Caffeine is currently the most consumed drug in America with the leading being coffee (70%), soft drinks (16%), and teas (12%).
This crystalline compound is best known for its stimulating effects on our central nervous system, and has been scrutinized and often misunderstood in the field of health and nutrition for a while now.
We have heard so many confusing and contradictory things about caffeine that now we are wondering what’s a myth and what’s actuality??!
What is Caffeine anyways?
Caffeine is a bitter alkaloid that is found naturally occurring in the leaves and seeds of more than 60 plants around the world.
- A couple examples:
- tea leaves
- cacao beans
- coffee beans
- kola nut
- yerba mate
- guarana berries
- yaupon holly
Caffeine can also be made synthetically, or in a lab, and is added to many popular drinks. It is also a popular component that increments several pharmacological preparations and is found in dietary supplements, over-the-counter medications, and cold/flu remedies.
What does it do in our bodies?
Let me guess, you’re thinking, well natural is better than synthetic, right?!
Truth be told, whether it is found naturally occurring, or made in a lab, the chemical makeup of caffeine is identical. In other words, the body cannot tell the difference and it is metabolized the same way.
So, your feeling tired and looking for a “pick me up”, you reach over and grab your favorite coffee drink, matcha latte, chocolate bar, or energy drink. You gulp it down and then anxiously await for those favorable effects to perk you up, although, you’re not really sure exactly how it works.
Well, this is what happens:
Caffeine excites (stimulates) our central nervous system, this controls most of the functions of the body and mind. It has been found to help improve mental alertness and reduce the perception of fatigue, hence, the “pick me up” sensation.
If has been found that in humans, caffeine empties rapidly from the stomach into the intestines to be absorbed. Ingestion of 250 mg of caffeine (comparable to 1 cup of coffee) is detected in the blood in just 15 minutes. Maximal concentrations, so when your “coffee buzz” is at its peak is found to be approximately 45-60 minutes later, regardless of the amount that is consumed. Caffeine has been reported to have a half-life of about 2-10 hours (depending on factors such as age, health, current drug use, pregnancy, etc.), this is the reason many health professionals will say “switch to decaf in the afternoon, otherwise you will be up all night”.
For all my athletes and exercise enthusiasts out there, caffeine has also been found to help in improving exercise performance for longer bouts of time. Some studies credited this to the sparing of muscle glycogen (our bodies energy reserves found in the muscles). Some other studies have suggested that caffeine may decrease the perception of pain through some various mechanisms in our bodies. However, the studies thus far have had a lot of variation so it is safe to say that the jury is still out on these claims (2).
For strength and power athletes, caffeine has been found to help in having an ergogenic (increase in stamina) impact on the number of repetitions completed during an exercise. But the overwhelming majority reveals that caffeine does not help enhance 1 rep maxes (RM) for bench press, leg press, or leg extension (1,2).
So I can drink my usual pot of coffee a day then right?
Not quite . . .
Like with most things, moderation is key!
Consuming too much caffeine can cause things like: jitters, restlessness, and nervousness; disruption in sleep and insomnia; heart palpitations; dizziness; headaches; anxiety; irritability; and . . . it can be a potent diuretic.
How much is toooooo much?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
“Moderate coffee consumption – up to three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing 400 mg/day of caffeine – can be incorporated into health eating styles since it is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic disease (e.g. cancer) or premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease.”
This recommendation is supported by other health authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and the 2015 Comprehensive Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine.
In a recent systematic review of 426 studies supported the claims regarding consumption of less than or equal to 400 mg/day in adults, not being associated with overt, adverse effects. Intake of no more than 300 mg/day for pregnant women and no more than 2.5 mg/kg-day in children and adolescents remains acceptable.
*Caffeine consumption for sensitive individuals, such as those with existing medical conditions, pregnancy, or breastfeeding women should be monitored and consult their health care provider for specific recommendations.
How much caffeine am I consuming? How much is 400 mg of caffeine anyways?
Well this can vary greatly, whether you have your homebrew down to a science, enjoy a nice latte from our barista here at Market 5-ONE-5, grab a trendy cold-brew off the shelf, or gulp down an energy drink. Each contain different amounts of caffeine, check out this table for a caffeine comparison (note: some of these range a bit, but this gives you a general idea):
|Coffee, generic brewed||12 oz||180-200|
|Caribou – coffee||12 oz||360|
|Caribou – latte||12 oz||180|
|Dunkin Donuts, regular||12 oz||156|
|Einstein Bros, regular||12 oz||225|
|Espresso, generic||1 oz||40|
|Starbucks coffee||12 oz||260|
|Starbucks – latte||12 oz||75|
|Tea, brewed||12 oz||80|
|Caribou – black tea||12 oz||85|
|Caribou – Chai tea latte||12 oz||67|
|Snapple, just plain unsweetened||12 oz||13.5|
|Starbucks – Iced green tea latte||12 oz||80|
|Starbucks – Earl Grey tea||12 oz||75-115|
|Diet Coke||12 oz||45|
|Diet Pepsi||12 oz||36|
|Mellow Yellow||12 oz||53|
|Mountain Dew||12 oz||54|
|Diet Mountain Dew||12 oz||55|
|5-Hour Energy||2 oz||138|
|Red Bull||8.3 oz||80|
|Redline RTD||8 oz||250|
|Excedrine (Extra Strength)||2 tablets||130|
|NoDoz (Max Strength)||1 tablet||200|
|Anacin (Max Strength)||2 tablets||64|
|Chocolate Bar||1.55 oz||3-63|
|Hershey’s’ Special Dark Choc. Bar||1.45 oz||31|
|Nestle Crunch Bar||1.45 oz||10|
|Chocolate Chip Cookie||1.45 oz||3-5|
Information provided by: Smith-Ryan, A., & Antonio, J. (2013). Sports nutrition and performance enhancing supplements. Caffeine: Chapter 6, Table 2.
Getting down to the Grind on Caffeine, Should I drink it or not?!
For one’s that are caffeine sensitive or looking to limit or avoid, know that there is a lacking in the labeling requirements by the U.S. Dietary supplement products when involving caffeine content. Many proprietary blends or botanical sources that contain caffeine are often not listed on labels. When you see these labeling terms, this means these contain caffeine:
|Common Name, ingredient||Label Term|
|Coffee||Coffee, coffea, caffeine|
|Cocoa, cacao||Cocoa, Theobroma cacao, chocolate|
|Guarana||Guarana, Paullina cupana, Brazilian cocoa|
|Kola nut||Kola nut, cola seeds, Cola nitida|
|Green tea, black tea||Green tea, green tea extract, black tea, Camellia sinensis, Theo sinensis, Camellia sp.|
|Yerba mate||Yerba mate, mate, Ilex paraguariensis|
Caffeine is not considered an essential nutrient, meaning, your body doesn’t require it for normal body functioning, and you just have to get it through your diet because your body isn’t able to synthesize it. But, if you’re a “I need coffee to get through the day!!” type, then that’s okay, enjoy your coffee, tea, matcha latte, etc.
Just remember to monitor your overall consumption!
Hendrix, C.R., T.J. Housh, M. Mielke, J.M. Zungiga, C.L. Camic, G.O. Johnson, R.J. Schmidt, and D.J. House, Acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on bench press and leg extension strength and time to exhaustion during cycle ergometry. J. StrengthCond. Rez.,2010. 24(3): p. 859-865 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19834348
Smith-Ryan, A., & Antonio, J. (2013). Sports nutrition and performance enhancing supplements. Caffeine: Chapter 6. Ronkonkoma, NY: Linus Learning. ISBN: 1-60797-339-1