Is Caffeine bad for us?

19 02 2013

There has been recent debate over whether caffeine is bad for us both in sporting and non sporting context.

What is caffeine?

1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, also known as caffeine, is the world’s most-consumed natural pharmacologic agent. Caffeine is found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, chocolate, and cola nuts, and its use is incredibly widespread. Did you know that if you consume a large chocolate bar you could see as much as 50mg of caffeine? That is sometimes half a cup of coffee!

In the United States, roughly 9 out of every 10 men and women consume caffeine, averaging 238 mg every day. Upwards of 30% of Americans consume a whopping 600 mg of caffeine daily. About 71% of the caffeine we consume comes from coffee, while 16% comes from tea, and 12% from soft drinks and energy drinks. And we are not alone. Coffee is the most-commonly consumed beverage in the world.

So, let’s acknowledge the obvious. First, just about everyone is consuming caffeine. In fact, because of its ubiquitous availability, caffeine is no longer on the banned substance list of the International Olympic Committee. Second, people everywhere are using it because it does have pharmacologic properties. The fact is it functions as a mild stimulant. As such, it helps wake us up and keeps us going when we feel like throwing in the towel. No surprise, athletes are interested in those very same effects applied to their sport.

cup of freshly brewed black coffee, focus is on the middle bubbles


How exactly does caffeine work? 

Caffeine has a wide range of actions in the human body. Essentially it functions as a stimulant by interfering with the binding of receptors in the body (adenosine to adenosine receptors).

Adenosine is a neuromodulator chemical in the brain, and it works opposite of caffeine in regulating nerve cell activity. It has a calming effect because it slows the activity of nerve cells, whereas caffeine speeds up the activity of cells. Taking hold of the central nervous system, many of us will agree that caffeine intake decreases tiredness, increases alertness, improves mood, enhances concentration, and helps to speed reaction time when making choices.

In terms of a sporting context, for many athletes, a key benefit of caffeine is that it lowers the perception of the intensity or difficulty of the effort. Thus, athletes are able to exercise at a higher intensity for longer, without actually feeling like they’re working harder.



The bad press

Last year headline news read that a fit and healthy runner collapsed and died half a mile from the finish of the London Marathon after taking a ‘performance-enhancing stimulant’. The runner was determined to beat her personal best in the race and decided to take a pre-workout product called Jack3D, a high caffeinated product. As she neared the finish of the race she unfortunately suffered a cardiac arrest and never regained consciousness. The popular sports supplement, now banned, was used to help her once she hit the wall in order to break through it and maximize her performance. Its main active ingredient was an amphetamine-like substance DMAA (dimethylamylamine) which boosts energy and metabolism, but had been banned in the US and Canada after two soldiers died during strenuous training after taking it. Recording a narrative verdict, coroner Dr Philip Barlow said the combination of the DMAA with ‘extensive physical exertion caused cardiac failure which resulted in her death.’

Tolerance of caffeine

Caffeine is one of those products where you can develop a real tolerance or have major diminished responses with repeated doses. If you regularly drink a few cups of strong coffee a day then the chances are the effects will start to lessen with time. One of the main issues with caffeine is that it is addictive. People have been known to suffer from withdrawal symptoms with noticeable ones such as headaches. A study conducted by Evans and Griffiths provided indirect evidence for tolerance development in caffeine. The study provided the clearest evidence to date of complete tolerance development to a central nervous system effect of caffeine in humans.

Should we worry about having too much?

As with everything, it is all about moderation! Although moderate caffeine intake isn’t likely to cause harm, too much can lead to some unpleasant effects. Heavy daily caffeine use — more than 500 to 600 mg a day (around 5-6 cups) — may cause insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, tremors, and irritability.

Some positives of coffee :

  • Lowers risk of cancer – Coffee drinking has been associated with a lower risk of lung, prostate, breast, endometrial, pancreatic, stomach, and colon cancer. Like most studies, there are also some that have shown no benefit from coffee, which could be due to many reasons. But, it seems clear that coffee can be protective and does not increase cancer risk.
  • Lowers risk of heart disease – Coffee intake is highly protective for the cardiovascular system and has been repeatedly found to decrease risk of heart disease and death from a heart attack. In one 15-year study of 41,000 women, drinking up to 3 cups of coffee a day was linked to lower risk of heart failure. Similar results have been shown for men.
  • Improves vascular health – The caffeine in coffee has actually been shown to improve the health of the blood vessels because it increases nitric oxide production in the endothelium (the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels), which improves vascular muscle tone. Coffee also supports healthy arterial pressure, lowering blood pressure over the long-term.
  • Elevates fat burning – The fat loss effect of coffee drinking hasn’t been studied extensively, but one study showed drinking 500 ml of coffee daily for 4 weeks produced 2.5 kg weight loss in overweight subjects. Perhaps more effective, green coffee extract, which comes from the bean before roasting and can be added to any beverage, has been shown to produce significant fat loss.

Please let me know what you think on Twitter @achillea7



Do you burn more fat on an empty stomach?

