Caffeine: good, bad, worth it?

Caffeine is the most used and abused drug in the world. Not what we would expect, but there’s a reason it’s used so much: it has a treasure chest full of benefits. You’d be surprised how much you’re having and even more so how much the FDA says is ok. It ain’t what yo momma told you.

Research has proven it helps people along their health journeys. Caffeine is a go to supplement for increasing energy and curbing appetite; a pretty sick combo for losing weight or hitting the gym hard. Ironically the reason it helps with dieting and exercise is also why a cup of coffee helps with the ole Tequila, Jager, Vodka, beer 0r any alcohol that just made you cringe, hangover.

Why do you care? Well no one likes being hung-over and since not everyone is a gold searching pirate the old wise saying of just keep drinking isn’t feasible. More importantly you need to know how caffeine can help or hurt your health pursuits from sleep to sleeve ripping workouts.

Caffeine Nation

It’s pretty astounding the amount of caffeine we consume. That’s a global we.

Even after the Boston Tea Party it doesn’t mean America’s the only one coming after caffeinated beverages. The capitalist, go-getter work 80 hours a week America isn’t even in the top ten of coffee consumption. Scandinavian countries lead the way and ‘Merica is somewhere around #23 depending on the stats you use, kinda like our public education, yikes.

Even though there are plenty of other ways to get caffeine like soda, gum, sunflower seeds, marshmallows (I’m not kidding), coffee is a pretty good representation.

How it Does Its’ Thing

Well, it’s actually a pretty complicated process. It works like a lot other opioids such as heroin, crack and cocaine. Basically all the drugs the government deems too fun and dangerous for the public (They’re right).

Really simply, receptors that help with sleep are blocked while others that help with the release of energy and feeling good are enhanced. These hormones affect some huge processes and hormones in the body.

Section for Nerds (The Details on Caffeine Metabolism)


If you’re looking for more detail and understanding of how caffeine works, this one’s for you.

Imagine it’s Friday night, you used to be able to party like an animal but you’re not in college anymore and you’re tired (Or you’re in college and you’re tired because college). You take some caffeine and yell YOLO. Even though you should be pretty embarrassed from screaming that, at least you’re getting yourself out there.

Gulp, gulp, gulp….

Down the Hatch

Caffeine absorption starts through the intestinal tract and has an almost 100% bioavailability, meaning it basically all gets absorbed. This happens rapidly, within 30-45 minutes. The speed of absorption varies by person and is affected by how full or empty the stomach is.

Once in the body it’s goes through quite a few metabolic pathways (25), so it gets quite complicated. If you really and truly love metabolic pathway charts I’d recommend delving into this one.

Into the Brain

Once it’s absorbed through the digestive tract and enters the blood stream it begins binding to adenosine in the brain. Adenosine is released into the body as a signal to the body it’s time to sleep. So by binding to adenosine, caffeine blocks drowsiness receptors and your body gets a much smaller signal that it needs to sleep.

In turn, as adenosine is blocked it allows the dopamine system to run free. Dopamine is released when we eat, exercise or experience pleasure and it makes us really happy and satisfied, like when the Cool-Aid man busts through a concrete wall, ohhhhh yeahhhhh!

Feeling and looking better than Miley
Feeling and looking better than Miley

Additionally, without adenosine binding to receptors it’s now going into the blood stream and stimulating the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline stimulates the fight or flight response which has a whole host of effects; both good and bad depending on your outlook of acceptable personal hygiene, hyperactivity and love for eating pizza. Here’s what happens:

  • Your pupils dilate. Like you’re looking a melty cheesy pizza
  • Airways open up so you can take in more oxygen and inhale that pizza
  • Your heart beats faster. Fueling your muscles with energy to eat pizza
  • Surface blood vessels constrict, blood flow to muscles increases. Your muscles are pumped ready to curl that slice up to your mouth.
  • Blood flow to stomach goes down, digestion stops to free up resources for movement, not good keeping an appetite and for eating a few slices but great for not feeling hungry
  • Blood pressure goes up, muscles must get oxygen and energy for lifting pizza box
  • The liver releases sugar into the bloodstream for extra energy. It’s a really big pizza, you should call a workout buddy
  • Muscles tighten up preparing for battle, this pizza never had a chance
Waiter walks with pizza is an excellent core exercise, mamma mia!

Even though eating pizza isn’t really that hard of a workout you can see how caffeine would definitely help optimize the body for exercise.

Contract and Pump Some More

There’s a couple other ways that caffeine can positively impact exercise. It acts directly on the endothelial cells stimulating the production of Nitric Oxide (NO), something most pre-workouts aim to do in order to increase blood flow. It also stimulates the release of calcium ions (Ca2+) which are integral to muscle contractions. Additionally caffeine gets broken down into theobromine, increasing the brain and body’s efficiency at absorbing oxygen and nutrients.  A lot of good things happens aside from the almighty adrenaline release.

“And it all falls down” –Syleena Johnson

At last, it exits the body by getting filtered through the kidneys and excreted which can have a diuretic effect.   Overall, 97% of caffeine is absorbed by the body and the remaining 3% comes out in your pee pee.

The infamous caffeine crash can now happen as all the free flowing adenosine can now quickly bind to receptors leading to a rapid feeling of drowsiness. Since many drinks and foods with caffeine have sugar, the duo can result in a pretty hard crash, like 5 year olds after a birthday at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Exercise and Diet Takeaways

It goes a lot deeper than just feeling more alert. All these effects lead to better focus, energy and performance in the gym.

Basically you’ll go from thisstretching-498256_1280

To this


Take it 30-45 minutes before working out for maximal effect. That’s also about how long it will take to curb your appetite if you’re looking to shed some fat. Even though it helps you to eat less it’s not great to have caffeine and eat since it takes away blood flow from the stomach and digestive tract.

