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Caffeine - King of Pre-Workout

Pre-workout supplementation would have to be the biggest market going. In almost every conversation I have with someone about training they end up asking “what pre-workout do you take?” My answer is always the same “I don’t take any pre-workout as such”. I then get a weird look like I am way behind the times.

Pre-workout I like to take brain nutrients such as fish oil, acetyl-l carnitine, ginko, and the like. I rarely use stimulants, but if I do, I use caffeine. I don’t like to use commercial brands “super pump 5000”, for example. They contain a lot of chemicals that have been shown to be neurotoxic and can also contain substances that are banned in sport.

The reason I try to limit my use of caffeine is so that when I do need to increase performance I have the biggest increase possible. If you use caffeine daily or drink several cups of coffee a day, the benefits in performance will not be as dramatic as if you use it sparingly because your body will be adapted to it. This is why you should only use caffeine for competitions or important workouts. There is no point taking it for forearm and calf day, save it for a massive leg session.

Caffeine has many benefits when it comes to increasing performance. The two main benefits I use caffeine for are increased strength and for delaying the onset of fatigue. Caffeine has been shown in some studies to increase strength 20-25% but these studies must have used untrained individuals who didn’t consume very much caffeine on a daily basis. In my observations and those of other strength coaches, the increases in strength are more around the 5-7% mark, still a very good increase in performance.

The way caffeine helps delay the onset of fatigue is its impact on motivation and the way it decreases the sensation of pain. If you feel extremely tired or unmotivated to train caffeine can help you get a quality workout in. It was shown in a study done on rugby players who were sleep deprived. The group that took caffeine had a quality of workout the same as if they were rested whereas the group that didn’t take caffeine couldn’t lift as much as normal.

Another couple of benefits of caffeine is that it can improve sprint times, reaction time and concentration. Due to this and the above mentioned delay of fatigue and decrease in pain sensation it is good for athletes in high intensity sports. It has been shown that caffeine can enhance muscle force. Caffeine can also decrease DOMS, so it is good to use if you need to repeat efforts or back up for competitions that have a short turn around. If you use BCAA’s while training the results can be even more effective.

To see the benefits of caffeine you have to use a fairly large dosage, unless you have never used it before. Optimal dosage seems to be around the 3mg/kg body weight range in most studies with the upper limit being 10mg/kg of body weight. Generally I like to use 3mg/kg of body weight for endurance and higher dosages such as 7mg/kg for strength. I learnt this from Charles Poliquin. Taking more than 10mg/kg of body weight doesn’t have any additional benefits. Again optimal dosage is an individualised thing.

You get about 90-100mg of caffeine from 1 cup of coffee. To get the benefits of caffeine reported in studies, that would mean that if you weighed 100kg you would need at least 3 cups of coffee. I feel the simplest way to get the required amounts of caffeine is to take a caffeine pill. The added benefit of this is that the brand we use combines tyrosine and phenylalanine to the caffeine which supports the adrenals and helps prevent the crashing feeling you may get from taking caffeine. Taking 2g of vitamin C post-workout will also help clear the caffeine from your system allowing you to avoid the jitters some people experience when taking caffeine. I do personally at times so again I must thank Charles Poliquin for this great tip.

The time of day I use caffeine is in the morning because if I take it any later than 12pm I struggle to sleep. Personally I stick to the same rule when it comes to coffee. This is something you have to find out for yourself.

So to sum up caffeine can help:

  • Increase strength and power

  • Improve motivation

  • Decrease the sensation of pain

  • Delay the onset of fatigue

  • Improve sprint times, reaction time, and coordination

  • Allow you to perform better when sleep deprived

  • Reduce DOMS

  • Increase endurance

  • Help fat loss from training

If caffeine makes you anxious or doesn’t allow you to sleep properly there are many different options for you pre-workout. Here is one you can use:

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