Several pre-workout supplement labels I was reading recently listed caffeine anhydrous as one of their ingredients.
I drink coffee so I get the caffeine part, but I didn’t know what caffeine anhydrous was so I did the research to find out, and in this article I share what I dug up.
So what is caffeine anhydrous?
The word “anhydrous” is a common science lab term that means “without water”.
Caffeine anhydrous is dehydrated caffeine in the form of crystallized powder and is highly concentrated.
It is either made from natural sources like coffee, tea, & other plants containing caffeine, or it is synthetically manufactured from the chemicals urea & chloroacetic acid.
We’ll be looking into the scientifically proven benefits, risks, & side effects of caffeine anhydrous a little later in this article.
Next, let’s look at how natural & synthetic versions of it are made.
You’ll see how these concentrated caffeine powders are added to everything from soft drinks & fitness supplements to energy products, weight loss pills, & even breakfast bars.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
All about caffeine anhydrous
Caffeine anhydrous is used in a lot of products here in the US, products that are consumed by the millions each day.
Here’s a partial list of the categories of things that contain caffeine anhydrous:
- All the major colas & caffeinated sodas
- Certain fruity-flavored soft drinks
- Energy products: drinks, shots, gels, gum, bars
- Pre-workout supplement powders
- Other sports & gym performance supplements
- Fat-burner supplements
- Weight loss pills
- Certain alcoholic beverages
- Some granola, snack, & breakfast bars
- Chocolate where the manufacturer added more caffeine
- Foods & drinks that market alertness or a lift
- Over the counter “stay awake” pills
If the label says caffeine, it’s anhydrous
Coffee, tea, & chocolate don’t have to have their caffeine displayed on an ingredients label because these products come from nature’s own trees & plants.
Their caffeine is not added in like it is to all of those processed products I just listed above.
The caffeine in coffee, tea, & chocolate is naturally occurring.
Then there’s UN-naturally occurring
The manufacturer of whatever caffeinated processed product you’re eating or drinking doesn’t have to list it as caffeine anhydrous on the label; they can just call it caffeine.
And unless they go out of their way to tell you it came from tea or coffee or brag up how natural it is – since that’s in their own best marketing interests to do so – you can reasonably assume that the caffeine you’re downing is synthetic.
Imported synthetic caffeine is real cheap as you’ll see in a minute, and the US is importing millions of tons of it every year as I’ll discuss a little later.
It seems reasonable that it must be cheaper for the companies that use all this caffeine anhydrous in their products to buy it from factories that make synthetic caffeine from urea, instead of sourcing natural caffeine anhydrous made from coffee, tea, guarana, yerba mate, & other trees & plants.
How cheap is synthetic caffeine anhydrous?
Well, you can go online right now and buy a 100,000 milligram bag of it for about 10 bucks (1).
At 111mg of caffeine per every 12 oz. can, that $10 gets you 901 Red Bull cans’ worth of caffeine.
And remember, that’s you buying it on the open market.
Imagine how much cheaper it would cost to a gigantic global corporation that uses tons & tons of it, like Coca-Cola for example.
How is caffeine anhydrous made?
So there are two ways to make it: make it from plants & trees that contain caffeine – primarily coffee & tea, or synthesize it using chemicals in a pharmaceutical factory.
The natural method extracts the caffeine from the plant matter, which is removed along with any residual moisture – hence the description anhydrous.
What’s left is a crystallized powder that is highly concentrated: one teaspoon of caffeine anhydrous is equivalent to the caffeine in almost 30 cups of coffee.
The other method that is increasingly used for products in the US is to cook up a synthesized version of caffeine in a Chinese chemical factory.
How to make synthetic caffeine
Synthetic caffeine anhydrous is made from urea and chloroacetic acid.
You may recognize the word urea since the word urine comes from it.
Per Wiki, urea “is the main nitrogen-containing substance in the urine of mammals” (2).
Alrighty then. We’re off to a good start with that tasty morsel of knowledge, so why stop now? 😄
I want to be brief though, because I’m not scientifically inclined at all.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the synthetic caffeine process, courtesy of Murray Carpenter’s cool book, Caffeinated:
(My “>>” symbol means “processed into”)
*Urea + Chloroacetic acid >> Uracil
*Uracil >> Theophylline
*Theophylline + Methyl chloride
= Synthetic Caffeine
It behaves chemically in our bodies like natural caffeine does, so that’s why you’ll see the online medical sites all say something like “it’s the same as regular caffeine, just don’t take too much of it”.