14 11 2012

There has been much debate as to whether cardio on an empty stomach can burn fat more effectively. Some argue it limits fat burning potential with a decrease in performance.  I really wanted to understand this topic more and so the below, research will highlight some key findings that may help us better understand this.

Carbohydrate is the main nutrient that fuels our exercise, while fat can fuel low intensity exercise for long periods of time. Therefore these two components are used to generate energy for muscle contraction during exercise. For endurance based exercise performed at a moderate intensity, you obtain more than half of the energy needed from glycogen (stored energy from carbohydrates). The rest will come from the fats. Taking this into account, once your glycogen stores are depleted by fasting overnight, or going several hours without eating, fatty acids break down in the body and are used as a secondary energy source. As workout intensity increases your body will then rely more on carbohydrates to fuel it.

One study reviews the efficacy of performing cardio on an empty stomach early in the morning. The theory, as mentioned above, is that there is a greater shift in energy utilization from carbohydrates allowing more stored fat to be used as fuel.

What did the study find?

Essentially a study was conducted into the fat burning response of six moderately trained individuals in a fed versus fasted state to different training intensities. The participants cycled for 2 hours at varying intensities on four separate occasions. During two of the trials, they consumed a high-glycemic carbohydrate meal at 30, 60, and 90 minutes of training, once at a low intensity and once at a moderate intensity. During the other two trials, participants remained fasted for 12–14 hours before exercise and for the duration of training.

The results in the low-intensity trials showed that although lipolysis (the breakdown of fats) was suppressed in the fed state compared with the fasted state, fat oxidation (utilization of the fats) remained similar between groups until 80–90 minutes of cycling. Only after this point was a greater fat oxidation rate observed in fasted participants. On the other hand, during moderate-intensity cycling, fat oxidation was not different between trials at any time.

More recent studies show the effect of pre-exercise and during exercise carbohydrate consumption on fat oxidation.

In another study seven endurance- trained participants cycled for 120 minutes at a moderate intensity, followed by a high intensity cycle where participants pedalled as fast as possible. There were four separate tests and participants were given a placebo and a carbohydrate drink at different intervals before and during exercise. The study was carried out in a double- blind fashion with trials performed in random order. As shown in the first study discussed, results showed no evidence of impaired fat oxidation associated with consumption of carbohydrate either before or during exercise.

What can we conclude from the studies?

Currently the studies do not support the theory that training early on an empty stomach burns any more fats than if carbohydrates were ingested. Although Lipolysis (breakdown of fats) was shown to increase in low-intensity exercise on an empty stomach and suppress in the fed state compared with the fasted state, fat oxidation (utilization of the fats) remained similar between groups. Taking this into account, training in the morning with depleted glycogen stores not only impairs your physical performance it has also been shown to have negative effects on those concerned with muscle strength and size. Concentration levels may be lower and you will not be able to work to your full capacity with the net result being less calories burned and lowering fat loss potential.

I hope this has given some insight into doing cardio fasted vs. after food and although the limitations with research are apparent there are some key points highlighted that I hope will help you with your training.


Dessert a la protein

7 05 2012

I think we can all say that we enjoy a good dessert  and how about one that is good for you? Not possible you say? Well I want to share my very tasty recipe with you. This is not your usual sweet however, It is protein based and great for anyone who trains hard and wants to keep their muscles fed over the night time starve.


  • 2 scoops of chocolate casein protein powder
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 large teaspoon of almond butter
  • 8 crushed almonds
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of cinnamon

This takes just 5 minutes to make and its so simple. Pour two scoops of casein into a bowl and add 5 egg whites. Stir the mixture as best you can until the mix has thickened. Add 1 large teaspoon of almond butter and then mix. Pop the bowl into the microwave for 60 seconds. Take the bowl out of the microwave and add the 8 crushed almonds and pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon. Mix again and pop it back into the microwave for another 90 seconds. The pudding should have risen nicely and should be moist inside. Be careful though as the bowl will be super hot!

The nutritional benefits 
  • Casein Protein – This type of protein digests very slowly meaning its ideal for just before bed.
  • Egg whites – Used to give the dessert a nice fluffy texture as well as bumping the protein content up
  • Almond butter/almonds – These healthy fats are key for slowing the digestion down further. Other benefits of almonds include skin and nail care, blood pressure regulation, and being rich in fiber.
  • Pinch of cinnamon – Other than giving a great flavour, cinnamon supports the digestive process and is a great anti-inflammatory
  • Pinch of nutmeg – Nutmeg is another spice that has a variety of healing properties and It is useful for insomnia, increasing circulation and lowering blood pressure.
There are other many ways you can use similar ingredients to make healthy puddings and I will be sharing these also. With the summer coming how about a nice cold ice-cream textured one? More to come. Feel free to comment and ask any questions.

Protein Dessert

Protein Pancakes

19 04 2012

I don’t know about you but I find that breakfast can get really repetitive and boring sometimes. I have been making the same breakfast for a while now and although its healthy and packed full of nutrients eating porridge everyday is getting a little monotonous.

