Caffeine And Strength Training
Whilst the benefits of caffeine on endurance performance are clear the effects of caffeine on strength training is less conclusive.
Caffeine and muscle strength
The effects of caffeine on muscle strength is not clear with some researchers finding no significant improvements in strength (Beck et al., 2008; Williams et al., 2008; Astorino et al., 2007; Williams, 1991; Bond et al., 1986;) whilst others have noted some improvements in muscle strength (Bazzucchi et al., 2011; Warren et al., 2010; Beck et al., 2006;). Therefore at this current point there is not enough evidence to support the use of caffeine to improve muscle strength.
Caffeine and muscle strength endurance
Research has been more positive with regards to the effects of caffeine on muscle strength endurance – as measured by increased numbers of repetitions before failure occured. A number of studies have found that caffeine can increase the number of repetitions that can be completed when strength training to failure (Duncan and Oxford, 2012; Astorino et al., 2011 & 2007;). This is perhaps not surprising since caffeine is known to improve endurance performance - read more about caffeine and endurance performance. One of the key mechanisms by which strength training may increase repetition numbers completed to failure is by reducing muscle pain perception (Duncan and Oxford, 2012; Bellar et al., 2011;). In addition caffeine appears to improve neuromuscular performance (Mora-Rodríguez et al., 2012) which may improve efficiency and allow a greater work load to be completed.
Caffeine and muscle building
Caffeine is a popular supplement for bodybuilders looking to increase the quantity and intensity of workouts. However, there is currently no research that has looked at whether caffeine can enhance muscle building. There may be a small benefit in that caffeine appears to be able to increase the number of repetitions before failure and the total work completed – muscle building is influence by the total volume of training. In addition to increasing the number of repetitions completed researchers have observed increased blood lactate levels when caffeine is consumed before strength training (Duncan and Oxford, 2012). Since increased lactate levels may induce a growth hormone response (Godfrey et al., 2009; Elias et al., 1997;) any increased blood lactate levels following caffeine consumption could be of benefit for increasing growth hormone levels and possibly muscle building. However, it is likely that any benefit may be off-set by an increased risk of overtraining/burnout when combining caffeine and strength training/muscle training – particularly when using high intensity resistance training.
Caffeine and strength training in the morning
Most people who do regular strength training in the morning will be aware that their ability to lift weights is lower in the morning than if they perform the same training session in the afternoon. Recent research has found that consuming 3mg/kg of caffeine prior to morning exercise increased squat and bench press muscle power output by 2.5-5.7% (Mora-Rodríguez et al., 2012). The velocity at which maximum strength loads was lifted also increased for the bench press and squat (4.3-5.6% improvement). The researchers noted that the increased leg strength occurred during dynamic contractions but not isometric contractions.
Is caffeine effective for increasing muscle strength?
Current research does not support the idea that caffeine increases muscle strength e.g. 1 rep max for squat or bench press. However, it does appear to have a positive effect on the number of repetitions that can be completed before failure and the total work done in a workout so may be of benefit for bodybuilding.
How much caffeine should I take for strength training?
Most research has either used a caffeine dose as a set amount per bodyweight (e.g. 3-6mg per kg of bodyweight) or a fixed amount of caffeine (e.g. 200-300mg). However, most research has failed to find significant effects of caffeine for strength training and it’s important to consider that long term consumption of these quantities of caffeine may prove to be detrimental to strength training. In particular you should consider that both chronic caffeine consumption and strength training can lead to significant stimulation of the central nervous system and therefore if taken in combination in the long term there is an increased risk of overtraining/burnout.
Caffeine and muscle building summary:
- There appears to be less benefit of caffeine ingestion with strength training compared with endurance training.
- Research is not supportive of caffeine as a supplement suitable for strength training.
- There is some evidence that caffeine may increase the number of repetitions completed during a set performed to failure as well as the total work completed in a workout.
- Caffeine may be beneficial for improving morning exercise performance.
- Any potential benefit of long term chronic caffeine supplementation for strength athletes is likely to be off-set by an increased risk of burnout/overtraining due to increased CNS stimulation.
Caffeine and strength training references:
Astorino TA, Rohmann RL, Firth K. (2007) Effect of caffeine ingestion on one-repetition maximum muscular strength. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2008 Jan;102(2):127-32. Epub 2007 Sep 13.
Astorino T, Martin BJ, Schachtsiek L, Wong K, Ng K (2011) Minimal effect of acute caffeine ingestion on intense resistance training performance. J Strength Cond Res 25(6): 1752–58. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181ddf6db.
Bazzucchi I, Felici F, Montini M, Figura F, Sacchetti M. (2011) Caffeine improves neuromuscular function during maximal dynamic exercise. Muscle Nerve. 2011 Jun;43(6):839-44. doi: 10.1002/mus.21995. Epub 2011 Apr 12.
Beck TW, Housh TJ, Schmidt RJ, Johnson GO, Housh DJ, Coburn JW, Malek MH. (2006) The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on strength, muscular endurance, and anaerobic capabilities. J Strength Cond Res. 2006 Aug;20(3):506-10.
Beck TW, Housh TJ, Malek MH, Mielke M, Hendrix R. (2008) The acute effects of a caffeine-containing supplement on bench press strength and time to running exhaustion. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Sep;22(5):1654-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318181ff2c.
Bellar D, Kamimori GH, Glickman EL. (2011) The effects of low-dose caffeine on perceived pain during a grip to exhaustion task. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1225-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d9901f.
Bond V, Gresham K, McRae J, Tearney RJ. (1986) Caffeine ingestion and isokinetic strength. Br J Sports Med. 1986 Sep;20(3):135-7.
Duncan MJ, Oxford SW. (2012) Acute caffeine ingestion enhances performance and dampens muscle pain following resistance exercise to failure. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Jun;52(3):280-5.
Elias AN, Wilson AF, Naqvi S, Pandian MR. (1997) Effects of blood pH and blood lactate on growth hormone, prolactin, and gonadotropin release after acute exercise in male volunteers. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1997 Feb;214(2):156-60.
Godfrey RJ, Whyte GP, Buckley J, Quinlivan R. (2009) The role of lactate in the exercise-induced human growth hormone response: evidence from McArdle disease. Br J Sports Med. 2009 Jul;43(7):521-5. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2007.041970. Epub 2008 Jan 9.
Jacobson BH, Weber MD, Claypool L, Hunt LE. (1992) Effect of caffeine on maximal strength and power in élite male athletes. Br J Sports Med. 1992 Dec;26(4):276-80.
Mora-Rodríguez R, García Pallarés J, López-Samanes Á, Ortega JF, Fernández-Elías VE. (2012) Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e33807. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033807. Epub 2012 Apr 4.
Tarnopolsky M, Cupido C. (2000) Caffeine potentiates low frequency skeletal muscle force in habitual and nonhabitual caffeine consumers. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Nov;89(5):1719-24.
Warren GL, Park ND, Maresca RD, McKibans KI, Millard-Stafford ML. (2010) Effect of caffeine ingestion on muscular strength and endurance: a meta-analysis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jul;42(7):1375-87. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181cabbd8.
Williams JH. (1991) Caffeine, neuromuscular function and high-intensity exercise performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 1991 Sep;31(3):481-9.
Williams AD, Cribb PJ, Cooke MB, Hayes A. (2008) The effect of ephedra and caffeine on maximal strength and power in resistance-trained athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Mar;22(2):464-70. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181660320.