Synthetic caffeine glows blue
If manufacturers stopped at the end of the process I outlined above, we’d all be able to tell the difference between a product that has natural caffeine anhydrous in it and one made with the synthetic version.
That’s because synthetic caffeine glows fluorescent blue, and it also makes anything it’s added to glow blue as well.
We know this because one of the scientists at pharmaceutical behemoth Pfizer submitted a patent for the process of getting rid of that alien blue glow in their synthetic caffeine, back in 1950 (3).
I looked it up and read it, and so can you: here’s the link to the US Patent Office’s search engine for really old patents:
U.S. Patent Office Search – The patent number you type in is 2584839.
So the synthetic caffeine manufacturers make the blue go away by throwing a few more chemicals at the problem:
Glowing synthetic pure powdered caffeine
= Non-glowing caffeine anhydrous
(All that stuff takes it pretty far from a simple cup of coffee, doesn’t it?)
Pure powdered caffeine use in the US
It’s difficult for a regular dude like me to get ahold of the data necessary to figure out how much caffeine anhydrous (both natural & synthetic) we’re consuming here in the US.
But it must be a lot, because back in 2011 US companies imported around 15 million pounds of it (natural & synthetic).
Then there are any domestic manufacturers to add to that total too.
Murray Carpenter, the investigative journalist I mentioned earlier, got that import data from Panjiva, a global intelligence consulting company that tracks US trade data by the shipload (5).
To put that 15 million pounds number in perspective, he calculated that every 100,000 pounds of anhydrous caffeine is enough for 1.3 billion cans of Coke.
(For reference, 1/64 of a teaspoon is how much powdered caffeine is in a can of soda. 1/16 of a teaspoon is how much there is in a Starbucks 12 oz. Tall drip Bold Pick of the Day.)
So 15 million pounds of it provides enough caffeine for 20 billion cans of soda, or just under 7 billion cans of Red Bull.
And again, that’s just what has been imported.
Half of the imported stuff is synthetic
The import data from Panjiva also showed that “nearly half of our total imports” of caffeine anhydrous in 2011 was synthetic caffeine imported from China.
And that all of that came from just 3 factories too (6).
FDA & caffeine anhydrous
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is pretty lax when it comes to regulating the manufacturing of caffeine anhydrous, or as they call it “highly concentrated caffeine”.
Their main emphasis is geared towards warning consumers about the dangers of using powdered caffeine themselves (remember from earlier I showed how easy & cheap it is to get online?).
You can read one of the FDA’s safety alerts on this topic here.
The fitness, weight loss, and “alertness aid” products like Vivarin & No-Doz list their caffeine amounts in their ingredients label.
But there are many beverage & food products with caffeine anhydrous in them here in the that US don’t provide any caffeine numbers, so who knows what they’re caffeine intake level is.
The FDA lets the synthetic caffeine industry slide on this even though medical researchers have pointed out to them the risks of too much caffeine for children & unknowing adults (7).
I don’t take caffeine anhydrous, but I sure love coffee…
The benefits of caffeine anhydrous
Moving onto sunnier pastures, let me list a few of the benefits that consuming caffeine has been scientifically demonstrated to provide us.
In small moderate doses, caffeine consumption is effective at:
- Increasing strength & muscle power (8)
- Increasing cardiovascular exercise endurance (9)
- Increasing muscle endurance (10)
- Increasing sprinting power (11)
- Improving throwing accuracy (12)
- Relieving tension headaches (13)
- Boosting alertness & concentration (14)
- Protecting cells from oxidation damage (15)
Weight Loss/Weight Management
- Reducing appetite in overweight people (16)
- Releasing adrenaline which breaks down fat (17)
- Boosting resting metabolism (18)
Pure caffeine supplements are perfectly suited for all of these applications.
In fact, most of these caffeine studies used caffeine anhydrous because scientific research requires accurate dosing.
Caffeine anhydrous side effects
For most people, caffeine’s unwanted side effects start to kick in after they exceed the medically recommended limit of 400mg (19).
