A Guide to Caffeine Supplements as a Pre-Workout Stimulant

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By Alex
Last updated on

Caffeine supplements are extremely cheap, yet highly effective pre-workout products.

They amplify your energy, increase your focus and improve your performance

…All without the hassle of brewing or drinking any coffee!

Just one little caffeine tablet contains the caffeine content of a 12 oz. cup of strong coffee (200mg).

Truly amazing, I know!

How do they do this? Magic? Quite possibly. But I have my own theory, illustrated below:

caffeine tablets

I’m joking of course. And besides, how caffeine tablets are made is irrelevant…

…We only care that they work. And, indeed, they do work. After all, caffeine is a main ingredient in many popular pre-workout powders.

It’s just that taking pure caffeine as a workout stimulant is such an obvious idea that many weight trainees never even consider it.

On this page, I’ll discuss caffeine, its benefits, its side effects and whether supplementing with it is a good idea for you.

I’ll also provide dosing guidelines and tell you my top two recommendations for the best caffeine supplements.

What Is Caffeine?

Did you know that caffeine is the world’s favorite psychoactive stimulant?

That’s right. Caffeine – the stuff in your coffee, tea and soda – is actually a full-blown, raging drug! You junkie, you.

But of course, I’m just being sensationalistic. As most people realize, not all drugs are bad, mmm’kay.

Scientifically speaking, caffeine is a xanthein alkaloid.

This is just a fancy name for a specific class of chemical compounds, which have similar molecular structures and function as mild central nervous system stimulants. They also act as bronchodilators, but that’s beyond our focus.

Caffeine is a natural compound found in coffee and cocoa beans; guarana berries; kola nuts; as well as tea, yerba maté, yaupon holly and guayusa leaves.

People have been enjoying its energizing and uplifting effects for many thousands of years.

Obviously though, ancient folks weren’t taking caffeine tablets.

The first connoisseurs of caffeine may have actually been from the stone age, and they would have simply chewed on tea leaves to get a very light buzz…

…Crude, yes. But let’s be serious, you can’t expect too much from cavemen. 😀

The brewing of tea wasn’t “discovered” until as late as 3000 years ago in China. And the brewing of coffee most likely wasn’t around until the 1450s AD, if not later.

Caffeine, itself, wasn’t discovered until 1820, when a German chemist isolated it from coffee. Without knowing it had been done already, a few French chemists also made the same discovery the very next year.

So you can thank everyone – from the 19th century chemists to your cave-dwelling stone age ancestors – for promoting the use of caffeine and discovering evermore convenient and efficient means for its consumption.

Benefits of Caffeine Supplements

There many desirable benefits to be had from taking caffeine supplements; specifically caffeine tablets. Below is a list of some of the benefits most relevant to weight trainees:

  • $ave Money. As far as energy products go, pure caffeine gives you the best bang for your buck. If you buy caffeine in tablet form (the cheapest/most convenient form of caffeine), then you end up paying an itty-bitty 5 cents per 200mg serving. Not too shabby, eh? You’ll have some money left over to load up on real, nutritious foods.
  • Get Amped & Focused. Caffeine fills you with energy. Obviously this makes you more energetic, but it also heightens your alertness and ability to focus. You can zero-in on whatever task you set out to do. In our case, that would be working out. Your mental energy is concentrated on performing lifts with precision and tenacity. Distractions blur into the background, or disappear altogether.
  • Perform Better. Better mental focus, as mentioned above, obviously plays a role in performance. However, the performance enhancing benefits of caffeine extend beyond the mental realm. It affects you physically, too. It not only delivers a profound rush of energy, but it also delays muscular fatigue. This gives you noticeably better endurance and stamina. In application, the result is that you can pump out a couple more reps during a set (using moderate weights/reps; not extra heavy weight/low reps) than would otherwise be possible, before the delayed fatigue response sets in.
  • Get Shredded. Caffeine elevates the amount of epinephrine (i.e. adrenaline) circulating in your system. This, in turn, increases the rate of lipolysis, or fat mobilization. Fat mobilization refers to the process whereby free fatty acids break away from the larger triglyceride molecule. This raises your body’s levels of free fatty acids. The increased levels of free fatty acids leads to a higher rate of fat oxidation, or the “burning” of fat for energy. If not for the caffeine, you would be relying more heavily on glycolysis, or the use of glycogen (a carbohydrate-based energy store), for energy. Thus, caffeine enables you to burn more fat.
  • Burn Calories. In the previous bullet point, I already discussed that caffeine causes your body to burn a greater proportion of fat for its energy needs. But on top of that, caffeine actually causes you to burn more total calories. It does this in two different ways. First, it speeds up your metabolism. And second, it raises your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which refers to extra calories burned because the caffeine makes you move around more (e.g. tapping your foot, fidgeting, pacing, etc.). A double whammy.
  • Tame Your Appetite. Caffeine has been shown to suppress appetite. You can use this as a strategic tool for blunting hunger and limiting daily caloric intake. This is especially helpful on a cutting diets. However, it’s also useful when bulking because it can prevent overconsumption and fat gain. As your caffeine tolerance grows, however, the appetite suppressing effect unfortunately dissipates.
  • Save Time. Taking a caffeine tablet takes about one second. Simply pop a pill into your mouth and wash it down with a gulp of water. Done. Compare this to the time it takes to brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup, wait for it to cool down and finally drink it.

