How to get as much energy out of caffeine as possible

Takeaway: Caffeine can make you a lot more productive, but only if you drink it right. To get as much energy out of caffeine as possible, don’t drink too much, drink lots of water, drink caffeine over a longer period of time (and wait a bit before your second cup), stay away from sugary energy drinks, don’t drink caffeine on an empty stomach (or first thing in the morning), and eat very well if you consume caffeine.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes, 36s.

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Last week I watched 70 hours of TED talks as a productivity experiment, and over the course of the experiment I deeply explored how caffeine helped, and hindered my ability to learn.

To measure how caffeine impacted my learning, I mainly observed how caffeine affected my energy and focus (it would have been difficult to measure information retention), and discovered a lot about how caffeine can affect your productivity. Here’s what I learned!

What I discovered experimenting with coffee and tea

Last week I mainly experimented with coffee, green tea, and black tea. I usually drink a cup or two of green tea every day, and one or two coffees every week.

A cup of green tea contains 25mg of caffeine, a cup of black tea contains 42mg, and a cup of brewed coffee contains 108mg, so coffee definitely packs the biggest punch out of the three beverages.1 If you’re looking for an energy boost, coffee has the biggest effects, and it’s no doubt the strongest. (Unless you count energy drinks, which I purposely didn’t include. Most of the popular ones are overloaded with sugar and are terrible for you, though there are some great ones out there.)

To observe how adding caffeine to my diet affected my focus and energy levels, I started by not drinking any caffeine at all for the first two days so I could have a baseline to compare other days to.

I think everyone has a different productivity baseline (how productive they are without any outside stimulants). There isn’t much science behind the productivity “baseline” below – it’s just an arbitrary, flat curve that I’ll show the affects of caffeine against.

graph-1.001

After you drink a caffeinated beverage, caffeine gets to work quickly. Caffeine quickly stimulates your central nervous system, reduces your physical fatigue, and restores alertness when you feel drowsy.2 It generally helps you focus better, and also helps your body with physical coordination. This results in a productivity boost. Take green tea, for example:

graph-1.002

Of course, what goes up must come down. When caffeine clears its way out of your system, it can produce a caffeine ‘crash’. The crash you experience from green tea (if you experience one at all) is much much much much smaller than coffee, but it’s still there, for me at least. In the case of green tea, the productivity you lose because of the crash (the light red area) is much smaller than the productivity you gain from the extra energy and focus that tea provides (the green area), which means you’ll get a net productivity gain from drinking green tea. For me, black tea was similarly rewarding.

Coffee was very different. Coffee is definitely more stimulating (and fun) to drink, and it produces a huge productivity spike if you don’t over-caffeinate and get a case of the ‘coffee jitters’. But again, what goes up must come down, and I think on the whole, at least to me, the cost of drinking a cup of coffee was greater than its benefits:

graph-1.003

The amount of caffeine in a coffee is much greater than I’m accustomed to (4x as much, roughly, because I mostly drink green tea), and since my body isn’t accustomed to drinking so much caffeine, this no doubt contributed to my loss of productivity. I think almost anyone would have a comparable experience if they were to drink more caffeine than they are used to.

In a nut, here are the two points I want to get across with these graphs:

  • If you don’t over-caffeinate, caffeine will provide you with a solid energy boost, and it will also boost your focus.
  • That extra energy has a cost, which may make you less productive (depending on how much caffeine you drink).

Caffeine can have incredible short-term costs on your productivity if you drink too much of it, or if you’re not mindful of how coming down from a caffeine high negatively affects your energy levels, motivation, and focus. But luckily, last week I discovered a bunch of ways to lower those costs.

Want to help me do more cool experiments and write more articles like this one? Here are 8 awesome reasons you should pitch in to A Year of Productivity!

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6 ways to get more out of caffeine

Caffeine can have a huge impact on your productivity. While the list below may not be bulletproof (I’m sure there are tactics I’m missing), the six items below helped me maximize the positive effects caffeine can have, while minimizing the crash I experienced after.

  1. Drink coffee/tea over an longer period of time, to slowly release the caffeine into your body instead of bombarding your body with too much caffeine at once. If you slowly consume caffeine, your body will also slowly clear it out of your system, and you won’t crash as hard.
  2. If you drink a coffee in the morning, drink water alongside it. Staying hydrated allows you to stay focused, and in the morning when you’re dehydrated (after going without water for 8 straight hours), nothing will quench your thirst as well as water. I also found that drinking water alongside caffeine during the experiment helped me focus better, though it should be noted that numerous studies have shown that coffee doesn’t actually dehydrate you.3
  3. Stay away from sugary energy drinks. Sugary energy drinks are stimulating, which makes them fun to drink, but they’re also chockfull of sugar, which will spike your insulin levels, making you crash harder after. I know there are some great energy drinks out there, but most of the ones on store shelves are garbage.
  4. Eat very well if you consume caffeine. When I ate slow-burning foods that metabolized slower (like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits), I found that I had more energy for longer, and that I didn’t crash as hard.
  5. Don’t drink caffeine on an empty stomach. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach “stimulate[s] hydrochloric acid production”, which isn’t good, because hydrochloric acid “should only be produced to digest meals”. This makes it more difficult for your body to digest large meals later on, leading to weight gain. It also messes with your energy levels.4
  6. Wait before consuming a second coffee/tea. Often when I drink tea or coffee, after I finish my first cup I immediately crave another, even though I’m likely only craving the stimulation the coffee/tea provides. Waiting before drinking another cup allowed me to spread my caffeine intake over a longer period of time, and made me a lot more productive.

