Caffeine is the drug everyone relies on to increase mental focus, enhance cardiovascular performance, boost energy levels and in essence, make the world go round. Studies surrounding the health benefits of caffeine are widely debated, yet it is generally accepted that a moderate amount of caffeine promotes good health. However, have you stopped to consider where the caffeine your drinking came from? Nor had I, until I learned the difference between natural and synthetic caffeine.
Natural caffeine can be found in around 60 different plant species, such as guarana berries or yerba mate. Generally, natural caffeine isn’t labelled on nutritional panels as the exact quantity of caffeine is hard to define, rather the caffeine-based ingredient (e.g. guarana) is listed in the ingredients section. This is the tell-tale sign that the caffeine you are about to consume is natural. However, you’re probably wondering, what difference does it make if the caffeine I’m consuming is synthetic or natural? Well, whilst the base molecular structure is the same, each form boasts a range of different effects.
Natural caffeine is virtually never found on its own, rather a range of naturally occurring vitamins and methylxanthines are included. These vitamins and methylxanthines balance the lift and fall of the caffeine in your system, preventing the instant jolt and imminent crash associated with synthetic caffeine (think Red Bull). Thus, natural caffeine is delivered to your body in a steadier manner, prompting a sustainable energy boost that enables increased mental clarity for a longer period of time. Additionally, natural caffeine doesn’t instigate side effects such as nervousness, insomnia and flushed face nearly as much as synthetic caffeine.
Synthetic caffeine is the cheapest and subsequently most prominent form of caffeine in non-coffee-based caffeine sources (such as pre-workouts, energy drinks and soft drinks). It is absorbed through the digestive system much faster than naturally occurring caffeine, providing a quicker spike and a quicker crash. Generally, synthetic caffeine is exposed to harsh chemicals during production, such as methylene chloride, ethyl acetate and carbon dioxide – not substances you want to be consuming in any quantity! Additionally, it isn’t uncommon for synthetic caffeine to be produced in unregulated labs in foreign countries without any verifiable record of their handling, further enhancing the potential for unwanted chemical additions.
In terms of the health and fitness industry, synthetic caffeine is prominent in the vast majority of pre-workouts and other caffeinated substances. In this scenario, synthetic caffeine is chosen for two reasons, firstly, it’s the cheapest. Secondly, the synthetic caffeine makes individuals feel overly energized almost instantaneously, a feeling commonly associated with pre-workout craziness. Whilst, these stimulating effects will enhance performance, they are not usually backed by the necessary muscle promoting amino-acid blends, and will inevitably result in a strong sense of fatigue post-training. Hence, always read the nutritional profile of any pre-workout you’re about to buy and make sure you’re not just getting a cheap synthetic caffeine-based stimulation.
To summarise, unless you don’t mind the fatiguing synthetic crash, choose natural caffeine when possible. Not only, will it provide a longer, more sustainable energy boost, it’s also far less likely to be contaminated with any chemical by-products. It is for these reasons that all of True Protein’s caffeinated products, such as TRUE PRE, Organic Coffee and Coffee Mocha Whey Protein Isolate (NZ), only use natural caffeine. Knowing the difference between natural and synthetic caffeine is critical in enabling yourself to function fluently throughout the day. Hopefully, now you know the basics, you’ll be able to avoid the synthetic crash whilst still maximizing your results in and out of the gym!