Important to note though that side effects can be noticed earlier than that in sensitive individuals, and that there is a varying range of caffeine tolerance among us too.
400mg is roughly 4 small cups of coffee, but less than 2 Starbucks’ talls with their Bold Pick drip coffees, if my math is correct.
That also comes out to around 10 cans of cola.
In any event, step over that recommended caffeine intake line a little and — depending on your caffeine tolerance — you can expect any or all of the following caffeine overdose symptoms to show up.
List courtesy of Mayo Clinic (19):
- Inability to sleep
- Anxiousness & restlessness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle twitching
- Nervousness & irritability
- Having to pee all the time
- Stomach problems
Sounds like fun.
Due to too many cups of coffee I think I’ve been there a couple of times with a few of those symptoms, though I have slowed my caffeine consumption over the last decade or two.
And if you want to know what happens if you really go hog-wild with caffeine consumption, read on.
Risks of caffeine anhydrous
I’ll get right to it: excessive caffeine intake has killed people.
You can read an article on caffeine intoxication & overdosing on the emergency physician website EMRA.org here.
The article cites several research studies and medical reports of fatalities caused by excessive caffeine intake.
Caffeine overdose risk & symptoms
In that FDA safety alert about highly concentrated caffeine I provided you the link for earlier, the FDA discusses the risks of caffeine anhydrous in terms of someone buying the powder in bulk.
It’s worth a quick read if you’re planning to do that and measure out your dosing yourself.
The symptoms associated with caffeine intoxication are more severe versions of all of those symptoms I described earlier in the Side Effects section:
*Upset stomach turns to vomiting
*Anxiety turns to confusion & disorientation
*Muscle twitching turns to seizures
*Racing heartbeat turns erratic & possible heart attack
Inaccuracy risk when measuring raw powder
Caffeine anhydrous purchased in supplement form (tablets, gel caps, etc.) has already been (presumably/hopefully) measured out in precise fashion when it’s put inside a gel cap at the factory.
The label says 200mg per capsule, so that’s what you’re getting.
But with a bag of powder that is so highly concentrated that 1/16 of a teaspoon is a large & strong cup of coffee, the risk of caffeine toxicity is real.
As the FDA says, it’s very difficult for someone at home with regular kitchen measuring spoons to portion out something as small as 1/16 of a teaspoon of caffeine powder(21).
They stop short of telling us all to avoid pure powdered caffeine, but their bottom line is that too much caffeine can turn out bad, real bad.
And just one teaspoon of caffeine powder is potentially fatal – it’s equivalent to downing the caffeine found in 28 cups’ worth of coffee all at once. Our bodies aren’t built to handle that level of chemical shock.
Related caffeine anhydrous questions
Here are answers to a few of the most asked questions regarding caffeine anhydrous.
How much caffeine anhydrous is too much?
Anything over 400mg per day is going beyond all recommended safety guidelines, according to a review conducted of over 5,000 caffeine research studies (22).
The esteemed Mayo Clinic agrees as well, noting that if you go north of that number, you’re likely to develop some of the unpleasant side effects I mentioned earlier (23).
However, I do know for a fact that in some athletic performance situations, up to 600 mg has been taken.
Keep in mind that it is very likely that those athletes’ bodies have developed a tolerance for caffeine.
So 600mg of caffeine won’t affect them negatively as much it would someone else with lower tolerance.
I’d prefer to end on a cheery note, but have to remind you if you’re thinking of taking a lot of caffeine anhydrous, keep in mind people have died unpleasantly from OD’ing on it.
How much caffeine anhydrous is in Bang™?
Here in 2020, it has 300mg of caffeine anhydrous in it.
When Bang™ was first introduced in 2012 as a sugar-free energy drink alternative to Monster, Rockstar, & Red Bull, it contained 357mg** of caffeine anhydrous (24).
** 357mg – seems pretty specific, doesn’t it? I think they were trying to be cute by tying the word Bang with the famous .357 Magnum revolver. (25)
How much caffeine anhydrous is in a cup of coffee?
The caffeine from coffee comes directly from the coffee beans themselves; there is no anhydrous caffeine powder added.
I hope this article on caffeine anhydrous is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.