Caffeine for Performance enhancement
Caffeine, the world’s most widely used stimulant. And arguably the most crucial element in all stimulant-based pre-workout supplements for its ergogenic, performance-enhancement effects. But how much caffeine do we actually need? When we consider that some pre-workouts have caffeine dosages of more than half of the recommended maximum of 500 milligrams, we have to wonder if such a high dose is even warranted. Well, perhaps a newly published research might help shed some light on this question: at what dose, if any, can we expect to experience caffeine’s exercise performance benefits?
In this new study by Grgic et al, 28 resistance trained men were tested in four different areas: Upper-body strength, lower-body strength, upper-body endurance, and lower-body endurance. They were done via a one-rep max test for strength and with as many reps possible at 60%1RM for endurance. Five difference experimental trials were performed, three of which tested the effects of three different caffeine doses: 2, 4, and 6 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight one hour before training.
For the average 80-kilogram individual, that’s 160, 320, and 480 milligrams of caffeine respectively. The remaining two experiments were controls, one with and one without a placebo. Now for the fun part, the results: Improvements were indeed seen with caffeine, but not in all tests. In terms of strength, upper body strength needed the higher dosages of 4 and 6 milligrams per kilogram to see statistically meaningful benefits. But even with those higher doses, the bench press maxes only went from about 106 kilos in the control to roughly 108 kilos in the higher caffeine dosages. That maybe worthwhile for some, like strength athletes pushing their limits, but it isn’t much for most others.
More importantly, this was only in comparison to the NO placebo trial. Against an actual placebo, all three doses did not have a statistically significant benefit. Lower body strength, on the other hand, did have moderate improvements, but it’s a bit reversed. In this case, ONLY the 2-milligram dose observed statistically significant improvements, increasing squat 1RM to 132.2 kilos versus BOTH control trials at 129 kilos. A 3+ kilo 1RM increase is definitely better, although not mind-blowing. Plus, since the 4 and 6 milligram dosages did nothing, this suggest having TOO much caffeine might potentially blunt strength benefits.
Now, for endurance, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. For upper body muscle endurance, caffeine did… pretty much nothing. All five trials hovered around 20.5 to 21 reps in the 60%1RM bench press. The only place we see a much clearer and meaningful caffeine benefit is with lower body endurance. The no placebo and placebo trials observed 21.7 and 21.1 reps respectively in the 60%1RM squat. Although there were no statistical differences for the three caffeine trials, they all set about 4 to 5 reps above the controls, with 25 to 26 reps.
But since they did not see any difference between the three trials, this suggests that having a low caffeine dose is enough to exhibit lower body endurance benefits and more won’t do you better. So now taking all of this great data into consideration, what does it mean for you? First, we gotta point out again that this study was done in resistance trained men, which luckily should apply to the majority of you following this channel. But generalization of the findings outside of this population wouldn’t be rational. With that being said, when it comes to caffeine’s performance benefits, it might not be something worthwhile for strength. Or at least don’t get your hopes up thinking that it will boost your 1RM any more than a few percentage points. Endurance is a bit trickier. To keep things simple, let’s just say that if it’s leg day, then yes, it might be worth taking. And if you do choose to use it for either performance reasons, then taking 2 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight is all you need.
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Now one limitation of this study I do wanna point is the matter of caffeine tolerance. The majority of participants were low habitual caffeine users, consuming no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day. Some, if not most of us, generally take in more. And the lowest dose of this study was also higher than 100 milligrams. It’s likely that the higher caffeine dose than the subjects were used to might explain the effects they observed, but not entirely. Whether we’ll see benefits in users with habitually higher intakes is up in the air. Maybe something like cycling your caffeine if you’re a high-caffeine user might be a good idea. But that’s about it. Caffeine might help but you certainly don’t need too much of it.