Do you need to cycle caffeine?

written by Philip Stefanov  |  JANUARY 3, 2023

Happy New Year! May 2023 bring you joy, fulfillment, and gains!

Well, 2022 is in the books, which begs two questions:

  1. How did an entire year pass so fast?
  2. What are some positive behaviors we can adopt to lead better lives?

Last week’s newsletter explored three things you should quit in 2023. Today, we’ll discuss one habit we all share: consuming caffeine. Specifically, we’ll explore the idea of cycling caffeine to keep its benefits more pronounced.

How Does Caffeine Function, And Why Would We Cycle It?

Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant most commonly found in everyone’s favorite beverage: coffee. It blocks adenosine from binding to receptors in the brain (1). When it binds to receptors, adenosine promotes tiredness, fatigue, and pain sensitivity, so caffeine comes in to lessen these effects.

In addition, caffeine stimulates the release of catecholamines––types of hormones primarily produced by the adrenal gland. These hormones play a crucial role in the stress response by increasing heart rate, alertness, and physical abilities (strength, endurance, etc.).

Some of caffeine’s most notable benefits include:

  • Improved alertness and focus
  • More energy and motivation
  • Reduced pain perception
  • Improved athletic performance

Taking caffeine for long periods without giving your body a break causes you to build a tolerance. As a result, its effects become less pronounced, and you need higher doses to reap the same benefits.

Because of tolerance, many sources recommend cycling caffeine, allowing it to continue working effectively in the long run. 

What Does Data Say?

In one recent review and meta-analysis, researchers looked at 59 studies to examine the impact of chronic caffeine consumption on short-term exercise performance (2).

The studies included 1137 subjects––958 men and 179 women. Among the participants, 718 were trained, 400 were untrained, and 19 were elite-level athletes.

Researchers examined habitual caffeine consumption and its ergogenic impact on endurance, power, and strength measures. In addition, the authors of the paper analyzed the acute relative dose and whether it was lower or higher than the average daily intake of the participants.

The findings?

Habitual caffeine consumption didn’t affect the stimulant’s ergogenic effects in various circumstances. Caffeine appeared to be effective at doses of less than 3 mg per kg and 3 to 6 mg per kg, but not at higher amounts. It was also effective whether the dose was higher or lower than the participants’ habitual intake.

Caffeine was also effective for measures of strength, power, and endurance. In summary:

“Habitual caffeine consumption did not modify the ergogenic effect of caffeine in male, female, trained or untrained individuals.”

So, Must We Cycle Caffeine to Keep Experiencing The Associated Benefits?

According to the findings of the above review and meta-analysis, no. Even habitual caffeine consumers can expect noticeable ergogenic effects from the substance.

Still, I lean more toward liming caffeine to some extent unless consumption is truly necessary. In other words, I tend to limit my intake on most days and instead focus on other tactics for feeling better: eating healthy, getting adequate sleep, etc.

Caffeine is still helpful, and I take full advantage of it, but I prefer to reserve it for when I need to do a lot of work or complete a strenuous workout. Despite the scientific findings, I feel that caffeine will always have more potent effects on people who don’t consume it as often.

Remember that caffeine is technically a drug, and you’re not doing yourself a favor by abusing it. Respect its effects on your body and ask yourself, “Do I truly need caffeine right now, or am I just indulging myself?”

Thank you for taking the time. Until next week,


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