There is a famous saying, “Beer is proof that God wants us to be happy”.
My saying is, “Caffeine is proof God wanted us to actually get something done and not kill each other in the mornings”.
I think my saying is better and far more accurate. Also, I am convince that caffeine has saved more relationships than beer has saved.
Caffeine is the bee’s knees. In fact, it is one of the most effective, legal ergogenic aids and is the key ingredient in almost every single effective pre-workout supplement on the market.
There is a fundamental problem with caffeine though: you habituate (aka you build up a tolerance).
Do you remember that glorious first day you took a preworkout?
You slammed that sweet, delicious nectar of the gods, walked into the gym and simultaneously felt like you could rip the squat rack out of the ground and you might die from an anxiety attack.
Now when you take the same supplement you maybe feel a little blip in energy but that once Herculean feeling is gone.
The ideal supplement to aid training would be one that can be used to elicit a similar effect of caffeine without the habituation. You want the 100th dose to give you the same feeling as the first dose.
This is where theacrine is paving a new path: all the pick-up, none of the habituation
Theacrine: What is it?
Theacrine is a small molecule found in plants. It has a molecular structure very similar to caffeine and in plants, is derived from caffeine (Figure 1). Aside from plants, it is being manufactured synthetically in laboratories for research, sport performance, and behavioral modification purposes.
Since its chemical structure is highly similar to caffeine, it functions very similarly in the human body with its main mechanism of action being to alter adenosine signaling in the brain; precisely how caffeine works.
It also impacts dopamine (the feel good hormone) which is the reason it has also been shown to have small effects on improving mood.
There is one very interesting aspect to theacrine, it looks like it may be much more resistant to developing a tolerance to (aka habituation) than caffeine. Habituation to caffeine often occurs within days.
In a small, preliminary study, scientists found no habituation or development of a tolerance. While this was a small study and needs to be replicated it provides very strong hints at the potential of theacrine as a new, effective caffeine like supplement.
The one study that noted stimulation with theacrine failed to find any tolerance over the course of seven days, a time frame where caffeine would normally show tolerance1. This suggests that the body either does not or may have a reduced tolerance to theacrine, but this requires more research (including oral studies) to assess further.
Theacrine as a “pick me up”
We can’t be 100% on our game day 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We often need something to push us through long days or hard workouts. I refer to caffeine as my “go juice” as it usually gets me rolling on my work at 4AM. I also use it to power me through my midafternoon slump. Although by now my afternoon “pick me up” has turned into an entire pot of coffee.
Theacrine may fill this role and allow people to consume theacrine without needing the dose escalation I’ve hit (a whole pot of coffee means more time emptying my bladder than working…. this seems highly counter productive to getting more work done by drinking all the coffee).
In one study, theacrine showed tremendous promise as a caffeine replacement. Compared to a placebo, people consuming 200 mg of theacrine experienced lower levels of fatigue. As with all things in science, findings need to be replicated in order to be considered meaningful. Indeed, a completely separate, independent study showed very similar findings2.
Theacrine as a sports performance supplement
Theacrine has shown very similar effects on perceived fatigue in people and works very similarly to caffeine, suggesting it may also be a great supplement to improve training.
While 200 mg of theacrine appears to reduce fatigue, doses of 275 mg have been shown to increase time to exhaustion, meaning you can train longer (Abstract presented at the 2017 International Society of Sports Nutrition).
Currently, the upper end of the range of dosing has not been well established and we don’t know where consuming more equals more performance or just is a waste of supplement (Figure 2).
Pairing Theacrine with Caffeine
As theacrine and caffeine work on the same pathways it is likely the co-consumption may improve theacrine's performance.
One unpublished study (being in the research world has its perks) did demonstrate that consuming theacrine along with caffeine increases the efficacy to theacrine supplementation. The whole may indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.
Soooo will it kill me?
Going beast mode and training hard is legit, but if you die from consuming something crazy and can’t train anymore you will experience the ultimate loss of your gains. Anytime a new supplement hits the market the very first thing that needs to be done is a test of its safety.
Overall theacrine gets a two thumbs up for safety for most of us young, hungry gym goers. Scientists took 60 men in their late teens and early twenties and gave them 300mg of theacrine, 200mg of theacrine, or placebo (lame) for 2 months and looked to see if anything wonky happened with their hearts or their overall metabolism.
Basically, they found what my grandpa used to call, “what the little boy shot at”… nothing3. Resting blood pressure looked awesome, resting heart rate was rock solid, breathing was fine and nothing crazy happened with their blood lipids or their glucose. Theacrine passed the bar with flying colors. It looks pretty darn safe.
The Wrap Up
We all need a solid go to supplement to help push through a brutal Friday afternoon in the office, an early morning or late night training session, or even something to give you some steady focus and a little pep in your step during your daily routine.
Caffeine is awesome for that, except you habituate to it and you have to scale the dose to ridiculous levels after a while.
Theacrine has emerged as a potential supplement to fill a role caffeine filled for decades and most evidence suggest it is more resistant to habituation than caffeine.
- Locomotor activation by theacrine, a purine alkaloid structurally similar to caffeine: involvement of adenosine and dopamine receptors.
- The effects of Teacrine™, a nature-identical purine alkaloid on subjective measures of cognitive function, psychometric and hemodynamic indices in healthy humans: a randomized, double-blinded crossover pilot trial.
- Safety of TeaCrine®, a non-habituating, naturally-occuring purine alkaloid over weight weeks of continuous use.