Take your video gaming to the next level and beat your competition with one simple trick. Check out if caffeine can really give you a competitive advantage.
Video games are a popular entertainment activity, so much so that in 2018 Americans spent more than 48 billion dollars on video games. While not everyone gets joy from playing video games, statistics show that about 65% of American adults play video games regularly.
The casual gamer aside, some are looking to stay sharper longer and get the most out of their video gaming experience. Many are turning to coffee or energy drinks to give them the focus they need, but how much is too much?
Can coffee and other caffeine-containing drinks and supplements help you with your gaming performance and stamina? How much caffeine is needed? When does it cross the line from helping to hurting?
Let's take a deeper dive into the answers to these questions.
First, it is crucial to understand what effect caffeine has on the brain.
Caffeine's Effects on the Brain
Coffee has been a popular mental stimulant for hundreds of years, and energy drinks have become popular in the past few decades.
What is it about these drinks that have people chugging them in the morning to wake up and through the day for a boost? It's the Caffeine!
What is it about caffeine that makes people feel alert and awake? Let's talk about adenosine.
Have you have ever wondered why you feel completely exhausted and sometimes drowsy after strenuous mental activity or a long day of work? It's due to a molecule in the brain called adenosine, which builds up over time as you perform taxing mental activities – like reading, solving problems, or playing video games. When it reaches a certain point, this signals to the brain, it's time to go to sleep.
Adenosine is a breakdown product of the energy the brain uses to function (called adenosine-triphosphate also called ATP). It's an ingenious way for the brain to shut itself down when its done a specific amount of work.
In other words, once the brain has burned through a certain amount of energy molecules, the brain knows it is time to rest and repair.
Caffeine has been shown to block adenosine by attaching to its receptor instead. This effect of caffeine is one of the reasons why if you drink coffee or another caffeinated beverage close to when you go to bed, you may have difficulty falling and staying asleep.
Caffeine has also been shown to block the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain responsible, at least in part, for the relaxing effects of alcohol.
The blocking of adenosine and GABA, chemicals that decrease the activity of neurons will ultimately cause your brain to feel alert and increase brain activity. These are two important traits for gamers who need to pay close attention for long periods of time to constantly changing scenes.
Benefits of caffeine for video gaming
Playing video games for a prolonged amount of time can be fatiguing because of the mental effort required to track and react to the element of the game. This is where caffeine may help you stay alert, vigilant, and winning.
Caffeine is a substance that has been studied in many conditions, and a few findings have been consistently found across various studies that support the use of caffeine in video gamers.
Caffeine's effects on cognition and performance:
- Increased alertness/wakefulness
- Decreases perception of pain
- Improved motor activity
- Improved reflex response
- Improved reaction time
- Improved subjective well-being
- Decreases fatigue
It’s no wonder why caffeine is so popular among gamers. It truly does benefit a gamer's stamina, alertness, and reaction time. However, the second aspect to consider– how much caffeine does a person need to feel the maximum benefit?
The beneficial effects of caffeine can be obtained in as little as one cup of coffee. Studies indicate that consumption of 400 mg of caffeine per day is generally considered safe.
Low to moderate doses (40-300 mg) does improve cognition, but if you want the improved reflexes and reaction time that gamers will find the most appealing, studies show that about 200 mg of caffeine is needed. You can get around 200 mg of caffeine from about two cups (16 ounces) of caffeine.
A regular cup (8 ounces) of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine, while one can of Redbull (12 ounces) contains 111 mg of caffeine. Since there is more caffeine per fluid ounce in coffee compared to energy drinks, it is interesting that many people drink energy drinks instead of coffee. Why is that? The answer is in the sugar content.
Caffeine-containing Energy Drinks
Most energy drinks have high amounts of sugar which, when combined with caffeine, makes a person alert. For the short term effects of sugar, think about giving a young child sugar before bed.
The child will likely be hyped up and unable to sleep when put to bed because of their excess energy. The addition of sugar also makes the caffeinated beverage sweet, a taste that more people prefer over the bitter flavor of the coffee.
As you can see, although coffee does contain more caffeine per fluid ounce, the combination with sugar gives some people an extra energy boost.
One important thing to consider is that people who drink caffeine frequently won't get the same effect at a low dose as those that are new to drinking coffee – this is referred to as habituation.
Getting a dose of caffeine that gives you that vigilant alert feeling can also change as your body adapts to the particular dose of caffeine ingested. This process, known as habituation is when the body needs more of a substance to achieve an effect that was previously felt with a lower dose.
Habituation occurs because of our body attempting to bring back a ‘normal' body state. Everyone is born with a particular composition of chemicals in the body and the brain, and the body is programmed to maintain those particular levels.
For example, when taking a substance that decreases the amount of adenosine, the body may then increase its amount of total adenosine output, or it may increase the rate at which caffeine is eliminated to return itself to balance.
When this happens, you will need to increase the dosage of caffeine that will either outcompete the new higher level of adenosine, temporarily slow down the amount of caffeine that can be eliminated at one time, or a combination of the two.
In summary, if a person is drinking caffeine-containing beverages daily, he or she may need more and more to get the same effect.
Now that we’ve looked at how much caffeine is needed to achieve specific improvements in gaming and discussed the risk of habituation – is it possible to go overboard? Can too much caffeine be harmful?
Can you overdose on caffeine?
Overdosing on caffeine is a fairly common occurrence. Many people can remember a time that they had one too many cups of coffee which made them feel “wired,” jittery, and unfocused.
Severe signs of caffeine overdose appear at around 1000 mg of caffeine, and death is possible with ingestion of over 10 grams of caffeine.
Common signs and symptoms of caffeine overdose include:
- Jitters, Restlessness, and Nervousness
- Increased heartbeat
- Heart palpitations (cardiac arrhythmia)
- Cardiac arrest
If you feel that you have overdosed on caffeine, you should call the poison control center or contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Coffee or other caffeine-containing beverages containing 200 mg of caffeine can help those that are playing video games for a prolonged period stay alert and react more quickly. The ability to remain alert and respond more quickly will give you a competitive advantage over your competition after hours of play.
Individuals that drink coffee or other caffeine-containing substances often vacillating between under-stimulation and that jittery on-edge feeling. It can be a challenge to find that perfect balance between enough, and too much caffeine.
Those that drink caffeine regularly will likely need to ingest more caffeine to achieve the same effect as someone new to consuming caffeine due to the process of habituation.
Serious side effects can occur with the consumption of 1000 mg of caffeine per day. Overdosing on caffeine occurs relatively frequently, and those that feel they have overdosed should contact poison control or their healthcare provider immediately.
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- Pharmacology of Caffeine
- Caffeine overdose signs and symptoms
- Caffeine: Cognitive and Physical Performance Enhancer or Psychoactive Drug?