The first step in breaking any addiction is admission: My name’s Kiefer and I’m an addict. But even if researchers identify caffeine consumption as a model of drug abuse,(34) I’m not quitting. I love it. Without it, right now, I’d be in bed asleep for the past four hours—but thanks to a strong cup of joe and sugar-free energy drinks, I’ll burn several more hours writing and researching before the caffeine wears off.
For most of my life, I was not a fan of caffeine. It wasn’t because of my religion or some other ideology, but because I thought I didn’t need it. I didn’t know about the true potential that I discovered a few years ago when I began experimenting with carb back-loading. I figured out that with coffee I could bend the timing of circadian insulin sensitivity to my whim. With caffeine, I no longer need to wait until the evening to eat carbs.
This is where caffeine comes in handy. If I need to train earlier in the day than is optimal, I drink caffeine before my session, and if the training session runs more than an hour, I add some to my post-workout shake as well. I don’t take caffeine for the hunger-curbing cholinomimetic,(1,2) because of the cognitive-enhancing abilities,(3,4) the fat-burning properties,(5-14) nor do I take it because researchers in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism claim it increases testosterone levels during training(15) or because recent research shows that caffeine increases nitrous oxide (NO) production.(16) I don’t even care that caffeine raises your pain threshold, allowing me to push a little harder.(17-21) I take caffeine because it decreases my sensitivity to insulin.(22-30)
Insulin sensitivity is important to health for most people. Doctors normally try to help patients increase their sensitivity to insulin and here I am decreasing mine. This is where diet and medical advice get it wrong. Assumptions about one population cannot be applied to all populations out-of-hand.
You train heavy. That makes you different from 90% of the U.S. population. Someone who’s sedentary and overweight would be advised to stay clear of the morning caffeine. For couch potatoes and desk jockeys, that early morning latte loaded with sugar and caffeine is potentially accelerating their impending diabetes. “I’ll have a scone with that...low-fat, please... I’m watching my figure.”
Getting up to train at 6 a.m. also makes me atypical in the world. As does the fact that I train completely fasted and loaded with caffeine. By having the caffeine, at the end of my workout, I am in a state mimicking the evening reduction in insulin sensitivity, a state that is absolutely critical to the near magical results of my dieting protocols.
The caffeine, by making my fat cells insensitive to insulin, forces the carbs into the one tissue that I actually want to grow: my muscles. Skeletal muscle tissue can soak up sugar like a sponge because resistance training forces GLUT4 proteins to the surface of the cells (see my article in the March 2012 issue of FLEX on carb back-loading). The GLUT4 migration to the surface of muscles cells—stimulated by the heavy resistance training—allows sugar to rush into muscle cells regardless of insulin sensitivity. With caffeine and resistance training, you can control which tissue soaks up sugar and which can’t at any time of day. Control is a beautiful thing.
Caffeine use alone does not substitute for the body’s natural daily rhythms. Caffeine is adjunct therapy. If you cannot train after 3 p.m., then this is your best option for simulating an optimal fat burning, muscle-building environment. Caffeine therapy to induce the same physiological state as daytime circadian rhythms is powerful, but you still have other issues to deal with, since the hormonal status in the morning—i.e., increased cortisol levels—is not as favorable as in the evening for ingesting carbs.
Example for Morning Training:
■ No carbs before training (if you train as soon as you get up, this is pretty easy).
■ 2 cups coffee (about 400mg of caffeine depending on the cup size)
■ 10g isolate and hydrolysate blend (1⁄2 scoop of Blend H) 5g creatine
■ 40g isolate and hydrolysate blend (2 scoops of Blend H)
■ 5g leucine
■ 25g fast-acting carb (rilose, dextrose, maltodextrin) or 2 or 3 ripe (mottled brown) bananas
■ 200mg caffeine from a powder or one cup coffee
Afterward, from post-workout until 6 p.m. or so (dinner), stay ultra-low carb. At dinner start eating the carbs. And stay away from “clean,” low-glycemic carbs. As I’ll explain in a future article, high-glycemic carbs trigger powerful anabolic effects at night without interfering with nighttime repair, growth, and fat burning.
In the discussion here, I have primarily focused on simulating the metabolic state that makes back-loading carbs such a powerful dietary protocol, but anyone on a carb-based diet can take advantage of caffeine therapy for faster post-training recovery. When ingested as part of a post-workout recovering drink that includes carbohydrates, levels of caffeine around 3.5mg per pound body weight induce a rapid rate of glycogen recovery,(35,36) stemming, in all likelihood, from the same effect (GLUT activation in conjunction with making fat cells insulin insensitive). For a 200-pound male, this would be 700 to 800mg of caffeine, which, for some, may sound like a lot of caffeine. People generally tolerate intakes up to a gram at a time (1,000 mg) well.(37-42)
Note: I mention coffee throughout the article as a source of caffeine and there are others such as tea, chocolate, and guarana. Choose guarana, coffee, or energy drinks that specify caffeine for your main sources. Caffeine is a type of methylxanthine found mostly in guarana and coffee beans and is the most potent (31,32) (ephedra is not caffeine and is not chemically related). Theophylline is found in teas and theobromine is the type found in chocolate. They all display the same general characteristics, and the stronger the type, the shorter duration of effects.(33) You might be thinking that you should go for the weaker types (from tea and chocolate) and go for the longer effects. It’s a good thought, but you’re better off taking regular doses of the more potent form, and with a Starbucks on every corner, you have no excuses. You can be an addict too.
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