Caffeine as a Bodybuilding Supplement
Caffeine is a cheap and effective supplement for bodybuilders and endurance athletes alike. Caffeine comes in different forms and surprisingly, coffee is not the best way! Several studies have shown that the anhydrous caffeine in the pill form is more effective in improving performance than the caffeine in coffee. If you want to maximize your performance, you should use the pill form. Two added benefits of using caffeine tablets, first its far cheaper. For the price of one fancy Starbucks coffee you can buy a bottle with 100 doses of caffeine in it. The second benefit of using the caffeine in pill form is that you know your exact dosage. Speaking of dosage, lets talk about how much to use.
Oddly enough, more is not better. Several studies have shown that there is no increase in strength or endurance if you consume more than the recommend amount of caffeine. This makes caffeine unlike many other supplements. So, how much should you take? The research shows there is no benefit to taking more than 6mg/kg before your sports activity, I would recommend starting at half that or 3mg/kg – so for a 150lb person that’s 200mg. Take your caffeine about an hour before your lifting session and take it at most once per day. If you don’t want the caffeine to interfere with your sleep you would best be advised to have your workout in the morning to allow the caffeine to be eliminated from your system by bedtime.
Caffeine tolerance is a very important issue here. You quickly build up a tolerance to caffeine which diminishes its value for sports performance. If you want to use caffeine as a supplement you really need to stop its use as a beverage. The only caffeine you consume in a day should be that taken the hour before your weight workout. On days you dont lift weights, no caffeine. If you have a race or contest, you should stop all caffeine use the week before the event so you can benefit its full effect on the big day.
Now lets talk about the research. For endurance sports, the research is near unanimous, caffeine improves performance significantly, but for bodybuilding the research is mixed – some studies show improvement, others dont. From personal experience I can tell you that caffeine helps a LOT in bodybuilding. Why doesn’t the research back this up clearly? We will apply some common sense and experience to the research here and explore possible reasons.
Here’s my theory, in research studies, people are paid to participate, its like work – they show up at a scheduled time and a researcher guides them thru the workout. The real world isn’t like that, you can decide to skip exercises if you want or you can blow the whole workout off if you are tired. In my opinion, bodybuilding is equal parts physical and mental and caffeine’s effectiveness in the mental realm is undisputed. To make gains you have to push your limits and to do this you have incredible drive, that’s where caffeine makes a big difference. If you are yawning and dragging your feel, you will have a cruddy workout. If you have caffeine you will jump on that bench and pound out your reps for a new personal best. My guess is that this is one case where a less rigorous research might actually provide more realistic data. Here is the study I would love to see a year long study set up with two groups and see which improves the most in strength and gains the most muscle mass.
- Placebo group told to take a pill an hour before each workout and not to consume any other caffeine
- Caffeine tablet group told to take a pill an hour before each workout and not to consume any other caffeine.
Although a loose study like this would make any good researcher cringe, it would tell us what we really want to know – how much benefit is caffeine in terms of strength and mass gain in the real world. My guess is that the research in the references below where no strength improvement was shown only looked at the physiological benefits and not the mental benefits.
So the bottom line? In my opinion, caffeine is an awesome supplement for endurance sports as well as bodybuilding despite the mixed findings of the research.
- Take your caffeine in pill form
- Take caffeine 60 min before your weight workout, at most once per day
- Recommended dosage is 3mg/kg to 6mg/kg, that’s 200mg for a 150lb person
- To avoid building up tolerance and rendering ineffective
- Do not consume caffeine from any other sources during the day
- Do not consume caffeine on days without weight workouts
- Before big events, considering eliminating caffeine for prior 7 days
- To avoid interfering with sleep, consider morning workouts
- Do not use caffeine if you have high blood pressure or any heart conditions
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Volume 7, Number 1, 5, DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-5
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
January 2010 – Volume 24 – Issue 1 – pp 257-265
Int J Sports Med 1995; 16(4): 225-230
Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
August 2006 – Volume 20 – Issue 3