The True Benefits and Risks of Caffeine

October 9, 2015

About the Author: Eric Bach

Eric here today with a personal story, a guest blog post and some great takeaways at the end.

And it’s all about caffeine. 

I’m used to long hours.  But this summer took things up a notch. Summer is insanely busy at my fitness facility. Lots of athletes are back home from collage. So lots of my days were 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM. On top of that were my responsibilities  here on Bach Performance, some consulting, and a busier travel schedule than I’m used too.

There was only way I could figure to get it done: Crush caffeine. Lots, and lots of caffeine.

Soon, it was a two cups of coffee before work. And then two coffees while in the gym. On top of that: sipping green tea and herbamate tea, and slugging a pre-workout drink to get jacked before workouts.

Non-surprisingly, my sleep quality was garbage. I rarely felt “rested,” and most of my energy was a synthetic representation of the real thing.

The real kicker about the story, is I’ve had clients that do this for years. I recall one of my first in-person and online clients drank seven energy drinks per day between grad school, a full-time job, and 4 kids.

caffeine-cat, Benefits and Risks of Caffeine

While I admire the hustle and grind, there were definite set-backs. His cortisol levels were out of control. He essentially couldn’t function without a slow-drip of caffeine. He couldn’t lose body fat, and slept like garbage.

While moderate intake of caffeine is fine, you, I, and most everyone overuse it. Here’ s the thing:

At the end of the day, caffeine is a drug.

That begs the question:

What are the true benefits and risks of caffeine?

Megan Ware, RD and owner of Nutrition Awareness in Orlando, FL is here to drop some serious knowledge on caffeine, and how you should use it to maximize your performance.

Over to you, Megan.

Preworkout Caffeine Myths Vs. The Facts

By Megan Ware, Registered Dietitian and owner of Nutrition Awareness in Orlando, FL

More than half of Americans need a jolt of java or a gulp of red bull to get going every morning. But have you ever wondered if that caffeine boost helps or hinders your performance in the gym?

Does it increase dehydration?

How about delaying the on-set of fatigue?

Can you over-caffeinate?

Caffeine and Dehydration

The human body is made up of as much as 75% water, and even a 1% or 2 % decrease off of baseline hydration status can significantly impair performance.

Hydration is involved in numerous physiological processes such as:

  • Transportation of chemicals to and from cells
  • Cell hydration
  • Maintenance of body temperature
  • Elimination of toxins
  • Aids in metabolic and digestive processes
  • Moisturizes and protects joints

Contrary to popular belief, current research suggests that caffeine is not a diuretic and does not cause dehydration. Obviously, this depends on quantity of caffeine, and research shows that  consuming about 100mg/day, the same as a typical cup of coffee, does not increase urine output.

One cup of coffee per day is fine. But consider downing an extra 12-16oz of water if you’re consuming caffeine in excess throughout the day.

Caffeine and Exercise Performance

A lot of athletes use pre workout supplements and caffeinated beverages to improve performance. Caffeine may improve performance for endurance athletes (like marathoners and cyclists) and speed endurance athletes (like soccer and hockey players). Caffeine can delay fatigue and improve mental sharpness, keeping you focused and training longer.

Most exercisers improve their performance by about 12% when using caffeine, however these benefits were only seen for those participating in longer bouts of exercise.

Short exercise (8-20 minutes) is not as affected by caffeine and sprinters experienced no major benefit.  Caffeine is absorbed quickly in the body and peaks in the blood about 1-2 hours after consumption. Aim to consume caffeine about 30 minutes to an hour prior to a workout to maximize training intensity.

The benefits are greater for those who do not regularly consume caffeine and have not built up a tolerance to its effects.

Caffeine may increase your training focus, thereby helping you improve performance.

But, unless you’re training for a longer duration, physiological effects of delayed fatigue aren’t significant.

How much caffeine is too much?

Ever notice how angry everyone in the coffee line gives the stink-eye until they’ve had their first cup of joe? Caffeine is an addictive substance.

Caffeine consumption builds your tolerance, while withdrawal causes irritability and withdrawal. Depending on your tolerance, other symptoms are anxiety, nausea, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal distress and insomnia.

The degree of caffeine tolerance unique to every person. Similar to alcohol, the more caffeine you regularly consume, the higher your tolerance. You don’t want to be a frat boy slugging seven beers to feel a buzz, nor a busy dude who needs 500-600 mg of a caffeine to comprehend a full-day of work.

Tracking Caffeine Intake

There are benefits to caffeine, but check your consumption of these sources to find how much you’re really getting.

  • 1 oz caffeinated gel (like Gu): 20mg
  • Soda and tea: 40- 60mg per cup
  • 8 oz brewed coffee: 60- 150mg
  • Energy drink or bar: 200mg or more depending on the size and brand
  • Pre- workout formulas (like N.O. Explode): Most are highly caffeinated with 225mg or more per serving
  • Caffeine pill: 100- 200mg
  •  Pain relievers like Excedrin: 65 mg

If you think you need to cut back on your caffeine consumption, do so gradually to avoid any side effects or withdrawal. First, avoid any caffeine later in the day. Second, begin cutting a serving of caffeine every few days to get your levels gradually under control.

Final Note:

Coffee dates non-withstanding think twice before that extra energy drink, or late-afternoon Americano.  You’re masking your true energy levels and making other sacrifices in health. 

Caffeine is the most popular and accessible drug around. Enjoy your morning cup of Joe.

But take steps to track and measure your caffeine consumption to avoid major pitfalls, while still maximizing performance.

Megan Ware, RDN, LD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Megan is a registered dietitian who knows that what you put in your body is what you get out for performance. She earned her bachelors of science degree in dietetics from The Ohio State University while working in the nutritional services department of an acute care facility and as a group fitness instructor for Ohio State.

Megan has been featured inToday’s DietitianEntrepreneur MagazineUS News & World ReportPrevention andHuffington Post. Join her on Facebook.


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