Caffeine – Part 1

Written by Seb  /  Edited by Natalia  /  Design by Andy

More from our resident Nutritional expert Stephen Pennack. This time he’s chatting Caffeine.

Quick Read: 5 minutes

The most widely used stimulant in the world, caffeine is usually ingested within the form of a beverage, though it is also present in small doses of any food that contains cocoa

It can be derived from plants, or made synthetically. Like most other food ingredients, either method is safe when consumed within the recommended levels, which we will gloss over in a moment

The usage of caffeine concentrates alertness and fine tunes our motor neurons so we become sharper with processing tasks, therefore it is useful for exercise, both with cardio and resistance training to overcome fatigue, and it can increase power output and extend training duration

A dosage of around 3mg p/kg of bodyweight is useful in exercise applications for lasting up to 2hours, so for a 70kg person that would equate to 210mg. Due to sensitivities, a beginner dosing caffeine for exercise should start at the lower end before ramping it up

But how much is too much? For most healthy adults this seems to be set around 400mg per day. Set by the European Food Safety Agency, this figure is a rough guide; many are sensitive to caffeine, others are not

So non-caffeine drinkers would be best to start low before ramping up the dose.

Likewise, to break a habitual caffeine routine, it is not recommended to go cold turkey, but rather reduce your intake over the course of a week or so.

Mechanisms

How does caffeine work? Why does it keep us awake, why can’t we just drink as much as we want? 

Lets first take a step back and look at how we become tired, after all, we consume caffeine to prevent and delay fatigue.

Quite simply, as tasks are performed throughout the day, energy is used up, a byproduct of this is a chemical called ‘Adenosine’. At the end of the day the amount of adenosine will have built up. Combined with our own internal clock and hormonal responses, this coerces the body in to sleep. Overnight, provided you achieve adequate sleep, this adenosine is cleared and we awake refreshed.

Caffeine essentially acts by preventing adenosine from doing its job, giving us the impression that we are less tired than we actually are.

The caveat here is that when caffeine *does* eventually wears off, the adenosine that has built up comes bundling though the doors in droves and can make us feel really tired, very quickly. You may have experienced this as a caffeine-crash, or that mid-morning slump at your desk. The only thing that will really fix this is to make sure that you get a good nights sleep in the first place.

Now how does it keep us awake at night? Let’s not forget it provides alertness and mental stimulation. So any caffeine you have left in in your system will still be preventing adenosine from making you sleepy, and it can remain in your system for quite a while.

Caffeine has a half life of 4-6 hours, meaning that after this time, HALF of the dose of caffeine will still be in your system. 

If you have an espresso at 9am (say that is 80mg of caffeine), 40mg may still be in your system at 3pm.

20mg will remain at 9pm, and 10mg at 3am, and so on..

Having caffeine too late in the day will simply then prevent you from getting to sleep, potentially having a knock on effect the following day when you don’t quite awaken as refreshed as you could be. Chances are you’ll rely on more caffeine to make it through the day.

This is all dependant on a persons sensitivity, some people metabolise it better than others it has to be said. Habitual users will feel the effects less than those who consume very little to no daily caffeine, as regular consumption of caffeine will help build up a tolerance over time.

If an individual is sensitive to caffeine, or they want to manage their intake, the dose and timing are two points to consider. That person can explore options like decaffeinated coffee, teas, or natural sodas with a low caffeine content.

Stay tuned for the final part of this mini series on caffeine; addiction and withdrawal!

Next up More Caffeine

We do not claim to cure, prevent, diagnose, or treat any nutrition-related disease or health condition. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional before changing your diet or medications or exercise routine.

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