Monthly Archives: April 2017

Information About Caffeine That You Actually Still Believe

Coffee is the nectar of the gods.

Partially because the aroma of it is the planets best aphrodisiac and it tastes like a million angles are dancing on sunshine, but most importantly it contains caffeine.

Ok, this is probably a bit of hyperbole but coffee is one of the most popular beverages consumed in the world.

In fact, the average American drinks 3.1 cups of coffee per day and we spend approximately $40 billion on coffee each year1. That number is mind-boggling.

Caffeine has garnered a lot of attention in both the fitness world and in the research world due to a lot of the performance and health properties it can convey. Sadly, as with most health claims, many of the things you hear are like unicorns, they aren’t real.

Now since caffeine is one of the most consumed “drugs” on the planet I think we ought to set the record straight and clear up a few of the myths surrounding caffeine.

1. CAFFEINE DEHYDRATES YOU

People think that because coffee makes you pee it dehydrates you. I never really understood that logic, it is missing a lot of steps and doesn’t really make any sense when you think about it. For example, drinking water makes you pee but drinking water is how you hydrate.

The body’s fluid balance system is a lot more complicated than that. Honestly, sometimes journalists’ logic baffles me at times. This is where science is important. We can actually ask and answer the question of, “Does caffeine dehydrate you”?

Fortunately for us, several studies have looked at whether caffeine consumption actually dehydrates you. For example, one studied looked at a dose response of caffeine and diuresis (making more urine) and found that daily intakes of caffeine at 3 and 6 mg per kg per day over a span of 11 days does not have a real effect on fluid balance and hydrations status2.

Now that is great and all when considering the study was conducted with pure caffeine, but what about caffeinated beverages and all the other things that go with them? I am glad you asked. Here is a study that showed that black tea also doesn’t do squat as a diuretic and hydrates you just as well as water3.

2. CAFFEINE IS A GOOD FAT BURNER

Caffeine is marketed as a fat burner pretty heavily. The thing about it is that it can be a fat burner. . . but it likely doesn’t work the way you think it does.

The old version of caffeine being a fat burner goes something like this: caffeine causes fat cells to release fatty acids which is then burned for energy. This is kind of true but not really. The data is a little more complex than that.

When you really get down to the nitty gritty, it looks like caffeine increases lipid mobilization by a significant amount but most of that fat isn’t actually burned, about 75% of it is actually recycled, meaning it’s “released” from fat cells and then stored again without being used4.

Related: Coconut Coffee Cardio – Early Morning Strategy to Get Shredded

So caffeine probably won’t directly increase fat loss but it may increase your training capacity, making increased fat-loss a byproduct.

In addition to the fact that most of the “mobilized” fat is simply recycled, caffeine loses its efficacy over time. Much like alcohol or drugs, your body habituates to caffeine and eventually it loses its ability to be stimulated by caffeine. At some point it becomes a “return to normal function” supplement.

If you take a second to think about this you realize how true it is. Think about the first time you had a cup of coffee in the morning and how alert and ready to go you felt. Now fast forward 15 years and think about how you feel like one of those zombies in The Walking Dead until that first cup of coffee kicks in and you feel a little more human.

If you abuse coffee/caffeine as much as I do it might take the whole pot to get you back to normal. . . I should probably take a caffeine break sometime soon.

3. CAFFEINE IS GOOD FOR PERFORMANCE

People often tout caffeine as the ultimate performance enhancer. This is true to some extent. It is the most effective, legal, ergogenic aid we have on the market, For example, people who are not habituated to caffeine can see increases in strength and power from pre-exercise caffeine supplementation.

Sadly, there is a very large “habituation” effect and caffeine loses its efficacy overtime. In fact, if you want to really maximize your caffeine you should cycle on and off it regularly. This is part of the reason you only get that “first time I took pre-workout feeling” once in your lifetime.

The other reason caffeine may not help your performance is the type of exercise you engage in. Caffeine is a known stimulate than can increase heart rate. In certain cases an elevated heart rate is actually a good way to ruin your performance.

In “metcon” style workouts where your goal is to sustain a relatively high workload for an extended period of time a higher resting rate will actually decrease your time to fatigue, which is the opposite effect of what you want.

Know More about Nitric Oxide Supplements

Until you have achieved “the pump” you haven’t fully lived.

If you have never walked out of the gym with your biceps feeling like they are going to explode, your whole life has been a lie.

I’m only half kidding here. Well, actually I am not kidding at all; the pump is the best.

In fact, there is a whole class of supplements that were originally designed to help you achieve the pump, known today as nitric oxide boosters.

More recently, nitric oxide boosters have been utilized in wider applications as they are meant to increase blood flow.

