Ephedra and Caffeine: No good for strength?

The Effect of Ephedra and Caffeine on Maximal Strength and Power in Resistance-Trained Athletes
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:Volume 22(2)March 2008pp 464-470

Caffeine and ephedrine-related alkaloids recently have been removed from International Olympic Committee banned substances lists, whereas ephedrine itself is now permissible at urinary concentrations less than 10 μg·mL-1. The changes to the list may contribute to an increased use of caffeine and ephedra as ergogenic aids by athletes. Consequently, we sought to investigate the effects of ingesting caffeine (C) or a combination of ephedra and caffeine (C + E) on muscular strength and anaerobic power using a double-blind, crossover design. Forty-five minutes after ingesting a glucose placebo (P: 300 mg), C (300 mg) or C + E (300 mg + 60 mg), 9 resistance-trained male participants were tested for maximal strength by bench press [BP; 1 repetition maximum (1RM)] and latissimus dorsi pull down (LP; 1RM). Subjects also performed repeated repetitions at 80% of 1RM on both BP and LP until exhaustion. After this test, subjects underwent a 30-second Wingate test to determine peak anaerobic cycling power, mean power, and fatigue index. Although subjects reported increased alertness and enhanced mood after supplementation with caffeine and ephedra, there were no significant differences between any of the treatments in muscle strength, muscle endurance, or peak anaerobic power. Our results do not support the contention that supplementation with ephedra or caffeine will enhance either muscle strength or anaerobic exercise performance.

This was an interesting piece of information.

I’m not sure how many of you have ever played around with pre-workout stimulants, but if you’ve ever been a fan of ephedra/ephedrine products, you’ll know how they have a very strong effect on alertness and energy….which is a good thing if you’re in need of some extra training intensity.

Also, ephedra alkaloids (ie, the herbal form of the Ma Huang plant from which we get ephedra, not to be confused with ephedrine HCL which is a purified form) have recently been removed from the IOC banned list, which is an interesting move in itself.

Well, this seems to indicate that, while ephedra (E) and caffeine (C) taken in concert will do nice things for overall alertness and mental awareness, they don’t do anything for strength and anaerobic power.

Interesting, but not necessarily damning. For one, the boost of mental alertness in itself is reason enough to consider something of this nature. I can only speak for myself on this matter, but sometimes the motivation alone is the make or break in the workout – not to mention whether or not I even make it to the gym.

For those of you concerned about ephedra/ephedrine’s negative effects, all I can say is don’t be silly. E-based products of any type have been implicated in far less than 200 incidents of death, and all of those incidents have occurred in individuals that either 1) had a pre-existing cardiovascular issue and/or 2) ignored the warning labels and popped them like candy. The normal dose of 25mg will give you a buzz; 50-75mg without a tolerance is pushing it. But we’ve all heard the stories of people taking upwards of 100-200mg/day, and that’s just asking for it any way you look at it. Compare the number of deaths that occur each year from aspirin and you’ll see why, statistically, this is just not a worry if you aren’t a total moron.

There’s some drawbacks, though. This study used three groups (placebo, caffeine only, and ephedra + caffeine), but had only nine subjects. Yes, nine. Not nearly enough to matter statistically in total, let alone have any significance per group. So that means that this is more or less worthless in any realistic sense; but as a researcher in this area, you have to work with what you can get, I suppose.

Still interesting overall, though, and it does at least correlate to what I’ve personally seen to happen in the gym. Stimulants will get me very wired up and “in the zone” as it were, but I don’t think they’ve ever actually made me stronger. If anything, they just have the effect of getting rid of the “squat jitters”, those butterflies you get when you’re about to hit a really heavy weight.

Hey, again – getting over that and being able to push it is the big reason I’ve used stimulants. I’m not particularly interested in any real strength gains, just the ability to push it out.