Is It Safe to Drink Coffee or Take Caffeine Pills Before a Workout?
By JJ VIRGIN
I don't watch “The Biggest Loser,” but the show caught my attention when a reporter asked me about the 2013 controversy when Jillian Michaels giving participants caffeine pills as a supplement to enhance their workouts.
Evidently, the show does not allow trainers to give participants supplements without doctor approval, and Michaels broke that rule with caffeine pills.
“I stand by my opinion, a caffeine supplement is significantly healthier than unlimited amounts of coffee,” Michaels said.
Her comment sparked a debate: Is coffee unsafe and are caffeine pills an acceptable alternative?
Is Coffee Dose-Dependent?
"Dose dependence" is a phrase I use often to describe certain foods or drinks where a little bit can provide health benefits, but excessive amounts can create the opposite effect.
Pinot noir, for example, is a dose-dependent food. A glass of wine provides anti-aging resveratrol, while a whole bottle for one person at one sitting is a disaster. Dark chocolate is also a dose-dependent food. I tell clients to break off a few pieces of low-sugar, high-quality dark chocolate (80 percent or higher cacao), and be sure to give the rest away.
A cup of organic dark roast can give you that oomph to improve your workout performance. But guzzling mug after mug of coffee while you're working at your desk all morning could have detrimental effects.
Potential Coffee Issues
If you use coffee as a constant pick-me-up, you could be masking underlying problems like adrenal fatigue or too little sleep. In those cases, caffeine only exacerbates your issue, since excessive coffee can chronically elevate your stress hormone cortisol, breaking down muscle and storing fat.
Quality is also important to consider here. Are you drinking organic, toxin-free coffee or pesticide-ridden conventional coffee? Do you add a little stevia to sweeten your coffee, or are you guzzling gargantuan amounts of sugar and cream in your coffee while scarfing down a low-fat blueberry muffin?
Finally, it's essential to understand how you metabolize caffeine. If a cup of morning java keeps you wired when you should be tired, switch to green tea which provides a caffeine boost but also contains calming theanine.
What about Caffeine Pills?
Caffeine is a drug, and therefore, it has the potential to become abused as any drug. Caffeine pills can become a problem — just like drinking an entire pot of coffee to push yourself through a high-energy workout would become an issue.
Back in my training days, I saw clients chugging caffeine supplements before doing a tough workout. Maybe they believed coffee was unhealthy, or perhaps they didn't like the taste of java.
They would often confess they slept terribly the night before and desperately needed caffeine to get moving.
Unless you have some sort of medical issue or your doctor forbids them, I don't think caffeine pills are necessarily bad. Unlike coffee, at least with supplements you're not getting a giant dose of sugar and cream along with your caffeine.
That said, I urge you to use caution taking caffeine pills: They can contribute to or exacerbate heart palpitations, jitteriness and other problems. Studies show that while rare, excessive caffeine-pill intake could kill you.
Like coffee, it all depends how you're using it. Are you using caffeine for therapeutic benefits or as a crutch to ignore underlying problems?
Readers – What are your thoughts on coffee and caffeine pills? Have you ever used caffeine pills? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness expert JJ Virgin is author of NY Times bestseller The Virgin Diet and the bestselling Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy. She was also co-host of TLC's Freaky Eaters. JJ frequently blogs for The Huffington Post, LIVESTRONG.COM, and other prominent media outlets. She created the 4 x 4 Burst Training Workout and regularly appears on TV shows like Rachel Ray and The Today Show to discuss topics such as fast fat loss, weight loss, and food sensitivities.