Caffeine: The Great Igniter

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We have a new guest writer, Matt Bergeron. Besides being a lifter on Team MDUSA, Matt recently graduated from Ball State University with a Masters in Exercise Science and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist from the NSCA. He brings a lot of knowledge with his writing and has a lot to contribute to The Strength Agenda. Now I love my coffee as much as the next person and Matt explains the many ways to get your caffeine fix. Take a look at his article on caffeine and sports performance.

Anyone who is a fitness fanatic knows that caffeine can give you the boost it takes to get to the gym and grind through a hard workout, or get through the morning after yesterday’s lift.  The question is how to get that energy?  There are many, many ways to get the caffeine, coffee, pills, powder, and energy drinks.  With so many options, it’s tough to decide which option is the best.

Coffee is the go to for most people these days, but its caffeine ratio to liquid is low, about 95mg of caffeine to 8oz of coffee in the average cup.  Pills can have a pretty powerful punch to them, but the amount of caffeine is unreliable in most supplements if it is not explicitly labelled on the bottle.  Energy drinks are tasty and have a variety of options, including sugar and carb free!  But they are unreliable in other ways, as explained later.  Powders are the most reliable, cheap per ounce of compared to any other drinks when bought in bulk, but too much and you’ll be having the jitters for a while if you don’t measure properly.

In this article, we’ll discuss your options for what to do in terms of getting your energy boost based on your goals and your budget.

Your goals are the most important thing when regarding what device you use to get your boost.  Coffee is the most reliable of all the sources to be sure.  Most people’s goals a line with building the most muscle possible, and/or cutting as much body fat as possible.  We’ll stick the way of maximizing both these as much as possible

Coffee, especially from natural coffee beans, offers safe and nutritional options to your energy need.  The problem is, there’s not much caffeine as compared to the other options, and not everyone’s a coffee person.  Now, when I say coffee, I’m talking about normal coffee straight from the bean, not frappes or espressos or whatever fruity drinks they’ve adapted to the taste buds of Generation Y.  These drinks are often loaded with an extra amount of sugar and carbs, which when ingested early in the morning, cuts off your ability to utilize fat as your major energy source.

Using your basic coffee straight up ground from the bean in your own kitchen is the best option.  Mixing this with grass fed butter and medium chain triglyceride oil, will boost not only your morning wake up, but your ability to burn fat throughout the day, as caffeine and MCT oil will help spare glycogen stores by increasing fat utilization, respectively.

The next category I’ll just combine since they are essentially the same.  Pre-workout drinks, powders, energy drinks all offer the same thing – boost of energy with the convenience of time.  While this is convenient, there is that saying “easy come, easy go.”  Although the caffeine content in these drinks are greater than regular coffee, about 400-600+ mg per can or serving of powder.

However, the problem lies not in the price you’ll pay for these beverages and powders (they are pretty pricy or build up over time) but in they’re content.  Both energy drinks and pre-workout powders have copious amounts of sugar, good bye fat burning goal.  Now you’re probably saying “but hey! There’s sugar free and zero carb drinks!!!”  Yes true, but there’s nothing “free” about these sugar free energy drinks and powders.

Most people will be quick to point out sucralose – a synthetic sweetner, but sucralose doesn’t cause insulin to spike like people have been told, there’s plenty of research out there showing that sucralose doesn’t cause an insulin response.  However, there is a little compound called acesulfame (also labeled acesulfame-k or acesulfame potassium).  This is another synthetic sweetener, but unfortunately, it does cause an insulin response like normal carbs.  Again, goodbye fat burning.

If your goal is to put on mass and don’t care about a little fat storage, then go ahead and grab these, but otherwise, I would cut these out of your pre-work out plan.

The last category for pumping up your energy is energy pills and caffeine powder.  Pills are easily taken (for most) and can give you a quick kick in the butt to go to the gym.  The problem is, much like other supplements, you don’t really know what’s going on in the pills, such as how much caffeine is in there unless it’s labeled, as well as what else might be cavorting with the ingredients in the capsule.  Most are safe, but if you’re concerned about what goes in your body and out in a urine test, stick with pills that label maybe 2 to 3 ingredients (basically caffeine and the capsule cover).

Powders are the next best thing – easy to put in your drinks, easy to take, and just like the pills, will get you going in no time.  Find the right one, and it’s cheap in bulk and will last for a long time, and only contains caffeine if it’s unflavored.  No added sweeteners or carbs to get your fat burning process interrupted.  Also, be sure to measure out the serving properly or else you’ll feel like you just took a hit of speed for the rest of the day.  No more than 600 mg per drink, 800 mg for the most advanced athlete or fitness fanatic.

Now the only downside to powders – they taste pretty bitter.  So, if you’re mixing it in to your coffee or a protein shake or juice, then you might want to break it up into smaller doses and multiple drinks to save gagging on the vile taste of unadulterated caffeine powder.

So, caffeine has a variety of forms to take, but, you should really check what your goals are.  Since most people want to get leaner or purely build muscle, then you should consider just coffee or pills and powder.  Personally, coffee and powder has helped immensely for my training and keeping close to my weight class as a weightlifter.  Be sure that if you try any source, don’t overdo any source, as caffeine in the long run when abused can cause issues like insomnia, hearty arrhythmia’s if you have an underlying condition, and just general uneasiness if taken in excess.

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