Category Archives: Health

Caffeine That You Actually Still Believe

Coffee is the nectar of the gods.

Partially because the aroma of it is the planets best aphrodisiac and it tastes like a million angles are dancing on sunshine, but most importantly it contains caffeine.

Ok, this is probably a bit of hyperbole but coffee is one of the most popular beverages consumed in the world.

In fact, the average American drinks 3.1 cups of coffee per day and we spend approximately $40 billion on coffee each year1. That number is mind-boggling.

Caffeine has garnered a lot of attention in both the fitness world and in the research world due to a lot of the performance and health properties it can convey. Sadly, as with most health claims, many of the things you hear are like unicorns, they aren’t real.

Now since caffeine is one of the most consumed “drugs” on the planet I think we ought to set the record straight and clear up a few of the myths surrounding caffeine.

 

1. CAFFEINE DEHYDRATES YOU

People think that because coffee makes you pee it dehydrates you. I never really understood that logic, it is missing a lot of steps and doesn’t really make any sense when you think about it. For example, drinking water makes you pee but drinking water is how you hydrate.

The body’s fluid balance system is a lot more complicated than that. Honestly, sometimes journalists’ logic baffles me at times. This is where science is important. We can actually ask and answer the question of, “Does caffeine dehydrate you”?

Fortunately for us, several studies have looked at whether caffeine consumption actually dehydrates you. For example, one studied looked at a dose response of caffeine and diuresis (making more urine) and found that daily intakes of caffeine at 3 and 6 mg per kg per day over a span of 11 days does not have a real effect on fluid balance and hydrations status2.

Now that is great and all when considering the study was conducted with pure caffeine, but what about caffeinated beverages and all the other things that go with them? I am glad you asked. Here is a study that showed that black tea also doesn’t do squat as a diuretic and hydrates you just as well as water3.

 

2. CAFFEINE IS A GOOD FAT BURNER

Caffeine is marketed as a fat burner pretty heavily. The thing about it is that it can be a fat burner. . . but it likely doesn’t work the way you think it does.

The old version of caffeine being a fat burner goes something like this: caffeine causes fat cells to release fatty acids which is then burned for energy. This is kind of true but not really. The data is a little more complex than that.

When you really get down to the nitty gritty, it looks like caffeine increases lipid mobilization by a significant amount but most of that fat isn’t actually burned, about 75% of it is actually recycled, meaning it’s “released” from fat cells and then stored again without being used4.

Related: Coconut Coffee Cardio – Early Morning Strategy to Get Shredded

So caffeine probably won’t directly increase fat loss but it may increase your training capacity, making increased fat-loss a byproduct.

In addition to the fact that most of the “mobilized” fat is simply recycled, caffeine loses its efficacy over time. Much like alcohol or drugs, your body habituates to caffeine and eventually it loses its ability to be stimulated by caffeine. At some point it becomes a “return to normal function” supplement.

If you take a second to think about this you realize how true it is. Think about the first time you had a cup of coffee in the morning and how alert and ready to go you felt. Now fast forward 15 years and think about how you feel like one of those zombies in The Walking Dead until that first cup of coffee kicks in and you feel a little more human.

If you abuse coffee/caffeine as much as I do it might take the whole pot to get you back to normal. . . I should probably take a caffeine break sometime soon.

The Missing Link to Massive Gains

Building muscle is generally the main motivation for getting into the gym in the first place.

Whether it’s to look better, develop more confidence, or to gain strength for preseason football training, the desired outcome is the same, more muscle and less fat.

Train for long enough and it becomes apparent that the key stimulus for unlocking serious muscle gains is to progressively increase the level of the intensity of your workouts.

All too frequently, guys will grab a training program, get into a pattern, and then flat line because their intensity doesn’t change.

There’s simply no substitute for increasing training intensity to spark continuous growth. Progressive resistance is the name of the game and without it you can forget about expanding those shirtsleeves.

