Does Coffee (Caffeine) Help You Build Muscle?

July 1st, 2010 Posted in Supplements, Your Questions 4 Comments »
Your Questions
Your Questions

I get plenty of questions in various comments throughout the website, but I also get comments and questions via the Project Swole Contact Form.

Generally I address those questions through e-mail, but often I do not have the time to reply to each and every question personally.

From now on I want to take a more proactive approach to answering Your Health Questions by posting them separately in the blog. This way we can be sure that everyone benefits from the Q & A.

Joe wrote:

“I have heard that too much caffeine can be detrimental to muscle growth because of its tendency to increase cortisol which has catabolic effects. That being said, it also stimulates testosterone production, so its actual effects are a little unclear. Here’s a little medical study I found on the web to back it up:

Dose effect of caffeine on testosterone and cortisol responses to resistance exercise.

Just curious if you’ve heard anything along these lines and I’m interested to hear your take on it.”


Bikini Coffee
Bikini Coffee

Response:

As you can see from the image to the right, coffee does have its ways of increasing testosterone levels, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you are talking about. Instead, lets look at the effects of caffeine in general, on the hormones that affect muscle growth.

A study to determine the hormonal effects of caffeine on resistance training has not conclusively proven that caffeine can help you build muscle, but it has proven that caffeine does effect both testosterone and cortisol levels.

The Study

The participants consisted of 24 professional rugby players. They ingested caffeine in doses of 0, 200, 400, and 800 mg, in random order, 1 hr before a resistance-exercise session. Samples of saliva were taken before, during, and after exercise to measure levels of testosterone and cortisol.

The Results

Some facts about the effects of caffeine on testosterone and cortisol:

  • During exercise, testosterone concentration increases by about 15% without caffeine. This is good.
  • Ingesting caffeine causes an additional increase in testosterone levels of about 21% at the highest dose. This is great!
  • Cortisol increased by about 52% at the highest dose of caffeine. This is bad.
  • Therefore at the highest dose, the testosterone:cortisol ratio decreased by about 14%. This is not good but not terrible either.

In conclusion, we can say that the benefits of increased testosterone from ingesting caffeine before a resistance training session are offset by a more substantial increase in cortisol and thus a decrease in the testosterone:cortisol ratio. On the other hand, caffeine has been linked somewhat to performance enhancement such as increased energy and increased endurance.

Should You Take Caffeine Before Training?

Ultimately you will have to make your own decision based on how caffeine makes you feel during a workout – whether ingesting caffeine significantly improves your athletic performance.

If caffeine does not impact your performance at all, then we can clearly see that ingesting caffeine has a slightly negative effect on hormone levels, so you should avoid it.

If caffeine does enhance your athletic performance, then you can justify using it despite the increase in cortisol considering that the decrease in your testosterone:cortisol ratio is minimal.

To answer the original question: no, caffeine does not appear to directly help you build muscle, at least not directly through an increase in the testosterone:cortisol ratio.

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4 Responses to “Does Coffee (Caffeine) Help You Build Muscle?”

  1. D0nkey says:

    Ok. This leads me to an important question. As we all know, many prework out supplements contains lots of caffine. Due to the high increase of cortisol (52%), do you still think pre work out supplements are good?

    • Steve says:

      It all depends on the other ingredients in those supplements as well as how the caffeine and the supplement in question affects your training. Since the hormonal ratio is skewed slightly towards cortisol but is essentially neutral, I’d say if you don’t get a benefit from the supplement in terms of increased energy or performance for your workout, don’t use it. If you do get a benefit from the supplement, whether it helps you endure through your 60 minute workout, or if it helps you lift a couple extra reps, or whatever else… if you experience a benefit from the supplement due to either the caffeine or the other ingredients, then I’d say you should use it.

  2. Bobby says:

    Coffee, the new male enhancement drug / steroid. I like it! I’m afraid the baseball commissioner might have to start enforcing random coffee testing for mlb baseball players. This could lead to new levels of hilarity for baseball fans around the world. I would stay and write some more, but my coffee is getting cold.

  3. Stacey K says:

    I am on the go ALL of the time. Start work early in the morning and hang out with friends at night, I’ve gotten progressively more and more tired as the years have gone by. I don’t even go out sometimes because I’m so tired. I’ve been taking the Burn (acai supplements) from the Dr. Max Powers brand (called “Burn”) for several weeks now and I’m happy to say, I’m back in the mix :) They give you sustained energy as opposed to the jitteryness some energy supplements or even coffee can give you.

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