Probably the most prevalent and popular supplement utilized by athletic and non-athletic individuals is caffeine. It seems to be in everything these days. From desk workers to marathon runners, this stimulant helps millions on a daily basis to wake up, increase performance and decrease fatigue.
How Does Caffeine Work?
The way caffeine does it involves interactions with adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a nucleoside found in a cell that is responsible for causing relaxation and tiredness. When caffeine is ingested it binds to the adenosine receptors, preventing fatigue and sedation as well as keeping the user awake and alert. While there are many delivery methods to get caffeine, some are much healthier than others. This article will discuss the different form of caffeine as well as how to supplement with it smartly, read on!
Different Sources of Caffeine
Many sources of caffeine can be found in an average Americans diet, some being quite healthy, with others being quite unhealthy.
Starting on the unhealthy side of the spectrum, soda is the biggest culprit. With around 20-50 milligrams per can, soda has just enough caffeine to perk you up for maybe an hour. The issue with this is that soda also has a very large amount of sugar in the form of corn syrup (some close to 50 grams per can). After that hour of being perked up, blood sugar decreases along with caffeine content in the body, leading to an energy crash.
So what happens next? Go for another soda! This is a vicious cycle of perking up then crashing and repeat. Then before you know it, you consumed 200 g of sugar and 300 mgs of caffeine in a day. Soda is one of the worst things that can be included in a diet and should be limited (or hopefully eliminated) from your diet.
Next are energy drinks, which are usually just as bad as soda. The biggest difference comes in the form of less sugar, and more caffeine. Most energy drinks contain close to 20-30 g of sugar per can (or serving), which is an improvement over soda. The bigger issue with energy drinks is the amount of caffeine found in them. Anywhere from 120-240 mgs can be found in a serving; which for some is a good amount, but for others can be way too much.
Consuming too much caffeine can lead to anxiety, jitters, and increased heart rate; all from one can, depending on their tolerance. These types of energy drinks should be avoided and consumed very rarely.
The wildcard when it comes to caffeine sources is in the form of pre-workout supplements. Some are very effective and can be healthy, but some can most definitely be unhealthy. With around 100-200 mgs per serving and very little sugar, pre-workouts are definitely geared towards health conscious individuals. The problem with having a lack of sugar and many supplements is that the flavor will be less than attractive unless something else replaces the sugar. While this is a separate debate, many do not think artificial sweeteners are to be trusted. Something that most if not all pre-workouts contain in one form or another.
Beyond this, some pre-workouts contain other ingredients that have negative side effects. For example an ingredient recently removed from a certain pre-workout known as 1,3 Dimethylamylamine (or DMAA for short) was responsible for cerebral hemorrhage (or an uncontrolled bleed in the brain), as well as significantly increasing blood pressure when combined with caffeine. Of course most pre-workouts have only safe and efficacious ingredients, but to be sure if the product you’re using does, doing your own research is very important.
Personally I would recommend MYPRE, as it has been tested and approved.
Zero Calorie Soda
On the side of healthier sources of caffeine comes zero calorie sodas and energy drinks. Keeping the caffeine and dropping the sugar makes any source of caffeine healthier, but some of the same issues exist that are present in pre-workout. To make up for the lack of sweetness, artificial sweeteners need to be added. Since the creation of zero calorie energy drinks and sodas, the argument has existed that these drinks will still cause you to gain weight as much as the full calorie version. This is far from the truth though; an average individual who trades full sugar soda for diet soda with no change in exercise or food will lose weight over time. If you don’t have an issue with artificial sweeteners, diet sodas and energy drinks can be consumed daily to help you curb cravings and get your daily need of caffeine in.
This next source of caffeine is healthy if you know how to keep it that way. Coffee is a quite healthy source of caffeine when consumed black. Containing around 80-100 mgs of caffeine per cup, coffee naturally contains no sugar or calories and can give you stable clean energy. But unfortunately not many like their coffee black, and opt to add cream and sugar; which effectively makes the health benefits decrease drastically.
Unlike other sources listed so far, coffee beans have many nutrients in addition to its caffeine content. The beans contain minerals such as magnesium and chromium which are both important for regular body function. Lastly, coffee beans contain antioxidants, which are very important to help prevent unhealthy inflammation and free radicals that can causes many diseases or oxidation. All in all, coffee is a very healthy way to give you energy for your day/workout when consumed in moderation with little to no sugar.
Finally, comes one of the oldest sources of caffeine, tea. In a cup serving, black tea contains between 60-90 mgs of caffeine, oolong has 50-75 mgs, green has 40-60 mgs and white has 30-50 mgs. In terms of healthfulness, tea is right at the top with black coffee. Besides also having no calories, tea is packed full of different antioxidants called catechins. The most potent of which known as Epigallocatechin gallate (or EGCG for short), is extremely effective at preventing free radicals and found mostly in green tea.
Preventing oxidative stress and the creation of free radicals can help prevent neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, prevent types of cancer from developing, and prevent heart disease among other things. Lastly, tea can even assist weight loss by increasing thermogenesis as well as prioritizing the burning of stored body fat. When it comes to healthy caffeinated beverages, tea (even mixed with some honey) is very healthy and can be consumed daily and in high quantities if the caffeine content is kept in mind.
Take Home Message
When it comes to perking you up for work or helping fuel fasted cardio, caffeine is always a great calorie free choice. When supplementing a good rule of thumb is to take 5 mgs/kg of body weight for maximum performance. Which can range between 200-400 mgs a day, but this number should change with tolerance as some are predisposed to be more sensitive or less sensitive to stimulants; in which case some individuals might only need 100 mgs to get the same effect that 300 would for another person.
When it comes to how you get your caffeine, it’s important to choose the right source. Moving away from soda and energy drinks or cutting back on the amount of sugar going into your coffee or tea can help greatly to keep inches off your waistline as well as provide clean energy without the crash!