Coffee vs. Caffeine: which is the best?

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Coffee is one of the most popular drinks on planet Earth. Some drink it for its the taste, and not for its effect, others can't even imagine their day – or their workouts – without it. But for those who take training seriously, coffee is not the best way to improve performance and mental focus. But caffeine is.

Did you know that the caffeine found in coffee is different than the caffeine found in supplements (pre-workout formulas, thermogenic fat burners, etc.)? Well, now you know, and on the top of all – both have a different effect on your sports performance.

Ok, so now that everybody and everything got completely confused, let's clear things up.

In reality, pure caffeine is a crystalline compound which is called caffeine anhydrous or in other words, 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. It is found in several plants – in coffee beans for example, from which coffee is made.

Caffeine you find in supplements (pills or pre-workout powders) is caffeine anhydrous without exception. But why is it different than the caffeine found in coffee?

The difference is measurable

The word "anhydrous" means it doesn't contain water. So caffeine and caffeine anhydrous is basically the same thing if we take water out of the equation, and yet, there is a huge difference between one and the other.

Because it does not contain water, caffeine anhydrous is absorbed by the body easier (and not faster, this is a huge difference!) than regular caffeine. According to a study*, caffeine anhydrous has a greater ergogenic effect than caffeine. This is not everything: it has more advantages, and in this article, we will list all of them.

1. It's cheaper

How much does a cappuccino or a long coffee cost in a coffee shop or a restaurant? At least 230 HUF, but 330 HUF is even more realistic. Let's say a cup of coffee contains about 80 milligrams of caffeine if we are talking about a strong coffee. For this amount of money (especially if you're tipping too) you can buy a hundred dose bottle of caffeine, this makes the same amount of caffeine 18 times more expensive.

2. You know the exact dosage

Have you ever been wondering about how much caffeine is there in coffee which you have ordered? Have you Googled it? There is no strict answer, every answer is different. On one site they say one cup of espresso contains 30 milligrams of caffeine, while on the other they say 180 milligrams. There is a reason for this mixup: nobody knows exactly how much caffeine a cup of coffee contains because it also depends on how much water the coffee is made with.

If you choose to take in caffeine in the form of pills, you know exactly how much caffeine you take. This is important because of the following:

Hidden caffeine

Everbody knows that coffee is highly addictive, so you have to take it with caution. However, only a handful of people are aware of the fact that there is caffeine in a whole lot of things besides coffee. For example: cocoa powder, green tea – just to mention the most popular ones, not to talk about the evident stuff, such as energy drinks. It's very easy to ingest too much caffeine, especially if you don't know how much you're taking in.

It takes time – sometimes 45 minutes – for caffeine to have an effect on you. For a normal person 200 mg of caffeine is more than enough for boosting sports performance, and in this case, the principle of "more is not better" is in charge: you won't perform better if you take in more. Take note: the effect of caffeine can be felt up to 4 hours, so if you plan to fall asleep at 10 pm, you should not take in caffeine after 6 pm.

In summary: if you like its taste, take in caffeine with coffee. You won't be able to tell how much caffeine you're taking in, but at least it will be delicious. But if you want to make your workouts better, take in caffeine from a supplement.

*Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition Volume 7, Number 1, 5, DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-5

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