Losing weight is a struggle. Keeping it off is even more of a challenge. That’s why most of us are constantly on the lookout for anything that will help us to achieve fat loss more effectively.
Of course, there are no “magic pills” for weight loss. Motivation, effort and consistency are fundamental requirements for real, sustained weight loss. But once you’ve got those pillars in place, there are certain supplements that can enhance the process. One ingredient you may have heard that could help with weight loss is caffeine.
Caffeine, of course, is familiar to all of us. In fact, for many, it may just be the tonic ingredient that makes their day worth living. But when it comes to weight loss, caffeine works in a very specific way. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey explaining just how caffeine works for weight loss, what its limitations are, and how to maximize its benefits.
A Dose Of Reality
- 1 A Dose Of Reality
- 2 Drilling Down On Caffeine
- 3 How Does Caffeine Work For Fat Loss?
- 4 Does It Always Work?
- 5 The Many Ways To Consume It
- 6 Factors That Affect How You React To Caffeine
- 7 A Good Caffeine-Workout Plan
- 8 Key Points:
An important thing to be aware of is that even though weight loss is often sold as purely a matter of discipline and will power, it is largely determined by genetics and/or underlying medical conditions you might have.
Make sure to visit your physician to make sure your weight isn’t due to a larger problem that supplements, adequate exercise and dieting cannot easily override. Some examples of medical conditions that cause weight gain include hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, anxiety, and conditions relating to hormone imbalances. Things such as quitting smoking and menopause usually affect body weight. Some medications also cause weight gain, such as anti-inflammatory steroid medications, many antidepressants, cortisol and medications for seizures, high blood pressure, migraines and diabetes.
Genetics is also a major component to keep in mind. Your metabolism, fat distribution, etc. are all to some extent determined by genetics. You could be someone who exercises and diets way more than the average person, but is still relatively overweight. Therefore, you might find supplements take a longer time to show results than others, or vice versa.
With all that in mind, it’s important to approach your weight loss journey as an opportunity to explore how your unique body works, and to be patiently kind to it. Psychologists say that dreading the process towards a goal makes you unlikely to reach it, let alone maintain it. Physiologists also point out that this can trigger stress eating and sluggishness during exercise.
There’s a huge unnecessary stigma to being overweight, and it’s sometimes impossible to ignore it, so it might be helpful to remember that an overweight body isn’t necessarily one that can’t do much, and a slim body isn’t necessarily one that can.
Another thing to keep in mind is that at the end of the day, weight loss is only physically possible if your caloric intake is less than the calories you burn off. Caffeine can help make that easier to attain, but it won’t magically make you lose weight if you eat more than it allows you to burn off.
Drilling Down On Caffeine
Most of us are familiar with caffeine as the psychoactive ingredient in coffee. However, it’s actually also present in plenty of other things we consume. Some of these include ice creams, cereals, sodas, energy drinks, chocolate and around 60 other plants.
Here are some foods with high amounts of caffeine you may be surprised by:
|Foods/Drinks With Caffeine||Amount of Caffeine (1 cup of coffee = typically 85-100mg)|
|Yerba Mate Tea||85 mg|
|Green Tea||25 mg|
|Black Tea||42 mg|
|Matcha Tea||70 mg|
|Guarana Berry||47 mg per seed|
(200% that of coffee bean)
|Kombucha Tea||24 mg|
|Guayusa Tea||99 mg|
|Hot Chocolate||5 mg|
How Does Caffeine Work For Fat Loss?
The best way to describe caffeine for shedding pounds is as a “weight loss booster.” By itself, it’s unlikely that caffeine would make you lose weight, but research has shown that it can boost the slimming effects of your current diet and exercise plan, at least in the short run.
It’s important to note that there are no studies showing long-term weight loss and fat reduction as a direct result of caffeine, but there are several studies on its effects that we could assume would lead to weight loss if used properly.
Let’s take a look at some of the mechanisms by which caffeine can help you lose body fat.
1. "It’s An Appetite Suppressant"
There are plenty of caffeine supplements that claim to make you less hungry. However, the science behind it proves caffeine to only have a small, transient effect on appetite.
