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Caffeine and Your Workouts
(Part 1 of 2)

Can lingerie make you look like this?
Can lingerie make you
look like this?

The word caffeine triggers an amazing array of emotions. It's loved and hated, praised and reviled, sometimes from the same person, all at the same time. It's found in hundreds of products and has an almost mythical aura surrounding it by many people who exercise. It's packaged in energy drinks, sports bars and mints.

There's even an Austrian lingerie manufacturer that makes tights impregnated with microcapsules of caffeine. Selling at the outrageous price of $50 for three pairs, the lingerie is being promoted as a cellulite reducer. In the first 18 months, the company sold over 20,000 units!

There's so much hype surrounding caffeine; I decided to take a good look at what it really can and can't do.

There were two things I wanted to know.

1. Is caffeine something that can help me get in better shape?

2. If it can, is it safe and in what amounts?

Here are the facts. Caffeine is an alkaloid found in some plants and it's a potent central nervous system stimulant. It's also well documented to increase alertness and mental focus. Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance, but it's almost wholly unregulated by most of the world's governments.

Can it help build muscle or increase endurance?

In a study published in 2006 by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they gave subjects either one dose of caffeine (201 mg.) or a placebo. (For reference purposes, 200 mg. of caffeine is about how much you would find in a 10 oz. serving of drip coffee.) Then the subjects were tested before and after working out to see what changes had occurred.

After eight weeks, researchers found that taking 201 mg. of caffeine before a workout produced "...no benefit for altering body weight or body composition." In other words, it didn't help.

Studies were also performed on highly trained cyclists to see if caffeine could help during a 100 km cycling time-trial performance. The results of that study were disappointing as well, showing no benefit when caffeine was taken versus a placebo. In all, there have been dozens of studies that came to the same conclusions. Caffeine does not enhance either cardio or resistance training performance and it does not help subjects lose fat.

That may seem counterintuitive. After all, isn't caffeine a stimulant? And shouldn't a stimulant help you lose fat or gain muscle when working out?

Maybe not, and this might be one of the reasons why. In a study at the Cardiovascular Center at University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, they were testing the effect of caffeine on myocardial blood flow. The results were shocking.

When subjects took in just 200 mg. of caffeine, blood flow to the heart DECREASED by 39% during exercise. Since the purpose of cardio exercise is to INCREASE blood flow to the heart, taking caffeine before a cardio routine may actually be detrimental to a good workout.

If you like drinking caffeine, here's the unfortunate news. In some tests, there were a few subjects who did get a small, 1 to 3 percent boost from caffeine in endurance training situations. Fantastic! Unfortunately, it was only the people who didn't normally ingest caffeine who got the benefit. For everyone else, it didn't help at all.

Caffeine isn't just promoted for muscle gain; it's also added to dozens of over the counter weight loss products. Bad move. It turns out, caffeine increases cortisol levels. That's bad for weight loss because higher levels of cortisol stimulate appetite. So if you take in too much caffeine, you're stimulating your appetite instead of suppressing it.

It's not all bad news. Next week, I'll tell you what caffeine was shown to help with, what things it's hiding in and just exactly what levels are considered safe.

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering. No, the caffeinated lingerie does NOT help fight cellulite. The only thing caffeinated lingerie can effectively reduce is your bank account.

Part 1 2

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  • Of course not all studies that claim caffeine is bad are accurate...or even credible.

    A study published in the September 2006 issue of Epidemiology proclaimed that moderate coffee drinkers (those that drink up to 3 cups a day) raise their chances of a heart attack by 36%. That number made headlines in dozens of papers around the country and in news reports all over the Internet. Unfortunately it's a seriously flawed study.

    The study didn't actually test the subjects, but instead relied on a questionnaire given to people who had suffered a non fatal heart attack. That means researchers expected subjects to tell the truth (many don't) and to remember what they ate and drank before a heart attack (again, many don't).