It’s a stretch to describe caffeine as a powerful drug, but the stimulant can have positive effects on mental and physical performance
Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychostimulant that is most prevalent in tea leaves, coffee beans, mate and cacao beans. An estimated 80% of adults worldwide drink caffeine daily. Historians speculate that it dates back to the 9th century, making it one of the oldest-used stimulants.
You may have heard caffeine described as a drug, and when deprived, users can experience headaches and extreme lethargy. It’s a stretch to describe caffeine as a powerful drug, but it is an effective stimulant that can be used to your advantage.
When we drink coffee or tea daily, we associate the aroma and ritual surrounding the process with positive feelings. Caffeine increases dopamine levels in the brain, even increasing dopamine receptors. With more receptors, you’ll be more likely to experience positive moods at a lower stimuli level. This may be why users return to the ritual morning after morning.
There are many advantages to using caffeine with appropriate dosing and timing. Negative side effects of caffeine are usually because it’s being used in excess or incorrectly.
Caffeine creates drive and focus. It’s been shown to enhance performance physically and slow cognitive decline.
Increases Mental Performance
The major advantage of caffeine is an increase in focus, memory and ambition or drive. The way caffeine does this is by binding to adenosine receptors. Adenosine is the molecule responsible for lethargy. As the day progresses it will naturally accumulate.
Caffeine acts as an antagonist to adenosine, and because it binds to its receptors it blocks the ability for adenosine to make us tired. However, this doesn’t mean that adenosine disappears. If you continually drink coffee throughout the day that accumulated adenosine will make you crash once you stop sipping.
If you’re less tired, you’ll have better focus and mental performance. Since caffeine can cross the blood-brain barrier, it can exert its actions directly. Studies have shown that caffeine boosts memory, accuracy, decision-making and perhaps creativity. Compared to other stimulants commonly used for those with ADHD, caffeine showed a greater likelihood of sustaining attention. Even relatively low doses of caffeine, about 65mg, can upgrade your working memory.
Improves Physical Performance
Athletes frequently ingest caffeine before major events. It’s not just athletes that use caffeine to boost performance. Using it before a regular exercise routine can help you push past your limits more than you otherwise would have.
Endurance exercisers who use caffeine can have an increase in performance by 2-4% after taking 3-6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. This may be because caffeine promotes adrenaline which in turn frees up fatty acids for energy. In doing so this would conserve glycogen, a quick energy source. This would theoretically help you exercise longer as you’ll have more energy available.
Muscular strength and endurance are not always improved with caffeine usage. Studies are conflicting and results are not uniform across the board. Individual susceptibility to caffeine varies due to genetics. The amount of physical performance increase depends on your susceptibility. Caffeine is metabolized in the liver by enzymes. You can have gene variances that can make you metabolize caffeine faster or slower. This all plays a role in performance and susceptibility to the negative effects of caffeine.
Typically, about 200mg of caffeine before exercise will probably improve your workout even if it doesn’t improve your strength or muscle fatigue. This is because it still blocks adenosine and increases drive, which in the long run might help you get those extra reps.
Slows Cognitive Decline
Caffeine has been correlated with lower rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s. 1-2 cups of coffee daily can reduce your risk of these diseases and other cognitive issues. Researchers found that the major reason for this is because it clears amyloid-beta peptide from the brain. Buildup of amyloid-beta peptide is a major cause of cognitive decline.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
More than 400mg per day can cause negative outcomes. This can include increased anxiety, heart palpitations and an elevated heart rate. This number varies based on individual tolerance, especially when it comes to anxiety.
1-3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight is recommended to get the advantages without having negative side effects. Caffeine is most effective if you drink it 90-120 minutes after you wake up. This helps alleviate any feelings of crashing in the afternoon. You should not drink caffeine 8-12 hours before bedtime so that your sleep is not interrupted.
The amount of caffeine in a brewed cup of coffee depends on how strong you make it. There is usually 95mg in 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of drip coffee. A shot of espresso will have 65mg and a cup of black tea contains 47mg. Yerba mate will have 80mg of caffeine and is often used as an alternative to coffee since it’s close to the amount you get from drip coffee.
Caffeine can certainly be abused, increasing anxiety, heart rate and palpitations. However, using caffeine in a methodical way improves mental performance, physical endurance and slows cognitive decline.