Studies have found that caffeine juice made people eat less during breakfast only by about 10% (70 calories), but then their overall caloric intake throughout the day didn’t change. In other words, they easily compensated for it by eating more later.
Many who anecdotally claim caffeine suppresses their appetite are usually referring to when they don’t feel as hungry after drinking coffee. Coffee (including decaffeinated coffee) contains substances that significantly increase your blood levels of PYY– a hormone that makes you feel full when released.
However, if you’re a smoker, research has also found that caffeine enhances nicotine’s appetite-suppressant effects.
It’s also important to note that your personal experience with caffeine should not be ignored. Dieting is a personal journey, and if you personally find that caffeine significantly helps curb your appetite, you should include it in your diet.
2. "It’s A Good Stimulant For Exercise"
Caffeine’s ability to keep you alert and energized does make it a good pre-workout supplement. One study has also shown that caffeine can improve one’s exercise performance by around 12%. In comparison to the placebo group, caffeine was shown to help the most with endurance exercises, and less so with short-term and graded exercises.
How Does It Do All This?
- Scientists partly attribute this to the boost of adrenaline caused by higher doses of caffeine. The hormone’s “fight or flight” effect can improve performance.
- Caffeine also stimulates your motor cortex, which signals muscle activation.
However, caffeine’s main property that helps out with weight loss is its ability to promote fat burning, explained in the next point.
Because of this, consuming it before exercising can lead you to burn more fat than you would in a caffeine-free workout.
3. "It Helps You Burn More Fat"
This is by far caffeine’s most important quality for weight-loss. It does this by inhibiting our insulin system.
How The Body Controls Blood Sugar
Our bodies are constantly trying to keep our blood sugar levels between 70 and 120 mg/dL (<100 mg/dL after fasting, and <140 mg/dL after eating).
When our blood sugar is too high, insulin is released and signals our liver, muscle and fat cells to take in some blood glucose, to either be used or stored as glycogen.
Alongside that, your body is signaled to:
- Build its fat tissues
- Synthesize protein
In contrast, when our blood sugar is too low, our insulin levels drop, which then causes the release of glucagon. This hormone breaks down our glycogen stores back into glucose and releases it into the bloodstream.
Alongside that, your body is signaled to:
- Burn fat
- Break down protein
So How Does Caffeine Play Into This?
Caffeine causes an increased release of catecholamines (dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline) in your system. Catecholamines like adrenaline and noradrenaline inhibit the insulin system thereby increasing fat metabolism.
Another way it’s said to do this is by inhibiting to phosphodiesterases, which play an important role in insulin secretion. Caffeine inhibits phosphodiesterase therefore hindering insulin secretion and increasing fat metabolism, although the extent to which this happens is fairly minimal.
Research on caffeine’s effect on fat metabolism definitely shows that it significantly increases fatty acid turnover.
Does It Always Work?
No. This is actually the most important part to know about using caffeine for weight loss, because it needs to be incorporated in your diet in a very specific way to work at all, let alone work optimally.
Here are some important provisos to caffeine products use for weight loss that many people miss:
You Have To Consume It Without Sugar Or It Won’t Work?
This is the most important catch people tend to miss. Caffeine does inhibit your insulin system, however, relatively high blood sugar can still reactivate the hormone’s release. In other words, if you’re ingesting your caffeine with a sugary food (i.e. coffee with sugar, or sugary energy drinks), its fat-burning qualities won’t be nearly as effective.
Therefore, the way to get the best out of your caffeine product would be best to ingest it without any sugar at all.
You may have heard people say that only black coffee can help you lose weight. That’s not just because sugar makes you gain weight, it’s also because it could undo the fat-burning effect your caffeine intake could otherwise have.
This would unfortunately rule out most energy drinks and caffeine bars.
You Should Cycle Your Intake Or Caffeine Tolerance Will Render It Useless
Most studies showing the general effects of caffeine are done exclusively with non-habituated or caffeine-naïve participants who have not grown a tolerance to it at all. Therefore, it’s safe to say that you will be seeing the best results when you’re in that same state.
If you consistently consume caffeine, your body will eventually become less and less responsive to it until it stops working at this current dose. This would happen even faster if you’re consuming higher amounts per day.
