Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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If caffeine makes you feel like crying, it also makes you stronger

Women get stronger if they take caffeine before training, sports scientists at Florida Atlantic University discovered during a study they did with 15 women. And it was the women who felt tearful after taking the caffeine who managed to up their 1RM.

Its a different story for endurance athletes, but caffeine does not have a pronounced effect in strength athletes. For that reason, and also because no one had looked at the effect of caffeine on female strength athletes, the Americans did an experiment with young women who had been training for at least six months.

An hour before they started training, the women were given a caffeine dose of 6 mg per kg bodyweight. For a woman weighing 70 kg that amounts to 420 mg: an effective dose, which shouldn't carry medical risks with it.

When the researchers measured the weight at which the women could just manage 1 rep, the 1RM of the women increased by just over 1 percent as a result of the caffeine. That's a statistically significant effect. When the women had to perform as many reps as they could with 60 percent of their maximal weight, there was virtually no effect.

If caffeine makes you feel like crying, it also makes you stronger

The caffeine made the women's systolic blood pressure - when the heart contracts - rise. Immediately after completion of the sets the rise in blood pressure was significant.

If caffeine makes you feel like crying, it also makes you stronger

The effects were strongest in the women who normally consumed little caffeine. The subjects' daily intake varied from 0-416 mg/day. In 3 women, who had an intake of between 0 and 41 mg/day, the caffeine had very striking effects. The women "exhibited intense emotional responses, including an expressed inability to verbally communicate, focus, and/or remain still, as well as the feeling of wanting to cry."

These women managed to do more bench-press reps with 60 percent of their 1RM.

Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors. Put simply, adenosine is a sedative that your body manufactures itself. If you take in a lot of caffeine, for example in energy drinks, coffee, tea or Coke, your body reacts to this immediately by making more adenosine receptors. This is why researchers continually argue the toss about whether it's worth consuming caffeine or not.

Athletes who want to get maximum benefit from caffeine in a safe way would perhaps do best to reduce their daily intake, and only consume it an hour before they start training.

The researchers are happy with their finding that caffeine can help strength athletes, but they are also shocked by its side effects. "It is recommended that future investigations examine whether a lower dose of caffeine would stimulate a similar increase in strength performance, as indicated by results of this study, but without the intense emotional response that was experienced by some of the participants", they conclude.

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 14; 7:18.

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