This is why I want to share my very tasty breakfast pancake recipe with you. These are not your usual pancakes however, they are protein based and are great for anyone who trains hard or just wants a nutrient packed healthy start to their day.


  • 4 to 5 egg whites
  • 1 scoop of vanilla whey protein OR some vanilla essence/vanilla pods depending on what you have available
  • 1/2 cup of oats
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs OR some grated dark chocolate
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Chopped blueberry’s or banana
  • Coconut oil to cook with

The nutritional benefits

  • Egg whites & Oats – After a long sleep our body needs the correct nutrients to start the day. Egg whites will give us the protein our muscles desire and the oats will fuel our muscles as a slow release energy source keeping our blood sugars from spiking too high.
  • Whey protein – If you are training you may need this more than if you are not. This adds another 20g of protein to the meal. Whey protein has a high bioavailability which means its very fast digesting and ideal for first thing when your body is in need of quick fuel.
  • The Cacao nibs or dark chocolate are very potent in antioxidants. Cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea. Other benefits to using Cacao are:
  1. Serotonin – Raising serotonin levels acts as an anti-depressant.
  2. Endorphins – Releasing these can elevate your mood.
  3. Magnesium – Cacao has a huge magnesium  content which helps build strong bones, and helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure.
  4. Sulfur – Cacao is very high in Sulfur which builds strong nails and hair, promotes beautiful skin, detoxifies the liver, and supports healthy pancreas functioning.
  • Cinnamon – Other than adding a great flavour to our pancakes this has great heath benefits also. Amongst the many benefits this ingredient has, there are in my opinion three other key ones listed below.
  1. Helping regulate blood sugar levels
  2. Anti-inflammatory properties that could help with reducing the chances of heart attacks and stokes
  3. Boosting brain function
  • Coconut Oil – As I mentioned in my previous post on coconut oil, benefits include hair care, skin care, immunity and digestion amongst others. Importantly here though I am using it to cook with so that our pancakes do not stick and taking full advantage of the health benefits and great taste! Due to this oil being made of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) they are very efficiently converted into fuel for immediate use by organs and muscles so this is again ideal for the first meal of the day.
I have added some images from this morning (I promise they taste better than they look!).
Protein Pancake

Protein Pancake

If you are interested in more recipes like this let me know. More coming soon –

Keeping focused in the gym..

12 04 2012

Entering the lions cage

I walked into the gym today, that stale smell of festering sweat and grime hit me like a giant custard pie in the face. Always on edge, the moment I walked through the door, I could sense hostility and rage in the air. Now im not going to say what gym I go to for obvious reasons but I think I have seen cleaner student halls than this! The machines wouldn’t look out of place in a small town called bedrock let alone most of the brainless meatheads that are grunting and snarling! For some reason the gym is thriving! Its absolutely packed out every evening and now I think I know what a battery hen feels like.

After battling the dirty looks and 3rd world facilities it was time to get focused which is easier said than done. Do you find it easy to focus yourself in the gym? If not, I have written a few easy steps to help with keep you on track and stay focused to take on any challenge.

Keeping a training diary

Amongst all of the distractions listed above its a constant battle to remain focused on the goal ahead. So being clear on your goal is imperative. Its important to keep the wider picture in mind. Imagine it like planting a seed. It takes time to grow and you need to nurture it to get it to grow and develop into a beautiful plant of flower. Keeping a diary is a great way to visualise what you need to aim for. Whether it be squatting 5 more Kilos or cycling 2 more minutes if its written down its there in black and white.

Timing it right 

Going to the gym is your time to focus on training and your goals for a small part of the day. Don’t think about problems or troubles from the day as this is your time to get away from it! Pick a time of the day when you feel you can train with a clear mind. it might be after work when you want to escape and unwind or before work when you have a fresh mind from a good nights sleep. Finding your routine is key and you need to figure out the optimal time for your training to benefit the most. If you feel there is never a good time for you then you may want to reassess your goals!

Pump up the jam

Music in my opinion makes a training session. I wait for that base to kick in and boom im lifting strong and trying to hold back from shouting out the lyrics! Create your playlist to match the training you are doing. If you are taking part in endurance training then think about something that keeps you going over a distance. For explosive weight training I like to use music with a quick pace and beat. So get your playlist tailored for your goal.

Form, technique and more technique 

When I first started training, my coach at the time used to constantly stress the importance of practicing good form as to avoid any unwanted injuries. I used to give it the old ”yeah yeah” because I knew better right? Wrong. Once you have an injury (and I have had a few) it can be hard to shift and can halt your training and crush your confidence. Concentrating on form and technique helps you keep focused on the task in hand. Those sunbed soaked, hair free, pretty boys flexing their pecs in the mirror might look ridiculous but the mirrors in the gym are great to check on your form and make sure you are completing the exercises properly and keeping you focused.

Finding focus will find results

Training requires processive increases in workload to progress and see results. The classic saying you dont know where your going if you dont know where you’ve been comes to mind. Planning is essential and keeping a log will complement this. If you find yourself standing around on your phone texting then you know you have lost focus.

Have you had any issues with focusing on training? Let me know.