Have you ever had a cup of coffee or another caffeine supplement before hitting the gym, or the tracks? If so, you’ve probably noticed the boosting effect caffeine has on athletic performance.
Because a cup of coffee doesn’t just boost your mood in the morning, or save you that nasty afternoon slump – the caffeine in your coffee can do so much more than that.
So today, we’re breaking down caffeine’s impact on athletic performance, and how to work it to your benefit – as well as how to avoid the pitfalls.
Ready? Pour yourself a cup and let’s dig in.
How Does Caffeine Work?
Caffeine is a substance that occurs naturally in about 60 different plants around the world. When it enters your body, it blocks your adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a hormone that promotes sleep and can make you feel drowsy, lazy, etc.
Photograph by Matoutdor.
This is why caffeine helps to boost your energy, and makes you feel alert, focused, and ready for the day. Caffeine can also increase your blood pressure and stimulate your brain, nervous system, muscles and more.
In fact, because caffeine affects your entire body, it has a lot of different uses and benefits. Some of these include an improved mood, lower risk and slower progression of diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia, as well as improved focus.
When speaking of how your body consumes caffeine, we often talk about its half-life. This refers to how long it takes for half of the caffeine you consume to disappear from your system. If you consume 100mg of caffeine, it takes on average 5 hours for it to half down to 50mg. Then, it takes 5 more hours for that to reduce down to 25mg.
Meaning, if you consume caffeine in the morning, some of it will still be in your system by nightfall.
Caffeine’s Impact on Athletic Performance
Caffeine is widely used in the athletic world to improve focus, performance, endurance and results. More than 75% of athletes use caffeine regularly as a way to enhance their efforts. And since it’s a naturally occurring substance and has many positive effects, most anti-doping agencies view it in a positive light. This means even athletes at the top level leverage caffeine when competing.
But what kind of practical benefits can you expect from caffeine? Let’s dig into the research.
Caffeine and High-Intensity Training
Studies have found that caffeine can reduce fatigue for people doing high-intensity training, such as spinning, running, or other HIT workouts. Results show that the effect is greater for well-trained individuals than it is for people who have recently started out, but caffeine can still be beneficial.
Caffeine also reduces experienced pain and makes extended exertion more manageable, which helps individuals to push harder for longer when engaging HIT exercising forms.
Caffeine and Endurance Training
Studies have similarly found that caffeine can boost your endurance. In one study, cyclists who were given 100mg and 200mg doses of caffeine completed a time trial quicker than people who weren’t given the caffeine boost – and those given the higher dose finished the fastest.
Caffeine’s ability to make fat more readily available as an energy source in your body can also help to boost endurance during long periods of exercise, since carbohydrates are consumed relatively quickly. It can also help keep carbohydrates within the bloodstream and muscles for longer, which helps you avoid fatigue.
Caffeine and Strength Exercises
In one study, participants were given caffeine before performing bench presses, and all 12 showed increased force and power output compared to doing the same exercises with placebo doses.
Caffeine also increases the calcium in the skeletal muscle, which is essential for muscle contractions and promotes muscle engagement when resistance training.
In other words, caffeine has many proven benefits for people exercising, and especially those who are well-trained. But are there any drawbacks?
What Are The Side-Effects of Caffeine?
If you’ve ever had a few too many cups of coffee in a day, you may be familiar with what happens if you consume too much caffeine in a short time. This can include jitters, accelerated heart rate, and anxiety.
How caffeine affects the body also differs from person to person, and some people are more sensitive than others. In other words, it’s important to know your own limits when it comes to caffeine, and learn what amount is your personal sweet spot for enjoying the benefits, without the side effects that follow overconsumption.
On this note, it’s also important to remember that the half-life of caffeine means that if you consume caffeine over the course of the day, it builds up in your system – what you consumed hours ago will likely still be circulating in your bloodstream.
Finally, caffeine can be an addictive substance – if consumed regularly and in high doses, you might start to experience dependency, and withdrawal symptoms often include low energy, trouble focusing, headaches, etc.
Again, caffeine can boost your performance up to a certain point, and from there, it instead decreases your efficiency. So if you want to use caffeine to improve your exercising results, start slow and take note of how your body reacts.
Recommendations: Caffeine for Athletic Performance
So, how much caffeine should you consume to boost your workout, and when? Again, each individual is different, but most studies conclude that best results are achieved when consuming between 3-6mg per kg of bodyweight, about 60 minutes before your workout starts.
3mg/kg is also regarded as safe for women on their periods, however people with health conditions or who are pregnant should consult their doctors about their specific situation before experimenting on their own.
Now, what type of caffeine should you consume? There are various supplements formulated specifically for workouts that contain caffeine, but did you know that a cup of coffee can actually give you similar effects? Even more, research suggests that in addition to giving you a caffeine boost, coffee can help you to retain fluids while exercising.
There’s also research suggesting that mushroom coffee, meaning coffee that contains extracts of functional mushrooms, can help to level out the negative side effects of caffeine because of how it stimulates the ATP and lowers cortisol levels in your body. This way, you can enjoy the boost of caffeine without the crash and jitters.
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Bottomline: Does Caffeine Improve Athletic Performance?
Caffeine has been proven time and again to be an effective supplement to boost your athletic performance. It can increase longevity, promote muscle engagement, and reduce fatigue and pain, among other things. However, overconsumption of caffeine can lead to withdrawals and instead negatively impact your energy levels.
To leverage caffeine for exercising, the average adult should consume between 3-6mg/kg of bodyweight, approximately one hour before the workout starts. However, individuals differ and some people have a lower tolerance.
Caffeine can be taken in the form of a supplement, or consumed through coffee, which can also help you retain fluids while exercising.
Curious to learn more about which coffees contain the most caffeine? Check out this article next!