Ingested daily by 90 percent of North Americans, caffeine is regarded as our nation’s most widely enjoyed psychoactive substance. It’s in numerous over-the-counter medications and, of course, is present in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, energy drinks and a bevy of fitness supplements. Fortunately, unlike most of our vices, it’s actually doing our bodies good. In the past decade, there has been an explosion in the number of scientific studies investigating the ergogenic potential of caffeine and uncovering its numerous benefits, ranging from increased focus and fat burning to increased strength and muscular gains.
Caffeine is most commonly plugged as a central-nervous-system stimulant, but it’s also highly involved in increasing fat mobilization from fat cells into the bloodstream. Moreover, caffeine has been shown to increase strength (particularly with doses of 7 milligrams per pound of bodyweight or more) and training intensity and reduce muscle soreness by up to 50 percent when taken preworkout.
A recent placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research adds to the support for caffeine as a safe and effective preworkout supplement. Scientists from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. sought to establish whether the effect of caffeine supplementation on maximal strength is different in upper- versus lower-body muscles. The subjects consisted of 16 resistance-trained men who took either caffeine (13 milligrams per pound of bodyweight) or a placebo 30 minutes before testing and then completed a number of upper- and lower-body strength measures. The authors reported that preworkout caffeine supplementation produced up to a 9 percent increase in maximal upper-body strength and a 14 percent increase in maximal lower-body strength. Pretty substantial considering they just took a pill.
Action Point: To get all the workout benefits from caffeine supplementation, we suggest taking 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine anhydrous 30 to 60 minutes before training.