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Caffeine - My Precious

Caffeine – My Precious

Written by
April 6, 2016
Updated April 11, 2018
Category: Nutrition

Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant in the methylxanthine family, and human beings go GAGA for it, to the tune of 170mg per person per day. Most people I have met adore a frothy cup of joe and/or a gnarly pre-workout.

The first time I took NO Xplode I was 15 and thought it was a gift from Zeus and subsequently pounded some variation of the stuff every day for a decade. Definitely not my best idea.


Because I was an addict and the athletes that get the performance pop (albeit not very substantial) from caffeine are intermittent users not dependent degenerates.

It is impossible to dog coffee and caffeine. There are a plethora of positive effects induced by caffeine, and we will highlight them in this article, but when looking at these positives, we must also have a respect for how this psychoactive substance works.

When your brain is doing its thing: thinking, managing, collecting, and interrupting loads of internal and external data it spews out a compound called adenosine. Adenosine has an inhibitory effect on the CNS – when it becomes abundant, it says we have…to…slow…down.

Caffeine induces wakefulness by blocking the receptors for adenosine, or as Stephen Braun said, it is like, “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.” Caffeine also potentiates or induces sympathetic nervous system activity.

If you have read our previous posts, you know that the sympathetic branch of our autonomic nervous system is the fight or flight side, and the parasympathetic side is synonymous with the phrase “rest and digest.”

Truthfully, this is a very watered down explanation, and there are actually two sub-branches of the parasympathetic nervous system, but for our purposes here, it is most important to highlight that human beings are meant to live primarily in a parasympathetic state.

Not in a constant sympathetic (ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ALL THE TIME) party.

Caffeine: The Addiction

Caffeine is absorbed in the GI tract, diffuses everywhere, and is metabolized by the liver. Caffeine has a half-life of 3-5 hours and clearance times vary highly from person to person and is even affected by other drugs. For example, nicotine increases clearance 30-50%, whereas oral contraceptives double it.

So, if you are a female who smokes, takes birth control, and likes to party, it’s literally a crap shoot whether your liver works or if you will ever sleep. Caffeine also has less than pleasant withdrawal symptoms for dependent users. It is not crack or meth, but still…Those are the negatives. Metabolized by the liver, CNS sympathetic driver, and it can make you pee. Some of you are like – F$CK MY LIVER!

This is the pervasive mind-set of short term fun vs. long term health and that is your decision. I care little for how many Red Bulls you’ve had or how much money you spent at Spearmint Rhino. I am writing this article for the people who want to use caffeine as a tool not as a crutch to see the sunrise in Rio.

Caffeine: The Holy Grail

● What about these positives you speak of?
● Caffeine potentiates postsynaptic neurotransmission in the sympathetic nervous system
● Caffeine increases resting energy expenditure
● Caffeine increases mental energy
● Caffeine enhances cognitive functioning
● Caffeine elevates mood and relieves anxiety (for some)
● Caffeine increases neuromuscular coordination
● Caffeine enhances physical endurance and the quality of physical performance (a little)

This list actually goes on for a while, and one cannot deny the health and anti-oxidant effects of coffee. But one also cannot deny that we live in a sympathetic/stress-response dominant society.

This is why some people may be able to handle a ton of coffee on vacation and sleep fine, but back on the job, if they have any coffee after 3pm, they are relegated to watch infomercials on the couch all night. Thus, annoyingly like most everything we put out, caffeine tolerance and consumption is highly individual.

I truly believe that intermittent use is by far the best policy. Use caffeine as a tool. I have heard multiple different protocols, such as take one or two days a week completely off, or one week a month sans coffee to allow your brain and body to completely reset and recover adenosine receptor functionality.

The key here is that no one recommends intravenously feeding the stuff to yourself everyday all day, but even then, some people who are naturally laid back and have zero life stress may not die. However, Sally the worrier might have one cup of coffee after taking the blue pill and lose her god-dayum mind.

You know you. Be honest with yourself. Are you addicted? Is coffee helping you perform, or are you just treating withdrawal symptoms with a steady drip of complacency?

