90% of Americans consume some sort of caffeine every day, and 80% prefer coffee as their source. With so much of the population putting this stuff in their bodies, it's important to know the effects. It can really help you get through a day and knock out some goals. However, if you're not careful you might end up doing more damage than good.

Small Cup of Coffee
Credit: wikipedia

How Does Caffeine Work?

Your brain has the potential to do amazing things like solving complex problems, put together eloquent sentences, and generally keep your body moving and alive. However, throughout the day, a chemical called adenosine builds up and binds itself to the receptors in your brain. This causes you to feel tired.

Caffeine is able to bind to the same receptors in your brain and thus can block the adenosine from binding. This results in you avoiding the tired groggy feeling that the adenosine receptors would otherwise induce. This actually causes your neurons to fire faster, which your brain interprets as an environmental change where something important must be happening. This in turn causes your brain to release adrenaline and dopamine. The adrenaline makes you more physically capable and the dopamine makes you feel good.

This is why caffeine is such a useful tool for accomplishing goals both physically and mentally. It has been found to reduce muscle soreness from working out, and increase performance for both cardio and strength training.

Caffeine Moderation

Consuming the right amount of caffeine can really help you tackle a to-do list. Conversely, a caffeine addiction can kill your energy levels all day.

The average American consumes about 250 milligrams of caffeine per day, this equates to about 3 shots of espresso or 2 small cups of black coffee. That’s still on average, as a small cup of coffee at Starbucks is likely to have twice as much caffeine as the same cup at another coffee shop.

If your caffeine tolerance is low enough, you should easily be able to get by on 150 to 250 milligrams of coffee per day. Otherwise, you may need as much as 1250 milligrams to feel the same effect. If you get to that high of a tolerance, you may begin to feel unhealthy side effects like restlessness, irritability, insomnia, or an upset stomach. Consuming too much caffeine is not a healthy habit to be in, so it is strongly advised you cut back on your consumption.  

Coffee can also act as a diuretic, so it is important to make sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated. Additionally, consuming coffee on an empty stomach may sometimes cause strange reactions. On the plus side, coffee has also been shown to potentially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers and heart rhythm problems.

What If I'm Addicted?

Much the same as other substances that cause your brain to produce dopamine, caffeine can have an addictive effect. This can be amplified by the fact that as you consume more caffeine per day, your tolerance will increase. Which means you will need to consume more and more to feel the same effect.

The good new is that it only takes about a week to completely reset your caffeine tolerance. If you get to the point where you’re drinking 5 cups of coffee a day just to get by, it may be time to cut yourself off. Whether it’s going cold turkey or gradually reducing your intake over a couple weeks, you should be able to get back to a healthy tolerance level.

Another thing you can do to avoid the issue is to use it sparingly as a tool to get through a tough day. By not consuming caffeine every day you can avoid building up a tolerance and get a greater effect from a smaller dose. This might not be the best choice for you if you really enjoy the taste of coffee or tea, and want to enjoy that every day.

Black Coffee Vs. A Latte

How you consume your caffeine has a huge impact on the effects it has on your health. A mocha frappaccino is going to have far more calories than a small black cup of coffee. Your best options are going to be sticking to tea (ideally green), espresso, and black coffee.

For a detailed look at what drinks are better or worse for you, consult the chart below showing how many calories and milligrams of caffeine different beverages and food items have.

Caffeine and Calories
Credit: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/caffeine-and-calories/

Best Caffeine Practices

You should try to avoid drinking your calories at all costs. Most energy drinks are so bad for you because of the high amounts of sugar. To make matters worse, the caffeine in these products is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. So stick with coffee, espresso, and tea. By sticking to the right caffeinated beverages and only consuming them when you need a boost, you can actually do some good for yourself.

I personally have a Keurig for a quick cup of coffee when a morning is going especially rough or I didn't get as much sleep as I'd like. Try to find what works best for you, but don't go overboard. Caffeine and coffee can be very beneficial while enjoyed in moderation.

Keurig K-Cup Home Brewer
Amazon Price: $125.07 $116.62 Buy Now
(price as of May 15, 2015)
This a great way to get a cup of coffee when you're short on time on a groggy morning.