Caffeine Can Make You More Powerful At the Gym—If You Use It Right

Another surprising effect? It can enhance recovery. “A small dose of caffeine, like a cup of coffee, actually accelerates glycogen replacement back into the muscle fibers,” says Anderson, which basically means that your muscles are being replenished with their energy source. To reap the benefits, you should add it to carbohydrate-rich beverages, like chocolate milk, according to a 2021 study.

How much caffeine do you need to boost your workouts?

When it comes to using caffeine for exercise, many people aren’t reaping the maximum benefits. According to a 2022 study, recreational athletes use lower caffeine amounts than what is established to enhance performance and consume it too close to exercise, not allowing sufficient time for absorption. So how do you—an already highly caffeinated being—start using it to enhance your performance? Tailor your approach and take out the guesswork.

First, consider your daily intake through all sources, like coffee (95 mg per cup), tea (25 to 50 mg per cup), energy drinks (80 to 300 mg), pre-workout and other supplements (150 to 300 mg), and even chocolate (12 mg per ounce). Anderson recommends “no more than 600 to 800 milligrams [or approximately six to eight cups of coffee] within a day and staying away from it at least six to eight hours before bedtime.” (However, it’s worth noting that the FDA considers 400 milligrams safe for healthy adults.)

Then, determine your dosage for your workout. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that caffeine is effective when consumed in doses of three to six milligrams per kilogram of body weight, with the minimal effective dose as low as two milligrams. (This means about 600 milligrams for the median-sized U.S. male.) But ultimately, your ideal amount comes down to a number of factors, like your gender and tolerance. Anzures recommends starting at the lower end of the range to find the lowest dose that produces the desired effects and then adjusting that based on how your body reacts.

The timing of your caffeine intake is also important. Coffee and tea take about 60 minutes to kick in, whereas pre-workout powders or chewing gum get absorbed much faster, sometimes within 30 minutes. Over time, you’ll build up a tolerance, so if you want to use caffeine to enhance your performance before a race or competition, Anderson recommends tapering a week before, similar to how you would with the exercise itself. Then, start increasing your consumption a day or so before the race to see maximum benefits.

Okay, what are the drawbacks?

If all of this sounds too good to be true, I thought so too. My job is to be skeptical, so I really pried the experts to try to find substantial drawbacks to caffeine. Surely it has its limitations, right? Aren’t there sports it’s not beneficial for? Isn’t it easy to take too much? Well, turns out, despite my digging, the drawbacks are relatively minimal, and it really is great for workouts.

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