The Case for CaffeineI need coffee. I don’t know about you, but I can’t start my day— whether I’m going to work or not—without a big-ass cup of the stuff. Unlike most people, however, this isn’t because I’m impossible to deal with before I’ve had my fix. Instead, I recommend caffeine intake as adjunct nutrition for my Carb Back-Loading diet plan because the list of benefits we can derive from regular consumption is extremely impressive. In fact, I’d consider caffeine to be one of my must-have supplement recommendations.

When you’re looking to build mass without adding fat with a Carb Back-Loading regimen, the idea is to avoid carbohydrates for the first half of your day in order to burn fat—or at least to prevent them from being stored as fat. What you probably don’t know, however, is that caffeine has been shown to increase the anabolic effect of Carb Back-Loading, partially because of its effect on the rise in cortisol in your body. Yes, you read that correctly: cortisol plays a major role.

Now, this obviously raises several big red flags for a lot of people, but believe it or not, a rise in cortisol isn’t always a bad thing.

WHEN CATABOLISM IS OK

When your cortisol levels rise during training, it’s considered a catabolic action, which means it’s breaking down tissue. Chronic cortisol release can stop your fat-burning process, and it’ll also increase muscle wasting. Throw in the fact that coffee has been found to increase cortisol release, and coffee sounds like a horrible idea. If you want to go with the conventional wisdom that’s been limiting your results, stop reading this right now and go throw away your coffee maker.

As with most things related to training and nutrition, however, things aren’t as simple as they appear on the surface when we consult the research. It’s been shown that the rise in cortisol due to caffeine, when it occurs, only lasts for about an hour. We therefore don’t have to worry about it elevating cortisol— with all the negative effects that come with this spike—for prolonged periods of time. Some studies have even shown that it has no effect whatsoever. 

coffee to go-resized-600So what’s the cause of this discrepancy in terms of caffeine activated cortisol release? Well, we aren’t exactly sure about the necessary conditions under which caffeine won’t cause a rise in cortisol. We do, however, know when and why it will. This is important because cortisol isn’t considered evil when you’re Carb Back-Loading, thanks to timing. If you plan everything correctly, you can use cortisol to your advantage in a multitude of ways, because it’s catabolic— again, meaning it breaks things down—in your fat tissue, as well. Cortisol is also a highly effective painkiller, which explains why you’re prepared to run through walls during workouts you’d typically dread after having a giant cup of pre-training coffee or taking some caffeine pills. The release of cortisol will take the edge off even the most brutal sets of squats by significantly raising your pain threshold.

Recent research has also shown that the effectiveness of your training—i.e., how fast you get bigger and stronger—is directly correlated with the rise in cortisol levels during your training sessions. The result? All signs lead to higher cortisol levels during training, an effect that leads to greater gains in the gym.

THE ROLE OF INSULIN

The Case for Caffeine 2If you’ve looked into many diets that have been popular over the last decade, one common thread among them is their claim that caffeine causes a release of insulin, the hormone that makes everything bigger, including fat cells. You’ve likely been told to avoid caffeine at all costs because it’ll contribute to making you fat. What all these “gurus” have failed to mention, however, is that caffeine can increase the amount of insulin your body releases only when it’s in the presence of carbohydrates. This is why I make caffeine an integral part of Carb Back-Loading: because of its ability to cause transient insulin insensitivity.

It’s important to note this if you train at a non-ideal time like first thing in the morning. With my Carb Back-Loading clients, I typically recommend training in the late afternoon and evening because that’s when the body’s insulin sensitivity is at its lowest. When you toss caffeine into this mix, it’s possible to amplify this effect for even bigger gains. This also gives you the power to manipulate your insensitivity when you train at other times, too. Your insulin sensitivity is at its peak in the morning—when your body is most likely to store excess carbs as fat. Eliminate the carbs and add caffeine, and everything changes, turning your body into the fat-burning, muscle-gaining machine it wants to be.

The simple solution? Don’t eat carbs when you have caffeine, and don’t have caffeine when you’re eating carbs—with the exception of fiber. Additionally, the insulin resistance I’m referring to here is relatively minor, and it disappears once the caffeine has worked its way out of your body. In other words, you don’t avoid this coffee and carbohydrate combination for any reason other than the fact that it completely wipes out all the physical performance gains you’ll get from ingesting the caffeine.

ONE MORE THING

Last, but certainly not least, research has shown that caffeine does what most men would consider the most awesome thing of all: It will raise your testosterone levels during training. We know that testosterone levels rise when we train, but when this happens, your sex hormone- binding globulin levels rise simultaneously. When you take caffeine, your testosterone levels increase up to 20%, but they do so without affecting the sex hormone-binding globulin. This means you’ll have vastly increased amounts of free testosterone in your system, because the two aren’t rising together—and free testosterone is something we all want.

I recommend pre-training dosages of 200–800mg in pill form or actual coffee. This means you’ll be drinking about 2–8 cups of coffee before you train, a level that sounds like quite a bit, but that’s easily tolerated by most people. This will immediately increase your endurance, it’ll make you more alert, and your most strenuous training sessions will seem easier and, for reasons enumerated above, will help you burn fat and gain muscle faster than ever. – FLEX