud of.
If you’re “That Guy” at the gym – the meathead with the more-is-always-better mindset and a penchant for crushing energy drinks while telling others they just need to “man-up” and lift more – I have no time for you, because you represent everything that is wrong with strength athletics.
As I explained a few months ago, the purported benefits of caffeine shouldn’t just be taken at face value. I’m sure that most readers have heard that caffeine can be good for overall health and can lead to improvements in athletic performance, but is it safe to assume that these statements are true for everyone?
Although it is understood that caffeine increases exercise performance in endurance activities, the research is inconclusive for high-intensity anaerobic activity[1,2]. Some studies indicate that caffeine has little to no effect on strength and power[3,4,5], whereas there are others that demonstrate a significant ergogenic effect[6,7]. The most interesting research, however, indicates that caffeine can actually help maintain power output, even when your carbs are depleted . As we know, carbs are necessary for high-intensity output, but caffeine has demonstrated an apparent ability to tap into reserve anaerobic energy stores when carbs are exhausted, attenuating any decreases in power performance. This is a phenomenal finding and can be a huge advantage for athletes in many sports, notably those like CrossFit, where glycogen often becomes depleted before the competition is over.