While devoted trainees pound protein and carbs pre and post workout, a crucial step has unwittingly been missed. The intake of nutrients during training, intra-workout nutrition.

Fresh muscle gains have been the biggest casualty.

Smart trainees have finally caught on, but are they doing it right?

For those who have been neglecting intra-workout nutrition entirely, pay very close attention, this article will unlock the gains you’ve been missing.

The idea of nutrient consumption during workouts has been tossed around gyms for the past decade or so. That being said, many bodybuilders have forgone this crucial strategy. Why?

Many intra-workout misconceptions exist. The mechanical digestion of nutrients diverts blood from muscles and is energy-robbing.

 

Certain compounds, notably caffeine, can dehydrate muscles and deplete training energy. The excessive intake of stimulants may over-stimulate the central nervous system and cause muscle fatigue.The intake of certain nutrients during training is time consuming and inconvenient.

While the above are true, they are also not the most effective intra-workout strategies. Unfortunately, the association they have with intra-workout nutrition prevents many from taking advantage of one of the most powerful growth determinants.

Ingredients to Look for in Preworkouts

I am a scientist by training, not a shill.

So I am not going to try and convince you to buy some mysterious powder from the Himalayas that will make you jacked.

I am, however, going to cut to the chase and tell you about why a few supplements might be worth taking to maximize your training.

The main reason for each of these is that they increase your ability to do work, which we know is the main dictator of how jacked you get during your bulk cycle.

The three on the list today are caffeine, beta-alanine, and citrulline.

 

1. CAFFEINE

Caffeine is touted as one of the most efficacious pre-workout supplements for increasing energy, focus, and training capacity. It is also thought to elicit the following: increased anaerobic running capacity, power output, adrenaline, aerobic exercise, blood glucose and fat oxidation, as well as decreased insulin sensitivity.

Related: 4 Supplements You Should be Taking This Bulking Season

Caffeine primarily works by antagonizing (essentially blocking) adenosine receptors. Adenosine normally binds to these receptors, causing drowsiness. By antagonizing these receptors, caffeine can increase alertness and combat drowsiness.

Caffeine is also distributed throughout the body and interacts with receptors on the surfaces of other cells to elicit different physiological processes including the release of adrenaline and cortisol.

Several studies have shown that caffeine pre-workout can increase power output1, 2, 3. However, it appears to not be related to improvements in 1 repetition maximums but in “sustain power,” e.g. 3-5 RM and Wingate.

It may be due to a reduction in pain perception, and mobilization of intramuscular calcium (the stuff that lets your muscles actually contract).

There have been documented increases in aerobic capacity from caffeine supplementation4, 5, 6. This is potentially mediated by increased free fatty acid (FFA) release. However, contradictory evidence shows that adrenaline increased FFA release, thus decreasing FFA oxidation.

Related: How To Choose The Right Supplements According To Science

Dosing of caffeine is highly variable. Your genetics and habitual use of caffeine play a large role in how much is needed to elicit an effect. The more you consume on a daily basis, the more you will need to consume in order to see any training benefit.

Additionally, there appears to be a “saturation” limit where you only receive an anti-fatigue benefit and no additional effects from higher levels of caffeine intake.

 

2. BETA-ALANINE

Beta-alanine is the beta form of the amino acid alanine (meaning the amino group is in the beta position). It is the rate limiting (read bottleneck) precursor to a chemical called carnosine which acts as a buffer to prevent reductions in pH.

Beta-Alanine is purported to increase your training capacity by improving the body’s ability to buffer exercise-induced decreases in pH. In essence, Beta-alanine isn’t doing the work; it is providing your body with the ability to make more carnosine.

Stimulant Fat Burning Supplements

Fat loss is on everyone’s mind at one time or another.

It’s natural; as human beings we like to look good, and there is nothing wrong with that. Diet and exercise are both definitely the recommended first line protocol for burning fat, and if executed correctly, will lead to fat loss.