Potential Caffeine Side Effects

Health experts, almost unilaterally, agree that caffeine is a safe substance.

This is a consensus echoed by major health organizations; like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who has given caffeine the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) designation.

That said, you must remember that caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. As such, it does come with some potential side effects. See below:

  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Jitters
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Stomach irritation
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Quickened breathing
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain

Again, these are potential side effects. At that, they are generally mild and usually only occur due to excessive consumption. They are always temporary in duration.

Furthermore, most people who only take moderate amounts will experience no noticeable side effects.

Are Caffeine Supplements Right for You?

Caffeine Pills

Caffeine tablets are a great pre-workout supplement choice for many folks. You are an ideal candidate if you…

  • Want intense focus and more energy
  • Desire superior workouts and faster progress
  • Want to lose fat or minimize fat gain
  • Are on the go and have no time to make coffee
  • Need to save money, but want a pre-workout supplement

And, as long as you…

  • Are not extra sensitive to stimulants
  • Do not workout near your bedtime
  • Do not have any pre-existing heart conditions
  • Do not have other relevant medical issues (e.g. high blood pressure, panic/anxiety attacks, etc.)

If any of the last four bullet points apply to you, then caffeine may not be right for you. Read below on how to deal with each scenario:

If you’re highly sensitive to stimulants, then it may be easiest to just avoid caffeine altogether. If you want to try anyway, do so mindfully.

If you workout before sleeping, then the obvious solution is to change your workout time. If this is not possible, then you should not use caffeine. It will keep you awake at night, thus disrupting your recovery and hampering your overall progress.

If you have, or think you may have, some heart issues or other relevant medical conditions, then I urge you to consult your physician before proceeding…

…Actually, it’s a good idea for all people to check with their physicians before taking a new supplement. See my full disclaimer.

Caffeine Supplementation Guidelines

“How Much Caffeine Should I Take?”

Most caffeine tablets contain 200mg of caffeine per tablet.

I recommend you cut the tablet in half and take just 100mg for the first workout session. From there, you can hone in on your optimal dosage by using what I’ll call the “Goldilocks” strategy:

  • Too Big? If 100mg is too much caffeine to handle (unlikely, though possible), then cut your serving size to just 50mg.
  • Too Small? If 100mg does not give sufficient stimulation, then increase your serving size to the full 200mg tablet. (Most people will end up taking this dosage.)
  • Just Right? Maybe you got lucky. If 100mg provides just the right effects, then simply continue taking that serving size.

Once you find your optimal serving size, you can take it for a while and still be able to enjoy enhanced workout sessions. However, you will gradually develop a tolerance to caffeine.

The easiest way to combat an increased tolerance is simply increasing the serving size (e.g. by 1/4 of a tablet, or 50mg, each time). It’s fine to use this method a couple/few times.

However, you can increase your serving size so many times before you end up having to take large quantities to achieve the same effects.

To limit the possibility of encountering side effects or developing a very strong dependency, don’t exceed 300mg if you’re (more or less) an average-sized lifter; or 400mg if you’re bigger.

There is an effective way to deal with your caffeine tolerance once it reaches such a high level. That is to dramatically reduce, or eliminate, your caffeine intake for at least a week.

This will lower your tolerance noticeably, allowing you to take less caffeine than before while still achieving its desired effects.

“When Should I Take Caffeine Tablets?”

As when to take the caffeine, my advice is to do so about 20-30 minutes before your workout. This gives it enough time to get into your system and start working its magic.

As a general rule, avoid caffeine supplements within 6-8 hours of sleeping. Caffeine close to bedtime can cause insomnia, or at least interfere with optimal sleep patterns.

Do note, however, that 6-8 hours is a general rule – some people can sleep like a baby if they take caffeine 3 hours before bed, while others may still have trouble falling and staying asleep if they have caffeine within 12 hours of their bedtime.

My Recommendations for Caffeine Supplements

My top two recommendations for caffeine tablets include the following:

I’ve used both of these caffeine supplements before, and each works like a charm.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my articles on other weight lifting supplements.

Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

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