Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world, commonly consumed in the forms of tea, coffee, and soft drinks. Yet few people understand caffeine beyond the fact that it "wakes you up". Not only are people unaware of the benefits of caffeine ingestion, but it seems that people tend to associate caffeine with some kind of vague, unsure health risk. However, research suggests there is little to fear about consuming caffeine and in fact, there may be more benefits to your morning coffee than you realize.
Mental and Emotional State
Perhaps the most greatly felt benefits of caffeine consumption are increased alertness and decreased perception of fatigue. This is the reason most people fall in love with their morning coffee; it wakes you up! However, there is much more to it than that. Caffeine is also associated with an actual increase in cognitive performance or in simple terms, how well/clearly you are thinking. Research suggests that this effect may be felt the most when you are in a state of low mental stimulation which explains why that morning caffeine hits you like a ton of bricks. In addition to improved mental ability, caffeine ingestion has also been consistently linked with improved mood. In fact, some research has even found that regular caffeine ingestion decreases risk of depression and suicide.
Caffeine is perhaps known more for its mental benefits but there are physical benefits to consuming caffeine as well. It has been well established that caffeine ingestion increases endurance exercise performance. According to a systematic review published in 2009, the average improvement in endurance performance after caffeine ingestion is about 3%. Although seemingly modest, this can make a difference for serious athletes looking to set personal bests. Fewer studies have examined the role of caffeine in improving performance in short duration, high intensity activities such as resistance training, sprinting, and certain team sports. However, several literature reviews have found a slightly positive effect of caffeine on high intensity performance, particularly in team sports and in individuals not accustomed to caffeine consumption. However, the studies examined by these authors had very mixed results, indicating that more research is needed.
Avoiding Side Effects
Moderate intakes of caffeine (less than ~400 mg/day) seem to present very little health risk. Unfortunately, caffeine is commonly abused and consumed in ridiculous daily dosages, leading to negative side effects such as shakiness, anxiety, and headaches. Speaking from personal experience, it is not a fun state to be in. Just be sure to monitor how much caffeine you consume and you shouldn't have an issue. Interestingly, one supposed side effect of caffeine that many people believe to be true is that it dehydrates you. Fortunately, the research does not support this claim and caffeinated drinks may be used to add to your daily fluid balance.
Overall, there is little evidence to suggest that consuming caffeine involves any serious health risk. On the contrary, regular caffeine consumption has many physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Just be sure to consume caffeine in reasonable, moderate doses (less than ~400 mg/day) to avoid any nasty side effects. So stop feeling guilty about being hooked on caffeine because it is probably helping you more than you realize! Drink up & train safe... Kyle