Caffeine is one of the most heavily researched supplements on the market, but the average consumer still does not understand why it might be effective for strength sports. In a day and age where people live off of energy drinks and pre-workouts to make it through the day or through a gym session, an often-overlooked topic is why these drinks work and what the ramifications of consuming them are. Let’s take a look at this in more detail for strength athletes.

Caffeine from a performance stand point does a lot of important things for strength athletes: it can improve your effort perception, aid in neuromuscular function, improve muscular strength and muscular endurance, and, according to a recent study, help to improve your ability to recover from a hard workout. The negatives can unfortunately far outweigh the positives due to abuse. Caffeine builds up a tolerance, so you have to take more and more of it to get the desired effect. This can mess up your sleep patterns and your ability to fall asleep, and it can also possibly assist in causing adrenal fatigue. More research is needed to verify the last point.

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Caffeine works through the antagonism of the adenosine receptor, that is, the primary mechanism underlying the ergogenic effects of caffeine. Caffeine can bind to adenosine receptors, resulting in reduced pain and effort perception, as well as enhanced neuromuscular function. This is due to its structural similarities to adenosine receptor sites. A study by Fett et al. (2017), titled Performance of Muscle Strength and Fatigue Tolerance in Young Trained Women Supplemented with Caffeine, showed that caffeine can boost performance acutely in 1RM strength and reps to failure. At least 3mg/kg is generally needed for any ergogenic effects, and 6mg/kg 30 minutes prior to exercise generally seems to be the sweet spot. Another study by Chen et al. (2019), titled Effects of Caffeine and Sex on Muscle Performance and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: A Double-Blind Randomized Trial, showed that ingesting 6 mg/kg in a recovery period reduced soreness. This was an acute study, so it is hard to say if this is related to day-to-day soreness or if the effect diminishes over time. The research went on about this type of improvement for strength athletes, and I am sure that more studies in the near future will show that caffeine is an extremely effective ergogenic aid.

Girls UGSS 2015-5902

Considering all of this good stuff, why wouldn’t a strength athlete consume caffeine day in and day out? The question we truly need to ask ourselves is, because we can build up a tolerance for caffeine, do its effects last for all dosages and work just as effectively? In a study by Lar et al. (2019), titled Time Course of Tolerance to the Performance Benefits of Caffeine, they found that the subjects did progressively develop a tolerance for some measures (VO2max and half-Wingate mean power) such that caffeine had lost its ergogenic effects after just 20 days of continuous use. In both tests of the placebo versus caffeine, the effects were high on day one and slowly diminished each day thereafter. However, for other measures (wattage at VO2max and half-Wingate peak power), it is hard to tell whether we are seeing a progressive loss of erogenicity or a plateau in tolerance. A systematic review by Clark et al. (2017), titled Coffee, Caffeine, and Sleep: A Systematic Review of Epidemiological Studies and Randomized Controlled Trials, showed that “Caffeine typically prolonged sleep latency, reduced total sleep time and sleep efficiency, and worsened perceived sleep quality. Slow-wave sleep and electroencephalographic (EEG) slow-wave activity were typically reduced, whereas stage-1, wakefulness, and arousals were increased.”

So, how do you avoid the negatives and glean all of the positives of caffeine? This is relatively simple to do, but it is very hard to do for most people who are addicted to caffeine. You have to first come off of caffeine to resensitize yourself to it and to get your sleep patterns back on track. This is the hardest step for most people to take, but it is the most essential. The half-life of caffeine is between 4-6 hours, so if you train in the evenings, find a stim-free pre-workout or nootropic; I highly recommend Ascend from In this way, your sleep won’t be impacted, and you can still enjoy the benefits of focus for your workout. No, you won’t experience the benefits of caffeine, but trust me—sleep will do more for performance than caffeine ever will. The next thing you want to do so that you get the most out of caffeine without building a tolerance to it is to pick and choose what sessions mean the most to you, then take caffeine on those days. So, if you have a heavy day or an extremely high-volume day, I would save caffeine for those days. Then, on your lighter, less intense days, I would again go with a stim-free replacement. This will allow you to enjoy the best of both of the worlds of caffeine and sleep.

Header image credit:  Ruslan Kokarev ©