An avid coffee drinker’s worst nightmare is being stuck somewhere without easy access to a cup of coffee. While your morning cup of coffee may be purely for enjoyment, your body has most likely taken a liking as well and when you find yourself without it your body will remind you through a caffeine headache and withdrawal.
While it is still miles behind coffee, caffeine pills have become increasingly popular for those looking for their quick fix of caffeine in the convenience of a pill. Avoiding the mess of brewing a cup of coffee while also getting the benefits seems too good to be true.
Below is a look at the differences between coffee and caffeine pills and whether or not one is better than the other. Knowing how the two stack up against each other can help you decide what the best option is for you and your circumstances.
The largest differentiator between coffee and caffeine pills is their nutrient profile. Both coffee and caffeine pills contain more than just pure caffeine and understanding what makes up the rest of each can give you insight into which is better for you.
Coffee is quite an odd beverage when you really think about it. While it can have an earthy bitter taste, it actually comes from the pit of a fruit. The pit from the coffee fruit is dried, roasted, ground, and brewed like coffee. While people are familiar with coffee, the fruit can also be dried to make a tea called cascara.
Like many fruits, coffee is full of antioxidants and many other micronutrients. This includes minerals, polyphenols, and melanoidins. These in addition to caffeine make coffee a relatively healthy way of getting a naturally occurring dose of alertness.
While black coffee is full of good antioxidants and minerals, sweetened or flavored coffees can take away from these health benefits by contributing to the consumption of empty calories. While sweeteners and creamers can add to the flavor of your coffee, they can quickly rack up your calorie count and result in a large payload of sugar being dumped into your body if not watched closely.
Caffeine pills as opposed to coffee typically do not have much more to offer your body from a nutritional standpoint. A caffeine pill will typically contain caffeine anhydrous in addition to a filler or capsule to make the pill easier to swallow. Caffeine anhydrous is simply caffeine that has been isolated and dried.
Pill fillers are typically made of starch or sugars so that they are easily dissolved during digestion and allow the active ingredient to get absorbed. The fillers or capsules typically have no nutritional value and act simply as a mechanism of delivering the active ingredient to where it needs to be dissolved and digested.
While caffeine pills only offer your body caffeine, it can be beneficial to those that are habitual sugary coffee drinkers that are looking for the pick-me-up without the additional calories.
Another way in which the two differ is the level of refinement and the way that they are produced. While knowing how the two are produced may seem unnecessary, the production methods have impacts on the caffeine content and other important factors.
Coffee production begins its journey from within the fruit of the coffee plant. The coffee cherries are picked at peak ripeness and the fruit is separated from the seed leaving the coffee bean. The beans are left to dry and the outer layer of the pean is typically stripped. This initial processing is what yields green coffee.
The next step of making a cup of coffee can occur within a specialty coffee shop or facility where the green coffee beans are roasted until they are roasted to a desirable level. Roasters can select whether they want to make a dark roast by roasting them longer or a lighter roast by roasting for less time.
After roasting, it produces the conventional coffee beans that you can buy. From there you grind it to your desired fineness and can select whether you want to make espresso, pour-over, or french press cup of coffee.
Caffeine pills unlike coffee undergo a much more involved process of refinement and processing. Where coffee is trying to make a product that tastes good, caffeine pills only worry about the amount of caffeine they can extract.
Caffeine for caffeine pills can be derived from any of the natural sources of caffeine including the coffee plant, tea, and cocoa. The process of caffeine extraction can differ but essentially the plant matter is ground finely and a solvent is utilized to dissolve the caffeine. The plant matter is strained and you are left with a liquid with many organic and inorganic compounds dissolved in solution. In a series of selective extraction, caffeine can be isolated in a liquid form.
The final step is allowing the solvent to evaporate which leaves behind pure caffeine. With pure caffeine anhydrous, the substance is added to a capsule or pill mold and is ready for consumption.
While both coffee and caffeine pills contain caffeine, it is important to note that caffeine pills provide you with a very concentrated form of caffeine. The convenience of caffeine pills attracts many people but the ease of getting caffeine in your system makes it necessary to keep a close eye on your overall caffeine consumption.
Caffeine pills usually come in a 150mg dose while a standard shot of espresso only has 64mg of caffeine. The FDA recommends not exceeding 400mg of caffeine a day. A single pill accounting for around a third of your daily allowance means less caffeinated beverages and that you need to closely watch any other caffeine intake. This is in contrast to coffee where you could have nearly six shots of espresso without needing to worry.
Additionally, coffee contains water which is important when consuming caffeine because it is a natural diuretic. Caffeine pills are highly concentrated and to ensure you do not get dehydrated you will need to consume more additional liquids to avoid dehydration since it is powdered.
Alternatives to caffeine
Caffeine is a great tool to utilize for short-term needs to boost your alertness, but in the long term, you could develop reliance and resistance to caffeine’s effects. This requires you to drink more to get the same intended effects.
Reserving caffeine for when you need it can make it a much more helpful tool for when you need to stay up late or need the extra performance boost. While it can be difficult to curb caffeine reliance, there are ways that you can help support your natural energy to allow you to power through the day and feel energized.
Exercise is not only a means of growing your muscles and endurance, but it is an easy and great way to improve your energy levels throughout the day. While it may seem counterintuitive that exerting yourself physically can give you more energy, it has been shown to allow people to have elevated energy levels throughout their day. Whether it is getting a morning run in, or taking your lunch to do an exercise class, exercise is a great way to improve your natural energy level.
An unfortunate aspect of aging is that it eventually leads to physiological decline. One way in which the human body may decline is in your mitochondria’s ability to be as efficient with cellular respiration. The mitochondria is a structure found within mostly every cell of your body and is responsible for converting sugars into a usable form of energy within the cell known as ATP.
MitoQ can help to restore natural mitochondrial efficiency by restoring the level of antioxidants found within its membrane and supporting it. With a strong cellular basis for the conversion of energy, you can ensure your body is supported to take on the day with a better and more sustainable level of energy.
In summary, coffee and caffeine pills are both a means to the same end but go about it in two very different ways. Coffee is a beverage with a cult following where people want coffee that tastes good and gives them a short-term boost in energy. Caffeine pills on the other hand are more of a brute force method of getting caffeine into your body as quickly as possible.
While caffeine is an option for artificially boosting your energy levels in the short term, it is important to note that there are other ways you can support your body’s natural energy levels. Through exercise and MitoQ, you can bolster natural energy can allow you to enjoy more out of life without relying heavily on a mild stimulant like caffeine.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.