Most people focus only on the positives of drinking caffeine; that it allows you to focus better, gives you more energy, and makes you feel great. But caffeine can also have big, short-term costs to your productivity in the form of over-stimulation, and in the case of a caffeine crash, in the form of a lack of energy, motivation, and focus.

Knowing the productivity costs of drinking caffeine, and taking steps to get more out of caffeine and reduce those costs can provide you with infinitely more focus, energy, and motivation to get through the day.


  1. Source: http://www.energyfiend.com/the-caffeine-database 

  2. Source (PDF): http://intraspec.ca/1981-v10n03-p202.pdf 

  3. Source: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5552790&page=1 

  4. Source: http://www.healthambition.com/negative-effects-of-coffee/ 

  • http://performdestiny.com/ Kevin Cole

    Ironically I’m reading this while I’m drinking my coffee….first thing in the morning lol.

    But I’m glad I got to read this. I’ve definitely found that coffee ends up dehydrating you more when you first wake up. I’ve also found that although it wakes you up, you have to be prepared to have a pretty dreary afternoon (due to the crash).

    Have you heard of bulletproof coffee? It’s supposed to be a much healthier blend than regular coffee and from what I’ve heard, you don’t crash. That would be worth an experiment.

    BTW – I’m loving your graphs here. What are you using to do those?

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ Chris Bailey

      I’ll have to experiment with it! I’ve heard it mentioned a few times – I’m curious how the effects of it compare to coffee and cream, which essentially has the same ingredients as butter. From what I’ve read, caffeine still has to leave your body after you consume it, which is what causes the crash. Really only one way to find out, though. Have you tried it?

      I made up the graphs with a painting app on my iPhone named SketchBook MobileX. Terrible name, but a great app for this purpose! Haha.

      • http://performdestiny.com/ Kevin Cole

        Haven’t tried it yet, but have heard some really positive stuff from dudes I trust within the fitness and nutrition industry.

        Thanks for the info man!

  • Mike Hatch

    Thanks for the article, Chris Bailey. I just found you on a link from TED. I drink green tea after my first meal of the day. I do notice that slump you speak of. I believe it happens a couple of hours later I think. Not sure. One thing you didn’t mention is what your recommended intervals are for green tea. I’d be curious to hear how you do it. I don’t usually drink green tea for the rest of the day but perhaps I should. I do eat a bar of dark chocolate for my second meal and that does give me a boost. But maybe I should have another green tea in between those two meals.

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ Chris Bailey

      Thanks Mike! The way I cycle green tea is to drink them away from meals. I try not to eat a ton of carbs because of a separate body composition experiment I’m tackling, so my blood sugars and energy fluctuate a bit too much if I consume tea at meals.

      When I drink tea away from meals, it perks me up nicely when my energy levels would have originally dipped along with a blood sugar drop. What I found has worked best is consuming a small snack alongside tea to minimize a crash. I usually have a cup an hour or two after breakfast, as well as lunch!

      Hope that helps – thanks for reading!

  • Anonymous

    Great article! Nice to see you test it so thoroughly with listed sources. Good job!

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ Chris Bailey

      Thanks anon!

  • Greg Chudecke

    Hi Chris,

    Have you tried Bullet Proof Coffee aka putting butter & coconut oil in your coffee? I don’t know if you have checked out the bulletproof executive site but he is a self proclaimed bio hacker and has lots of productivity boosting tips on their as well. Pretty interesting stuff. And thanks as always for the great articles.
    Cheers,

    Greg

    • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ Chris Bailey

      Thanks man! You’re actually the second person today to link me to the coffee, so I’ll most definitely give it a shot in March (I’m drinking only water for an experiment this month). I’ve read mixed things re: its efficacy, have you experienced any results with it yourself?

      • Greg Chudecke

        Yeah I’ve lost some weight and it seems to help with concentration. Also I like the taste. Make sure to get grass fed butter and the higher proof coconut oil seemed to work better for me. (Be careful of too much coconut oil at first as you’ll get the runs) I’m also curios have you tried anything with gluten to see if giving up gluten helped your productivity? I’m working on my sleep now but That is something I want to try next.
        -Greg

        • http://ayearofproductivity.com/ Chris Bailey

          Awesome!

          I haven’t; I’m doing an experiment to lower my body fat percentage from 17 to 10%, so I don’t eat much gluten to begin with, since I’m eating mostly vegetables and lean proteins. On days when I do eat wheat, I definitely feel my energy levels drag for the rest of the day, though I haven’t done any experiments on the idea :)

  • Erin

    Hey Chris, new to your site, really loving it so far I was led here through the Dr Pychyl website. Anyhow, great tips about caffeine – I also think that caffeine can really muck with your mood. If I get the jitters I usually feel anxious too – leading to the lack of focus you talk about. Have been drinking water this week before my morning coffee and its working really well. Great tip!! I also didn’t realise that my upset stomach after coffee on an empty stomach was to do with acid production.
    Have a good day,
    Erin

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