Episode 101: Using Caffeine To Optimize Mental & Physical Performance | Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • Caffeine is not just a stimulant, it’s a strong reinforcer that subconsciously drives behavior – caffeine (tasteless) added to anything will give you a preference for that thing, this applies to behavior, food, company
  • Caffeine increases dopamine and acetylcholine in the forebrain which improves the ability to think, adjust to mental and physical demands
  • Caffeine increases the number of dopamine receptors in the reward pathway of the brain
  • Caffeine acts as an antagonist to adenosine which offsets sleepiness in the first half of the day
  • Delay caffeine intake 90-120 minutes after waking (unless doing intense exercise) to fight off afternoon sleepiness
    • Tip #1: If this sounds impossible at first, delay in 15-minute increments until you hit 90 minutes+
    • Tip #2: If you can’t wait, drink half of the caffeine when you wake up and the other half a couple of hours later
  • Does caffeine make you jittery? Consume at least an equal volume of water or electrolyte drink with caffeine to offset
  • To extract more benefits from caffeine (assuming you already delay intake): (1) Consume on an empty stomach if you can tolerate it; (2) Abstain from caffeine for 2-5 days then resume; (3) Half your amount of caffeine intake for a period of time then resume


Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, Andrew Huberman explains how to optimize caffeine intake for maximal mental and physical health and performance. He explains optimal dosage, timing, mechanism, effects on health and longevity, and more!  

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

GLP-1: Hot Off The Press

  • Yerba mate tea (avoid smoked variety) stimulates the release of GLP-1 which reduces hunger, increases satiety in the gut and brain
  • GLP-1 stimulates thermogenesis (use of more metabolic energy) and converts white fat cells (stored energy) into beige or brown fat cells (increases basal metabolic rate)
  • GLP-1 can be stimulated with exercise such as fast cardio
  • Prescription GLP-1 analogs are available through physician

Caffeine Is A Strong Reinforcer

  • The effects of caffeine are largely subconscious
  • The nervous system recalls previous experiences of good or not-good feelings and adjusts behavior accordingly – you are drawn to a certain mug, certain location, and certain caffeine ritual
  • Caffeine makes us feel better in the immediate minutes before and after ingestion
  • Caffeine stimulates dopamine, acetylcholine, and adenosine
    • Caffeine stimulates dopamine release in the region of the brain associated with clarity of thought
    • Caffeine also increases dopamine receptors in the reward pathway
    • Caffeine is a strong adenosine antagonist, reducing feelings of lethargy and sleepiness


  • Caffeine is a plant alkaloid (bitter)
  • Adenosine makes us feel tired – caffeine blocks adenosine and biases our system toward a more energetic pathway
  • Adenosine levels are as low as they will be in the morning – avoid caffeine first 90-120 minutes after waking
  • Caffeine does not increase energy – it’s borrowing energy, altering the time at which adenosine is released
  • Adenosine is an inherent part of biology, it’s not going anywhere and will release every 24 hours
  • How to clear adenosine: (1) sleep; (2) non-sleep deep rest; (3) view morning sunlight (spikes cortisol which clears residual adenosine); (4) some exercise can reduce adenosine

Optimizing Caffeine Intake

  • Bodyweight is a good measure of proper caffeine dose for your body: 1-3mg/kg body weight per setting
    • This dose will likely provide you with all the benefits without the jitters
  • Caffeine tolerance depends on one’s preexisting disposition (are you anxious, calm, stressed, etc.), caffeine tolerance
  • Some people will feel anxious with caffeine use, some will feel nothing – start low and increase if you’re just starting
  • Timing of intake: delay caffeine intake 90-120 minutes after waking most days – this will help you avoid afternoon crash and the need for that second cup of coffee in the afternoon which can disrupt the depth and quality of sleep
    • Adenosine builds up the longer we are awake, it’s lowest in the morning
    • Sets into motion cascade which will set you up for better sleep that night and more alertness the next day
  • If you wake up and do intense exercise within the first 90 minutes of waking, drink the caffeine before but the combination of caffeine and exercise may increase afternoon fatigue
  • If you really can’t delay caffeine, you can extend the arc of caffeine if you drink half when you wake up and half later
  • Caffeine has a more potent stimulant effect on an empty stomach (this may induce jitteriness which can be offset with 200-400mg of thionine)
    • Thionine has positive effects on sleep depth and duration, has antidepressant and antianxiety effects, and has endothelial benefits
    • You don’t have to take thionine every time you drink coffee throughout the day, just the first
  • Tip: if you regularly ingest caffeine, performance-enhancing effects will increase if you abstain for a few days and then start again

Caffeine Myths & When To Avoid

  • Caffeine does not create or exacerbate osteoporosis
  • Caffeine does not appear to have a direct or indirect impact on estrogen or testosterone (i.e., caffeine does not appear to increase or decrease estrogen or testosterone)
    • But excessive caffeine intake does increase sex hormone binding globulin, though not to concerning levels
  • Avoid caffeine intake 12 hours prior to sleep – the quarter-life of caffeine is 12 hours
  • If you are not used to caffeine, avoid intake on days of tough physical or mental demands as the negative side effects may outweigh the benefits if you are not accustomed  
  • Don’t try the “napaccino” – ingesting caffeine in the late afternoon then taking a short nap, with the assumption that the caffeine will kick in when you wake up and you’ll feel stimulated

Benefits Of Caffeine Intake

  • Caffeine has neuroprotective effects, provided intake is not excessive
  • The properties of caffeine may be protective against depression but unknown whether the correlation is direct or indirect
  • Caffeine consumption while fasting increases focus and alertness within 5 minutes that peaks at 30 minutes and lasts up to 60 minutes
  • Shortens reaction time if consumed about 30 minutes prior to the task
  • Lowers activation threshold of learning and memory (you can recall things easier)
  • Caffeine can increase physical performance enhancement, improve peak performance, increase aerobic endurance
  • Brief or extended breaks from caffeine can enhance the effects once you resume
  • Caffeine increases aerobic power throughout the entire menstrual cycle

Caffeine For Enhancing Mental Performance

  • Spiking adrenaline after learning can enhance memory and recall
  • Tip: abstain from caffeine when trying to learn something, then drink caffeine immediately after for improved memory
  • Ingesting caffeine prior to exercise further increases dopamine release – this has a few benefits, most importantly creating a positive feeling about the exercise and maybe changing your association with exercise if you don’t otherwise like it
    • This does not hold if you drink caffeine every time you exercise
  • Ingesting caffeine every other day can help you maximize the positive effects of caffeine without extended abstinence
  • Pro-health effects of caffeine (assuming you are getting good sleep): (1) neuroprotective effects – may offset some neurodegenerative diseases; (2) can diminish headache, particularly in combination with aspirin; (3) may provide brief but substantial relief from asthma; (4) improves focus and alertness in people with ADHD


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Notes By Maryann

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