By Jessica Walter, Break Parallel Contributor
Is caffeine your fitness friend or your health foe?
Your regular cup of coffee is actually much more than just a pick me up, it can be a powerful substance that boosts mental and physical performance. In fact, the U.S. Special Forces are known to use it to enhance focus and performance. There was even a time that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) had banned caffeine, considering it to an illegal performance enhancing drug, particularly in doses over 1,200mg or eight cups of coffee.
But with caffeine found in many different foods and drinks, it's not surprising that over 90% of American's consume it on a daily basis.
So how does caffeine work?
Caffeine is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and caffeine levels remain high for up to four hours, before eventually being broken down in the liver.
Caffeine can have a variety of effects on the body, including:
Caffeine and performance
For a long time, caffeine has been a popular supplement for a number of athletes, as it opens the lungs, uses fat as fuel and helps the heart work more efficiently.
One study found that caffeine increased an athlete’s endurance. They were able to cover a much greater distance than the group given the placebo. Also, in a 1,500-meter run, those who regularly drink coffee were found to be faster by 4.2 seconds, than those drinking decaffeinated coffee.
But the levels of caffeine in supplements appears to be increasing, which could be why Wada has put caffeine back under the spotlight again and are monitoring caffeine levels in anti-doping samples taken during competitions. It will then consider whether the use of caffeine is either being abused by competitors or harmful to their health.
In moderation, caffeine offers a variety of benefits, but it may be unsuitable for some people. Consuming too much caffeine, can cause a number of side effects. These include anxiety, increased heart rate, restlessness, irritability, dizziness, heartburn and acid reflux. Too much caffeine can cause insomnia and when sleep is regularly disrupted, this can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety-related feelings like nervousness, sweating and tremors.
To avoid these side effects, switching to decaffeinated alternatives may help.
Who should go caffeine free?
It’s recommended that pregnant women moderate their intake of caffeine during their pregnancy. Caffeine is known to cross the placenta to the baby, and unborn baby’s metabolism is still maturing and not able to fully metabolize the caffeine. There have also been studies looking at potential links between caffeine and miscarriage.
People who suffer from anxiety should also consider avoiding high quantities of caffeine, along with people taking certain medications and those with heart conditions or high blood pressure.
Switch to decaf?
If you don't want to give up the taste of coffee, but are sensitive to some of the side effects then decaffeinated coffee is a good alternative. Decaf coffee is not entirely free of caffeine, each cup contains up to 7mg of caffeine. But this is considerably lower than what you will find in regular coffee.
Jess Walter is a freelance writer and mother. She loves the freedom that comes with freelance life and the additional time it means she gets to spend with her family and pets.
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