Increased blood flow can improve nutrient delivery to muscle tissue, allowing you to train longer, harder, recover better, and makes achieving the elusive pump easier.

While most nitric oxide boosting supplements contain a plethora of ingredients, there are really only a few things you need to know about to really understand NO boosters.

WHAT IS NITRIC OXIDE?

So before we go any further we should probably fill you in on what the heck nitric oxide is and why the heck you would want to boost it.

Nitric oxide causes vasodilation. This effectively increases blood flow which can increase nutrient and oxygen delivery to the muscles. Essentially, vasodilation gives your muscles more go juice.

Related: Are BCAAs an Essential Part of Your Supplementation Plan?

L-ARGININE

The Quick and Dirty: Arginine is an amino acid that is turned into nitric oxide in the body. In theory arginine should improve blood flow and thus improve performance and enhance your training.

Currently, the results are mixed and we don’t have a slam dunk case for it. This supplement may be a case of “responders vs non-responders” and some self-experimentation may prove that it is an effective supplement for you.

The Deeper Dive: The real science from studies done on L-arginine studies indicate that it does get taken up into the body and that nitric oxide boosting supplements with L-arginine do effectively increase arginine levels.

However, the increase of arginine levels in the blood doesn’t always translate into efficacy for blood flow or improvement in work capacity. One study has shown that arginine supplementation increases levels of arginine in the blood but does not increase levels of nitric oxide or muscular blood flow, nor does it enhance muscle protein synthesis.1

Yet, another shows that it increases blood volume but not strength performance.2

Even longer term supplementation of arginine appears to be largely ineffective. 7 days of supplementing with 12d/day of an arginine-alpha-ketoglutarate supplement showed that it did indeed increase plasma levels of L-arginine but had zero effect on hemodynamics or blood flow.3  More studies have shown no meaningful or significant increase in training capacity.

Currently, the evidence suggests that L-arginine may increase circulatory blood flow, but does not consistently or meaningfully increase training performance. No it isn’t all doom and gloom as when you look deeper into the research it appears that there are definitely “responders” and “non-responders” (I looked at a lot of papers and made assumptions based on means and standard deviations).

Perhaps it is time to enter a brand new era of NO boosting and find something that is more effective.

ENTER NITRATE

The Quick and Dirty: L-arginine is only one way to increase nitric oxide in your blood and increase blood and oxygen deliver. There appears to be a different molecule that is more effective than L-arginine at boosting NO and at improving training.

Recent evidence has shown that inorganic nitrate (NO3-) from dietary sources can also increase NO production.4 Most supplemental nitrate comes from beet root juice or nitrate salts.

The Deeper Dive: Dietary NO3- is broken down into a bioactive form nitrite (NO2-) which causes a rise in plasma NO2-.5 Plasma NO2- is then further reduced in the blood and tissues into bioactive NO. Let’s stop and take a look and compare this to L-arginine.

Now that we have an idea of how it works, we can dive into what the research says about how effective it is in improving performance.

When I set out to write this article I knew I was going to need a bit of backup so I contacted a colleague of mine, Dylan Dahlquist MSc, who is well versed in the research regarding dietary nitrates and human performance and he got me up to speed on the research.

Several studies have shown that consuming roughly 8 mmol/nitrate per day through beet root juice can improve performance during a cycling trial.6 One of the interesting things that has come out of the research is that it may improve “efficiency”, meaning that less ATP is required to complete the same amount of work.

This is pretty mind blowing and no one really understands exactly how this happens . . . science is hard. One hypothesis is that it improves mitochondrial function and makes it more efficient, which is pretty cool.7

Related: Pre-Workout Nutrition: 4 Strategies to Improve Performance & Maximize Results

When we summarize what we know about nitrate supplementation is that it appears to be a bit more effective than L-arginine at accomplishing the same task and may have performance enhancing effects. The studies conducted clearly show an increase in NO production with acute and/or chronic supplementation and may elicit the ergogenic effects and improve athletic performance.

If used as a pre-workout supplement it is wise to take it about 2-3 hours before training as blood levels typically peak roughly 2-3 hours after ingestion, which relates to the peak increase in NO bioavailability.

All About Vitamin D

Let’s rewind the clock about 20 years to 1998.

This year sticks out in my mind for one major reason: Harry Potter had to find the Sorcerer’s Stone which made the Elixir of Life.

This Elixir had the ability to grant the drinker eternal life and also cure all diseases.

Voldemort strangely occupied the back of some dude’s head (still haven’t figured that one out) and convinced him to try and steal this stone so he could come back to life.

Harry thwarted him and that stone got destroyed.

