Steve Bui, M.S.
If you look at any advertising in the media, you will notice constant bombardment by ads for performance enhancing supplements. The supplement industry is one of the most lucrative marketing fields. The promise of being able to perform bigger, faster, and stronger by drinking some special water, swallowing a small pill, or anything in between just sounds so appealing. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the majority of consumers, most supplements do not work at all. Supplements are designed to work in “theory.” What companies fail to tell you is that the body’s regulation mechanisms are so complex that the majority of the time, it is difficult to objectively determine benefits directly associated with a particular product.
What companies also don’t want you to know is that commonly found items in everyday foods and drinks can serve as performance enhancers. One great example of this would be caffeine. Caffeine is not normally considered a drug to the everyday consumer; however, it is actually one of the world’s most commonly used drugs. Even more surprising to some is that it is such an effective performance enhancing drug that the International Olympic Committee put an upper limit requirement on its consumption. Caffeine has been shown time and time again in many different studies to increase time to exhaustion when cycling or distance running. Furthermore, pain tolerance increased as well, and generally participants were able to cycle and run a set distance in a shorter period of time.
What makes caffeine allow the body to perform better as mentioned above? The most widely accepted theory is caffeine’s effect on a molecule known as adenosine. Adenosine levels are high in concentration when a person is generally fatigued, or has been awake for a long period of time. The brain acknowledges these high levels of adenosine with the use of adenosine receptors. The brain then sends the body fatigue signals which cause the need to sleep. Caffeine’s molecular structure is remarkably similar to adenosine. In fact, it is so similar that when caffeine is present, the brain’s adenosine receptors are tricked! Caffeine blocks the brain’s adenosine receptors, and in turn the brain cannot accurately access the high levels of adenosine. This allows an individual to feel less fatigue, and more alert. Both of these side effects can potentially increase exercise performance. One only needs one or two cups of coffee to feel these benefits. Obviously caffeine should always be used in moderation, and too much of any supplement or drug will result in negative effects. However, next time you decide to buy some performance enhancing supplement at the store for an extra boost during a workout, instead of wasting twenty dollars, look to your cupboard or the local coffee shop for a $2 cup of coffee instead.