Use caffeine to perform better in the morning when athletic performance is diminished compared to later in the day. There is abundant evidence of a time-of-day effect on performance in strength and power sports—performance is significantly enhanced later in the day compared to in the morning. The effect is thought to be due to variations in body temperature, hormone concentrations, muscle contraction ability, and even the ability of the muscles to remove waste products like lactic acid. However, a recent study found that it’s possible to improve strength and power performance by taking caffeine in the morning.
This study used elite athletes and had them perform three trials in which maximal squat and bench press strength and power were measured. The first trial was in the morning at 10 a.m. and the athletes received 3 mg/kg/bw of caffeine; the second trial was in the morning at 10 a.m. and they received a placebo; and the third trial was in the evening at 6 p.m. and they received a placebo.
Results showed that by taking caffeine in the morning, maximal strength and power performance in the bench press and squat were enhanced by 3 to 6 percent over the morning placebo trial. In fact, strength and power were nearly equal to levels recorded in the evening trial when performance peaked.
Hormone levels were more favorable for muscle development and performance in the evening trial as well—the most favorable testosterone to cortisol ratio was seen at this time due to the circadian drop in cortisol that happens naturally in the evening. The caffeine did produce a very slight increase in cortisol following the morning trial over the placebo group, but it was not statistically significant.
The reason for enhanced performance from caffeine is thought to be that it acts directly on the muscles to produce greater strength and power output. There was a significant increase in norepinephrine concentration in the morning caffeine trial that was equal to the evening trial, but was not seen in the morning placebo trial. Researchers suggest that the increase in norepinephrine in the morning caffeine trial indicate that the caffeine stimulated sympathetic muscle activity rather than improving central neural command. Simply, they think caffeine increases muscle strength and power through an effect directly in the muscle rather than acting on the central nervous system.
The take away is that caffeine is a potent performance enhancer for morning competitions and training. Use it to enhance strength and power so that you outperform competitors, or when you need a lift for an early workout. A fairly large dose of caffeine is necessary—225 mg of caffeine for someone weighing 75 kg based on the 3 mg/kg amount tested here, which equals about 2.5 espressos.
To support the clearance of cortisol post-workout for a more potent anabolic response, consider taking 2 grams of vitamin C after training. Vitamin C has been proven to speed the clearance of cortisol in a number of studies. Another trick is to add the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine (they will support the adrenals to prevent a “crashing feeling”) to your caffeine dose.
Mora-Rodriguez, R., Pallares, J., et al. Caffeine Ingestion Reverses the Circadian Rhythm Effects on Neuromuscular Performance in Highly Resistance-Trained Men. PLOS One. 2012. 7(4), e33807.