However, a time may come after losing some weight when things “plateau”. You may feel like you’re doing everything necessary for fat loss, but week after week the scale does not budge.

This is the time when the assistance of a fat burning supplement is usually recruited. This is a good next step, but is also the point where many things can go wrong, especially if you just consume any random supplement without knowing what it contains and what it does.

The most common fat burning supplements broadly fall into one of two categories; stimulant or non stimulant based.

Stimulant based fat burners typically include one or more compounds related to caffeine, and work by increasing levels of catecholanmines – chemicals in the body which boost alertness, and fat burning potential.

On the other hand, are the non-stimulant fat burners – those without stimulants that work via mechanisms separate from elevating catecholamine levels. These supplements are usually stacked in order to boost their efficiacy, as used alone their effects may seem underwhelming.

Related: How To Choose The Right Supplements According To Science

In regards to stimulant based fat burners, the increased levels of the catecholamines that they result in are essential to the fat burning process, but can be troublesome in individuals who do not realize that they may possess some degree of genetic intolerance to them and are generally sensitive to stimulants.

A Fat Loss Myth or Supplement Staple

Sometimes there is a chemical so central to a process in human physiology that it would defy logic that supplementing the amount or function of the molecule should do anything other than make our health better.

Certainly, the example of creatine monohydrate and the benefits of creatine supplementation on not only muscle mass and strength, but also bone density, neurological function, and other vital processes is an obvious demonstration.

Insofar as fat loss is considered, a number of key molecules have been investigated, such as ketones, beta-2 and beta-3 agonists, specific fatty acids, monoacylglycerides and diacylglycerides, and various hormones.

Yet, in the process of transporting free fatty acids from the cytosol (insides) of a cell to the mitochondria where fatty acids are “burned” to generate energy (ATP) and heat, there is one key molecule— L-carnitine.1

L-carnitine acts like the hostess at a restaurant, escorting you to your table.

Free fatty acids are either taken up from the bloodstream or released from fat stores in metabolically active cells (e.g., skeletal muscle, heart) into the cytosol (cell’s “insides”).

In the absence of L-carnitine, the fatty acids would pretty much stand around or get converted into stored fat.

It is similar to walking into a restaurant when the hostess is on break— you end up standing around in clusters, while some wander to a random table or just leave without “fueling up.”

For purists, L-carnitine’s action relative to beta-oxidation occurs between the outer and inner mitochondrial membrane, but let’s keep it simple for clarity’s sake.

 

THE NEED FOR CARNITINE

Much like creatine, L-carnitine can be made in many tissues, so healthy people tend to have “enough” L-carnitine. As the “L” form suggests, carnitine is an amino acid, so the body is able to convert precursor amino acids (L-lysine and L-methionine) to L-carnitine in the kidney, liver, and brain.

Related: Capsaicin – A Potent Fat Loss Supplement

However, there are recognized cases of carnitine deficiency. Also, endogenous (in the body) production can only produce a limited amount, so the diet is the primary source of L-carnitine in omnivores, sourced primarily from meat; red meat has the highest concentration, with poultry and fish containing much less.

Vegans are nearly dependent upon endogenous production, accounting for 90 percent of their total L-carnitine. This sounds very similar to creatine’s story, if you are familiar with that. Also, when L-carnitine supplies are low, the kidneys will work harder to pull back any that spills into urine so it is not excreted.1

 

WHY SUPPLEMENT L-CARNITINE?

So, is there any need to supplement L-carnitine? Certainly, there are people who have been identified with L-carnitine deficiency, often due to transporter issues (difficulty getting L-carnitine into cells, or absorbing it from the diet).2

Additionally, newborns and infants may have a greater need for L-carnitine. But what about athletes, or healthy adults looking to lose fat? Initially, the answer appears to be “no.”3 Certainly, L-carnitine has not made a splash as a stand-alone product in the supplement market; it is not a banned substance; and there aren’t even any celebrity endorsers.