How Long Does Caffeine Last

Caffeine doesn’t just vanish when you crash. It has a lasting effect on the brain many hours after you’ve consumed it. Fighting that 3 O’clock feeling is a battle that’s going to last a whole lot longer than rush hour. “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!”-Chris Tucker

Caffeine has a ½ life of four to six hours. If you didn’t take chemistry, you’re a lucky ducky and this stuff is simple.

If you drink two 8oz cups of coffee (190mg of caffeine) at 8am then you have 190mg of caffeine in your system around 8:30am. Then in six hours at 2:30pm you would have 95mg of caffeine in your system. Another six hours later at 8:30pm you would have 47.5mg of caffeine in your system yada yada yada.

Even though you feel like you need caffeine at 3pm you actually just want more caffeine, some is still in there bucko. That means you might not need as much as you think.  It’s why we usually have more caffeine in the morning not afternoon since it stays in our system throughout the day.

Sleepless in Seattle

It can be tough to have caffeine at night. It takes a while to wear off. Even if you fall asleep the caffeine is still affecting your brain. Just because your eyes are shut and done counting sheep it doesn’t mean your body is actually resting and recovering. REM or deep sleep is really where rest happens and this is much more difficult to achieve while caffeinated.

A study showed that those who took a dose of caffeine at night experienced a 40-minute delay in the release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your internal clock.

It’s the same problem people experience when they stare at bright screens before bed. Your body doesn’t feel like it’s time to sleep and even once your sheep are long gone you don’t enter a deep and rejuvenating slumber. Polar bears would not wake up happy if they had caffeine before winter hibernation.

Screens and coffee do not make a good pre-sleep ritual, dessert is delicious though
Screens and coffee do not make a good pre-sleep ritual, dessert is delicious though

Moral of the story is, if you’re not waking up rested but are getting at least 7 hours a night, look into the quality of your sleep not quantity.  Whether you’re looking for weight loss or muscle gain, sleep will be a determining factor for recovery and hormone regulation.

Caffeine Content

You know what it does; now know how much you’re having. The FDA used to say that 200mg of caffeine a day was ok but that number was bumped up to 400mg a few years back. Why? People were drinking so much and nothing particularly bad happened so why not.

Consumption is becoming a more prevalent issue again as caffeine is finding it’s way into bizarre things like jelly beans, beef jerky, oatmeal, waffles, gum, marshmallows and sunflower seeds. Not everyone likes coffee but at least black coffee is calorie, partially hydrogenated oil and corn syrup free.  Here’s the scoop on content:

  • Tall 12oz Starbucks Caffe Americano: 169mg (Starbucks has more caffeine than others)
  • 8oz Cup of Coffee: 95mg
  • 8oz Black Tea: 47mg
  • 5 Hour Energy Shot: 200mg (Dam)
  • 12oz Can of Coca-Cola: 29mg…a 7-11 Supergulp is about 6x this much
  • 12oz Can of Surge: 51.8mg (For the 90’s kids in da house)
  • 8.4oz Redbull: 80mg
  • 23.5oz Original Four Loko: 156mg of bad decisions and hangovers
  • 1 Scoop of C4 Pre-Workout: 150mg (Who really takes just one scoop?)
  • 1 Piece of Jolt Gum: 45mg
  • Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar: 31mg
  • Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar: 9mg
  • 1 Serving SumSeeds Energized Sunflower Seeds: 140mg
  • Typical Caffeine Tablet: 200mg
There's not as much caffeine as one would think in chocolate
There’s not as much caffeine as one would think in chocolate

Controlling Caffeine Intake

It’s always nice to be in control of caffeine. You’ll sleep better and when you really need that jolt, it’ll have a more profound effect. Here are a couple tips to help you out:

Look for non-caffeinated pre-workouts. They pack the ingredients like beta-alanine and arginine that help with performance but without the artificial energy kick.  Back when I was working at Club Med in the Dominican Republic I used to take a little non-stimulant pre-workout then go to the bar, have an espresso and watch water aerobics by the pool. It was a nice pre-workout ritual that gave me flexibility with my intake.

A study, by you guessed it, The University of Florida found that almost all decaff coffees still contained enough caffeine to develop dependence. Switching to decaff is a good way to decrease intake but it won’t completely eliminate it.

More than anything simply being aware of consumption is important. Don’t consume something for the taste when you didn’t need the caffeine (Ah hem Starbuck’s aficionados). Also don’t think all beverages are alike. Different soda’s and different types of coffee vary in content by type and brand. Check the label before you check out.

Try rather than having caffeine in the morning only take it pre-workout and see what a difference it makes.

Cold Turkey is Only Good After Thanksgiving


As with many drugs, taking caffeine on the reg leads to physical dependence. Immediately stopping consumption can cause annoying withdrawal symptoms including fatigue (Duh), irritability, bad moods (Mondays) and headaches.

The headaches are likely due to caffeine’s vasoconstrictive effect on the brain. Without the regular caffeine the blood vessels in the brain can over dilate increasing pressure in the brain. This is why analgesics (Pain meds) frequently contain caffeine.

Ween yourself off caffeine if you feel you have too much. You’ll feel a whole lot better than quitting cold turkey.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries™ Takeaways

Like the UF defense, it’s all about the takeaways (Note this site is not affiliated with or endorsing Five Guys and throwing peanut shells on the ground):

  1. It boosts exercise performance and curbs your appetite
  2. It takes a while for the body to break it down; it’s probably impacting sleep
  3. It’s in many foods and drinks; content varies drastically
  4. Stopping consumption immediately is bad idea, moderate consumption is ok
  5. It can help but also cause headaches

From yours truly, Raph

Sources (I didn’t make this stuff up)