You may even risk not knowing how much caffeine your body now tolerates, thinking you’ve burned more fat than you probably have, overeating and subsequently gaining weight!
Therefore, it’s best to play it safe and consume caffeine in cycles, where you take it for a short period, stop to reduce your tolerance to it (preferably back to zero), and then start again.
How to cycle caffeine: After about 4 days of intake, half your dose on your first caffeine cycling day, keep halving it over the next few days until you reach 0mg, and start again at your original dose.
One study found that tolerance for 250mg of caffeine (2.5 cups of coffee) can develop in as little as 1 to 4 days.
However, caffeine tolerance depends on many factors and so it varies from person to person. It’s therefore important to feel out the unique relationship your body has with caffeine, and cycle it out accordingly.
High Doses Are Not Necessarily More Effective (And Sometimes Dangerous)
We can often be tempted to think “more is better” with products that help get us in shape, but this is not the case with caffeine. Not only does taking higher doses consistently make you grow tolerant quicker; too high amounts are actually dangerous.
The effects of too much caffeine include:
- Muscle Breakdown
- High Blood Pressure
- Digestive Issues
- Rapid Heart Rate
Research also shows that higher than a certain dose of caffeine, its effects on the body do not significantly increase.
One study shows that taking 5 mg per kg of body weight is just as effective as 13 mg, with regards to physical performance. This is the equivalent of about 360 mg for an average bodyweight of 72kg (almost 4 cups of coffee) versus 936 mg (around 9 cups of coffee).
There’s also a higher risk of addiction when consistently taking high doses. This means you could begin to see unwanted withdrawal symptoms when you stop or try to lower your doses. When your body goes through caffeine withdrawals, it produces adverse effects, some including the exact opposite effect that you get while on the drug (e.g. sleepiness, lack of energy, headaches, irritability and possibly weight gain).
Therefore, it’s safer and better for optimal results to generally stay on lower to medium doses whenever you use caffeine. Research shows that thermogenesis increases in a dose dependent manner from participants ingesting 100, 200, 300 and 400mg of caffeine.
How Much Is Okay?
You can start seeing effects of caffeine from about 100mg (1 cup of coffee) to a safe upper limit of 400mg (3-4 cups of coffee).
1000-1,500 mg per day results in caffeinism, where you’re heavily dependent on its consumption and suffer unpleasant effects.
Of course, this depends on a variety of factors, such as body weight, how caffeine-naïve you are, empty stomach or not, water consumption, genetics and so much more, so it’s best that you feel out the dose that feels balanced and effective for you.
However, you may want to start with a relatively lower dose to lower your risk of tolerance, and so your caffeinated days could be longer, and caffeine-cycling days, shorter.
Caffeine Is Metabolized Relatively Quickly
One of caffeine’s unique qualities in comparison to other drugs is that it gets metabolized relatively quickly. Therefore, the best time to workout after consuming it is not that long after you’ve consumed it. This way, the maximum amount of caffeine would be in your bloodstream to help you burn fat during your workouts.
The time when caffeine is at its peak in your blood stream heavily depends on the way you’re consuming it.
The Many Ways To Consume It
There’s a pretty huge market for caffeine products both for leisurely consumption and bodybuilding, so there are quite a number of ways to consume it.
This, of course, also depends on how much food you’ve ingested alongside caffeine. The more food there is, the longer it’ll take to get through your gut to your bloodstream.
Caffeine effects then take typically an average of 6-8 hours to completely leave the body.
This is the most popular and the most efficient way of consuming caffeine. About 99% of the caffeine you drink makes it to your bloodstream and it typically takes about 30 to 60 minutes to reach peak levels.
You can also have fun with this method of ingestion. There’s coffee, energy drinks, herbal drinks with caffeine, caffeine water and more. There are even “caffeine sticks,” with around 125mg of caffeine that you could use to stir your drink of choice with.
However, it’s best to steer away from drinks that also contain sugar.
This is also one of the most efficient ways of consuming caffeine.
