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What's Up with Caffeine? The Benefits & Warnings

, by Dr. Jeff Pearl, MD, 2 min reading time


I am sure that many of you have seen the media reports about caffeine related deaths — the most recent of which was related to use of a caffeine powder ordered online. Others that have occurred are usually also related to massive and sustained intake of caffeine products, usually without much else- i.e. the compulsive gamer drinking energy drink after energy drink for 48 hours straight.

Despite these rare and tragic reports, caffeine in moderation is generally safe and well tolerated: Hence, the fact that nearly 130 million Americans regularly drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks. It is well accepted that caffeine increases mental acuity and sharpness and certainly can help one stay awake. However, just as caffeine’s effects on pulse and blood pressure are transient, so to may a tolerance develop to its desired effects thus requiring higher and higher doses. In general, after 4 days of use, there is no longer a significant effect on one’s heart rate or blood pressure- no more jitters, as novice coffee drinkers often report.

Caffeine Benefits & Warnings

Although there is very little objective data that caffeine helps with athletic performance, subjectively both regular and elite athletes report some benefits. Once again, the tolerance issue may come into play and intermittent periods without caffeine (4 days or so) may increase its effect for an upcoming race. The objective data suggests minimal benefit in sprinters. However, due to caffeine’s effect on fat metabolism and delaying glycogen use, there is a benefit in endurance athletes such as triathletes. If used for this purpose, it should be consumed a few hours before the race, and as is common, additional small amounts at water stations.

As with most supplements, moderation is the key. It is a good idea to be in touch with your own body and monitor both the effectiveness and the sideeffects of your own caffeine intake. In general, 100-300mg in a 24 hour period is well tolerated by most people. Be aware of other forms of caffeine included in drinks, foods, and supplements when adding up your total for the day. As caffeine is a diuretic (promotes urine production similar to alcohol), dehydration is a risk if one does not ensure adequate water intake separate from the caffeinated beverage. Obviously, dehydration will decrease athletic performance as well. One additional caution is to watch the amount of sugar and calories if you are one to get your caffeine fix from a fancy latte or “iced blended something- i.e. caffeinated milkshake” drink or from a canned energy drink.


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