Get the scoop on how caffeine, the world’s most popular stimulant, can jack up your workout without keeping you up!
Nothing delivers a bigger kick in the pants before a workout than caffeine. It’s no wonder that caffeinated pills and drinks are the most common supplement category among bodybuilders, athletes, and gym-goers. Study after study has shown that caffeine can increase alertness, sharpen focus, improve mood, boost pain tolerance, help burn fat, and help athletes do more work for longer periods in the gym and in sport.
In fact, caffeine works so well that, up until 2004, its use was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. I know what you’re thinking: “Ban caffeine? Yeah right. Everybody uses it!” And that was basically the line of thinking that ended the ban, since a “threshold level” between social use and abuse couldn’t effectively be established. Since then, urine samples have shown that more than 75 percent of elite athletes routinely use caffeine during competition.
That says nothing of its use among non-athletes at home, at work, or, in some cases, pretty much all the time. Today, 90 percent of North Americans regularly use this slightly bitter psychoactive stimulant in one form or another, and at least 80 percent of us do so daily.
Whether you take it or not, do you know what caffeine is, or what it does? Here’s what the science says about how the world’s most popular stimulant can help your training.
WHERE DOES CAFFEINE COME FROM?
In nature, caffeine is a potent insecticide which plants produce to help kill off certain pests—but not all insects, interestingly. Caffeine actually offers memory enhancement and a healthy buzz to pollinating insects such as bees.
Like chocolate and pomegranate, which I discussed in two previous articles, caffeine seems to have been consumed since the earliest days of recorded human history. As such, it has multiple tales of origin, including a Chinese legend in which the ancient emperor Shennong accidentally discovered tea in 3000 BC, after certain leaves fell in a container of boiling water.
Whether this is true or not, people seem to have been drinking caffeinated beverages for about as far back as we can measure, and considering them indispensable for nearly as long. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu—the “teach a man to fish” guy—famously called tea the “elixir of life” back around the 6th century B.C.
Coffee has a more finite history, dating back to Arabic culture in the 14th and 15th centuries, where it was the subject of both loyalty and controversy as a popular way to stay awake during evening prayers. From there, it didn’t take long to travel the trade routes to Europe, alongside tea and, soon afterward, drinkable chocolate.
More recently, caffeine was first isolated in the early 1800s by German chemists, and shortly afterward by their French counterparts. This is where its name comes from, originating from the German word Kaffee and the Frenchcafé , both of which refer to coffee.
Appropriately, most of the caffeine we consume today is extracted from plants during the process of decaffeinating either coffee or tea.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT PERFORMANCE?
Caffeine works on the central nervous system by promoting spinal cord excitability and muscle fiber recruitment, while decreasing perceptions of fatigue and muscle pain. It’s been demonstrated to improve physical performance in all manner of sports while also delaying mental fatigue.
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