What the heck does that have to do with vitamin D? Well, in many ways, the fervor that has been generated around vitamin D makes it seem like it might be the true Elixir of Life.

For about 5 years there was a mind-blowing boom of articles and small companies trying to capitalize on the interest in vitamin D.

While many of the claims about vitamin D are hyperbole, there are some very interesting aspects of vitamin D that are worth exploring and most of them deal with correcting deficiencies.

VITAMIN D AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

There has been a substantial amount of pomp and circumstance surrounding vitamin D as an ergogenic aid and claims have circulated that taking large amounts of vitamin D can enhance your performance in the gym.

Related: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding Supplements

This question was so pervasive and so interesting that we actually conducted a rigorous analysis of the current scientific literature and wrote a peer-reviewed paper on the topic1.

There have been several studies that have examined levels of vitamin D and aerobic performance. What we can tell from the scientific data is that people who have low levels of vitamin D appear to have lower aerobic capacity than people with adequate levels of vitamin D.

Additionally, it is very likely that supplementing with vitamin D to correct a vitamin D deficiency might provide a small benefit on aerobic performance.

There has also been some interest in recovery. Most of the evidence has been done in cells and rats, but one study showed a very small improvement in loss of power output.

However, it was only one study with a small number, so we can’t say anything for sure but I would argue supplementing vitamin D to correct a deficiency would be helpful to optimize recovery.

There is also some speculation that large doses of vitamin D improves power production and force output.

A few small studies seem to suggest this might be possible but the effects are quite small and other studies show no response. I think we can safely conclude that a vitamin D pre-workout supplement is pretty much dead on arrival and not worth much investigation from a maximal effort standpoint.

VITAMIN D AND INFECTIONS

Vitamin D may be a critical piece to warding off infection. No, not as an anti-zombie spray. Vitamin D actually plays a regulatory role in your immune system and supplementation with vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in preventing respiratory infections.

In a recent study that examined 25 studies, researchers showed that supplementation of vitamin D substantially reduces your risk of acquiring acute respiratory tract infections2.

However, there is a little caveat to it. It really only makes a meaningful difference if you are deficient in vitamin D, people who had normal levels only had a very small reduction in risk of acquiring an infection. Also, small, daily or weekly doses were much better than infrequent large doses.

VITAMIN D AND FAT LOSS

For some very strange, borderline asinine reason someone, somewhere along the way took some preliminary research and decided they would make some claims that vitamin D is a good supplement for fat loss.

Um, no. This is not true.

It is true that vitamin D deficiency can cause a lot of issues with hormones, calcium regulation, mood, immune function, and a lot of other processes, but there is no evidence to suggest that has any meaningful effect on fat loss.

For people who are “dieting” or restricting calories supplementing with vitamin D to ensure they are getting enough vitamin D to maintain their vitamin D levels is an awesome idea. It just won’t turn you into a fat burning furnace.

YOUR VITAMIN D LEVELS ARE PROBABLY LOW

I know what you are thinking, “I don’t need to worry about this; I am healthy so I am good”. Well, it turns out you probably do need to think about your vitamin D levels. 41% of adults in the United States are vitamin D deficient3. That means 4 out of 10 people don’t have enough vitamin D and really need to consider supplementing with it.

Related: Supplementing for Success – The Key Mineral You’re Deficient In

Why is there such a large percentage of people with vitamin D deficiency? Well, your blood levels of vitamin D are determined by your genetics, diet, and sun exposure.

Most of us get a tiny fraction of the sunlight we actually need due to the amount of time we spend indoors. For those of us who live in the northern part of North America we also get much less intense solar radiation and for what seems to be 11 months out of the year almost zero sunny days.

Also, most of us do not eat diets rich in vitamin D. Combine these things together and you get the perfect storm to ensure that large amounts of people are vitamin D deficient.

WHAT KIND AND HOW MUCH SHOULD I TAKE?

Supplementing with vitamin D is actually fairly simple for most of us.

If you have levels below 20 ng/mL you should be supplementing with between 1,000 IU and 5,000 IU a day until you reach normal levels. You should be taking vitamin D3, not vitamin D2.

You can take it as a daily vitamin, usually with a meal as vitamin D is fat soluble.

THE WRAP UP

Chances are your vitamin D levels are low and should be getting them checked at your annual checkup with your doctor (you definitely should be getting an annual checkup).

There is some evidence that letting your vitamin D levels stay low increases your risks of infections, reduces your overall aerobic performance, and might limit your recovery.

If you want to stay at the top of your game, correct any deficiency that you might have with smart vitamin D supplementation, especially during the winter months. If they are low you should supplement with around 1000-5000 IU of vitamin D3 per day until your levels are back in normal range.