What Sports Could Benefit From Caffeine Supplementation

Power Sports

Power Lifting, Olympic Lifting, Sprinting, Hammer Throwing, Car Heaving. Basically anything where you need to get pumped up and do something for a very short time period and then stop. Treat caffeine like the drug it is, and use it like NOS in your car. Don’t progress yourself to three scoops a day.

Take one or two scoops on days when you really have to lift some heavy shit or impress the new chicks that joined your gym, then on less intense days, refrain. Training is training. Competition is competition. I think if you control your caffeine use, you will last a lot longer and recover a lot faster.

Also, if you have to train in the evening, I would be very choosey about when you use the stuff.Try to find the consistent energy from inside because at the end of the day, at most you will get a 4% pop in performance from a large pile of the white stuff. On game day this may be the difference between winning and losing, but dependence may also cripple your ability to shift parasympathetic and thus recover from life.

Mixed Martial Arts

This is one sport that I think caffeine could be really helpful. Not so much in training, but on Fight Night. Caffeine reduces perceived fatigue, and these guys generally don’t have fights every weekend or even every month, so controlled use of this stuff for competitions or key sparring bouts could really benefit them, and testing positive for caffeine is going to be pretty hard to do, as you wouldn’t even come close to that regulated amount if you weren’t a dependent user.

Team Sports

Nope. Games are too long, and there are too many of them. Imagine if an NBA player had to crush pre-workout before every basketball game. That guy just isn’t going to have any longevity. They play at night and the benefit far outweighs the risk. Or take an NFL game that lasts for three to four hours, is it realistic for a linebacker to crush some gnar gnar before every series. No. Well maybe, but adrenaline is adrenaline – let it’s do its job and keep your brain fresh.

Endurance Sports and CrossFit

Maybe, and definitely for one event competitions, but definitely not for multiple event competitions on multiple days. Generally, I have found endurance sports enthusiasts and CrossFitters to be stress junkies, addicted to the wheel more than performance increases, and the biggest traits the lack are parasympathetic recovery and control.

If this pisses you off and you immediately say, “Well so and so has been doing it for…,” watch that as it will lead you down the road to overtraining and your self-worth being dependent on how well you can exercise. The irony hurts.

Caffeine has positives, it also has negatives. It is a drug – respect it and if you are going to use it – use it, don’t just kind of use it all the time.


1. Glade, Michael J. “Caffeine—Not Just a Stimulant.” Nutrition 26.10 (2010): 932-38.

2. Kudielka, Brigitte M., D.h. Hellhammer, and Stefan Wüst. “Why Do We Respond so Differently? Reviewing Determinants of Human Salivary Cortisol Responses to Challenge.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 34.1 (2009): 2-18.

3. Lorist, Monicque M., and Mattie Tops. “Caffeine, Fatigue, and Cognition.” Brain and Cognition 53.1 (2003): 82-94.

4. Mackenzie, Todd, Richard Comi, Patrick Sluss, Ronit Keisari, Simone Manwar, Janice Kim, Robin Larson, and John A. Baron. “Metabolic and Hormonal Effects of Caffeine: Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Crossover Trial.” Metabolism 56.12 (2007): 1694-698.

5. Nehlig, Astrid, Jean-Luc Daval, and Gérard Debry. “Caffeine and the Central Nervous System: Mechanisms of Action, Biochemical, Metabolic and Psychostimulant Effects.” Brain Research Reviews 17.2 (1992): 139-70.

6. “What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain.” Lifehacker. N.p., n.d. Web.

Ben House, PhD, CN, FDN, fNMT, NCSF, USAW LI SPC has worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and Nutritionist since 2006. House is currently the owner and founder of Functional Medicine Costa Rica. House was accepted to medical school without an undergraduate degree, but elected to finish his degree and pursue a career in the health and fitness sector. He is currently practicing Functional Medicine after finishing his PhD and a multi-year metabolic health study within the Nutritional Sciences Department at UT-Austin. House has numerous publications in peer reviewed scientific journals such as The International Journal of Obesity, has presented his work at multiple international conferences, and lectures regularly on health and nutrition at The University of Texas.
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