Unlike drink forms such as coffee, caffeine pills come in specific doses, so you could actively track the amount of caffeine that you’ve taken. However, because the capsules have to dissolve in the stomach first, it takes a much longer time to get absorbed into the bloodstream (84 to 120 minutes).
Caffeine gum actually gets the drug into your bloodstream much faster than capsules, but less of it actually makes it there, (around 77%).
The advantage here is that the caffeine can stimulate your mouth nerves directly to your brain, and is also absorbed through the mouth to the bloodstream (44 to 80 minutes).
There are actually plenty of other alternate caffeine delivery products available in the market. However, because research on their efficiency is limited, it’s best to use them as extra caffeine intake methods to the main ones listed above.
Instant oral caffeine products, such as caffeine toothpaste and mouth rinses have the same advantage as caffeine gum: giving you a direct effect through your mouth. However, such products spend too little time in your mouth to absorb as much caffeine.
They do, however, appear to be effective enough for some improvements in exercise performance, but more studies are needed about its other benefits.
The same limitations would be there for products such as caffeine soaps. Caffeine bracelets could hypothetically absorb more readily, however more research is needed to assess the efficiency of transdermal caffeine delivery.
Mouth and Nasal Sprays would be the most efficient of the bunch in terms of absorption, as they’re not immediately gargled and spit out, but there is currently no evidence about how effective they are for weight loss and exercise.
Factors That Affect How You React To Caffeine
One of the most important details about caffeine is that it’s a very personal drug, you need to figure out how it uniquely affects your body. Its absorption and metabolism depends on things such as genetics, diet, how much water you drink, age, body weight and much more we may not even understand yet.
Things that speed up your caffeine metabolism, reduce the likelihood of adverse effects like jitteriness and anxiety, and also make you grow a tolerance to it much slower.
Our genes actually have a lot to do with how we react to caffeine.
Some people have the genetic disposition that allows them to metabolize caffeine a lot quicker than the average person. Some people are at the middle ground of caffeine metabolism, and some people have a genetic disposition that makes them metabolize caffeine slower.
There are other physical factors to account for too.
For example, the higher your body mass index (BMI), the slower caffeine gets metabolized and leaves your system. You’d need less caffeine to get the same effect as someone with a smaller body frame. Age also affects caffeine metabolism. The younger you are, the faster you metabolize caffeine.
Plenty of the things we consume in our diet can affect the metabolic rate of caffeine:
According to drugs.com, caffeine interacts with about 82 medications, some of which may be dangerous. Check with your physician whether caffeine is compatible with any medications you might be taking.
|Hormonal Birth Control Pills (Women)||Longer breakdown time|
*Longer time till peak blood levels
*Longer lasting effects
|Smoking (Nicotine & Tobacco)||Faster breakdown time|
*Faster time till peak blood level
|Alcohol||Longer breakdown time|
*Longer time till peak blood levels
*Longer lasting effects
A Good Caffeine-Workout Plan
Given all of these factors, here is a good template to follow in order to reap the maximum benefits from caffeine. Leave room to tweak this plan based on how you react to caffeine.
- Make sure you’re caffeine-naïve when you start (zero-low tolerance).Make sure you haven’t eaten for a while before consuming it.
- An ideal time to take caffeine would be when your blood glucose isn’t high (e.g. long after a meal, or after a fasting period (6-8 hours).
You can also check your blood sugar throughout the day and figure out when it’s at its lowest!
- Take your caffeine without sugar or starchy foods.
- Start your workouts after caffeine has reached its peak levels.
Aim for high cardio and strenuous weight training so you could burn the most fat during your workout.
- Eat well to help your muscles recover.
- Cycle your caffeine intake.
- Get your body used to exercising without caffeine as well.
You may have heard that with most psychoactive drugs, your brain can get used to doing the activities you use those drugs for, only while on the drug.
In other words, if you’ve only been working out while on caffeine, your brain associates these two activities together, and you will get used to only feeling like working out while on caffeine. You may feel lethargic and less tempted to workout when you’re off of it, and consequently gain weight.
Therefore, try and find the pleasure in working out without caffeine during the cycling period to keep that from happening. Two popular weight loss supplements are PhenQ or Phen24, these are very popular in the weight loss community.