Caffeine. Over 90% of Americans consume the stuff daily. We sip it from our tea and coffee, crunch it up from our chocolate, gulp it down from our energy drinks, and even ingest it from exotic sources like Yerba Maté and Guarana Berries.
For centuries it's been used to keep us awake, alert, and more cognitive for various reasons. From an athlete to a college student pulling an all-nighter, most of us have experienced the benefit of staying "wired" with the stuff. Yet, there's been much hype over the last few years and decades on whether or not caffeine is good for you, or at least ok to consume. But is the hype just hot air?
Thus, main question is this: should you put caffeine in your body, and if so, when? As with my post on Maltodextrin, let's look at the good, the bad, and the ugly side of caffeine.
First the Facts. Technically, caffeine is considered a psychoactive drug (and it's the most popular one at that), which falls in line with alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and meth. That is mainly because, unlike most of its other counterparts, caffeine is legal. The original purpose for caffeine in plants was as a pesticide to some insects and as enhancing the memory of pollinating insects (i.e. the bee likes the caffeine so it goes back to the flower).
In humans, caffeine acts as a stimulant to the nervous system, which is why it fends off wariness and ushers in alertness.
The Good: Most know the primary benefit of caffeine: it keeps you alert and gives you energy. Taken in moderate doses (less than 300mg), caffeine can help in improving your mental alertness and sharpness.
In slightly higher doses (less than 500mg), it will help you push hard through a workout. That's why you'll see caffeine in several pre-workout supplements, such as E&E (just under 500 mg), though you need to watch out for how much caffeine they put in them. Coffee, for reference, has between 95-200mg of caffeine per cup. Espresso's got 40-75mg per 1 oz.
If your a coffee addict, you probably won't feel the benefits of a pre-workout sup unless it has a dangerous amount of caffeine combined with other questionable ingredients.
The Bad: Though a little caffeine can help energize you for a workout, too much can cause you to lose coordination. Add to that the fact that coffee, interestingly, negates these beneficial physical effects of caffeine, which is why you don't see athletes downing a 6-shot espresso before a game! Taken in high doses (more than a gram a day), caffeine can cause dependency and addiction.
Caffeine can cause physical problems ranging from, irritability, nervousness, headaches, insomnia, restlessness, and even heart palpitations. In other words, you don't want too much of the stuff in your body!
The Ugly: Caffeine is on both sides of the fence with cancer. While consuming caffeine can lower your risk of hepatocellular and endometrial cancer, it can also increase your risk of bladder cancer. Go figure.
In pregnancy, caffeine has been shown to increase the risk of "congenital malformations, miscarriage or growth retardation" (PubMed) even when consumed in moderate amounts. So for all you pregnant girls out there, stay away from the tea and coffee!
Verdict: Caffeine from sources like green tea and yerba mate can be a great pre-workout supplement to give you energy for your workouts. Outside of that timeframe and an occasional green tea detox, however, it just doesn't have enough benefits to excuse it as healthy. Skip the coffee in the morning and do a few sun salutations to wake you up!
NOTICE: I am not a doctor, the above should not be considered as medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a certified dietician before changing your diet.