XPlained - Caffeine

Caffeine is an ergogenic aid that is known for its abilities in eradicating drowsiness, while boosting alertness. Typically, caffeine is consumed through coffee, with 1 cup of coffee equating to 95mg of caffeine. However, caffeine can be taken in multiple forms including energy drinks, gels, supplements, and can even be found in chocolate!

Concentrated sources of caffeine such as energy drinks, gels and supplements are most commonly used by athletes for their easy consumption and high levels of caffeine. Most energy drinks contain 170mg of caffeine, that’s nearly twice as much as a cup of coffee!

Many studies around caffeine have displayed its ability to improve athlete performance during training and in competitions, with it even being previously banned by the Olympics because of how well it worked. The International Society of Sports Nutrition found that caffeine’s benefits included muscular endurance, movement velocity, and muscular strength (7).

Caffeine is best consumed in a moderate amount of 3mg/kg body mass, 30 minutes before exercise (2) and can last up from 2 to 4.5 hours after consumption.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF CAFFEINE?

BOOSTED ENERGY -

During the 2005 Ironman Triathlon World Championships, questionnaires were given to 140 athletes during pre-race registration. These athletes consisted of 105 men and 35 women ranging from the age of 10 up to 40 years old, and came from 16 different countries (5).

  • 73% believed that caffeine is an ergogenic aid to their endurance performance
  • 84% stated that it improved their concentration
  • And 89% were planning to use a caffeine substance before or during the race

Immediately after the race, 50 of the athletes’ plasma caffeine levels were taken and it was found that they had finished with volumes of caffeine that has been shown to improve endurance performance (6).

Cycle

INCREASED ALERTNESS -

Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance that can restore performance in the sleep deprived due to its sleep disruptive effects (10). During studies, it has been shown to improve alertness during the day and prevent daytime sleepiness (12).

Caffeinated energy drinks have exhibited performance enhancing abilities through delaying fatigue and increasing alertness (11).

Alertness

CAN BE TAKEN IN MULTIPLE FORMS -

Caffeine can come from many sources which the most commonly used being coffee, energy drinks, energy gels, pharmaceutical pills, and caffeinated sports supplements (3).

In competitions, positive caffeine experiences were linked to the use of cola drinks and caffeinated gels, with cola drinks being used by 65% of the participants during the 2005 Ironman Triathlon World Championships, and 24% used caffeinated gels (6). Results from a UK study amongst athletes demonstrated how caffeine’s use is more widely used and accepted in competitive sport compared to recreational sport (3).

OTE Caffeine Energy Gel

IMPROVED PERFORMANCE -

During a 2006 study, participants took either a caffeine pill, a placebo, or no supplement an hour before an 8KM race. Those who ingested the caffeine pill, had a mean improved time of 23.8 seconds over their peers who took the placebo or no supplement at all (1).

Caffeine is commonly taken 60 minutes before exercise as this allows enough time for the supplement to be ingested and release into the bloodstream. It has been shown that caffeine will improve exercise performance in both trained and untrained athletes, when taken in moderate doses of 3-6mg per kg of body mass (7). Someone weighing 74kg, would need to take 222-444mg of caffeine to see the desired effects such as improved alertness, energy and increased recovery time.

Performance

IMPROVED RECOVERY -

The American Physiological Society (8) found that muscle glycogen increased by 66% in athletes who drank carbohydrate drinks containing caffeine post exercise compared to carbohydrate-only drinks. The glycogen in your muscles is used by your body for fuel during exercise, by turning it into glucose, however once these energy stores run out, tiredness will set in.

Stretch Recovery

HOWEVER!

Some practitioners have recommended that regular caffeine takers go through a withdrawal period before a competition, to restore the optimal performance benefits that you get from caffeine (9).

Caffeine should always be approached with caution as high doses of more than 9mg/kg body mass have shown undesired side effects including negative mood, headaches, insomnia and chest pain (7).

These side effects can be reduced through gradually tapering the amount of caffeine consumed to get to the optimal amount for you. With moderate consumption of caffeine along with healthy nutrition and fitness lifestyle, there is no negative effect on health or experience of undesired side effects (4). 

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References:

(1) Bridge, C.A. and Jones, M.A., 2006. The effect of caffeine ingestion on 8 km run performance in a field setting. Journal of sports sciences, 24(4), pp.433-439.

(2) Burke, L.M., 2008. Caffeine and sports performance. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 33(6), pp.1319-1334.

(3) Chester, N. and Wojek, N., 2008. Caffeine consumption amongst British athletes following changes to the 2004 WADA prohibited list. International journal of sports medicine, 29(06), pp.524-528.

(4) Council on Scientific Affairs, 1984. Caffeine labeling. Journal of the American Medical Association, 252, pp.803-806.

(5) Desbrow, B. and Leveritt, M., 2006. Awareness and use of caffeine by athletes competing at the 2005 Ironman Triathlon World Championships. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 16(5), pp.545-558.

(6) Desbrow, B. and Leveritt, M., 2007. Well-trained endurance athletes’ knowledge, insight, and experience of caffeine use. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 17(4), pp.328-339.

(7) Guest, N.S., VanDusseldorp, T.A., Nelson, M.T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B.J., Jenkins, N.D., Arent, S.M., Antonio, J., Stout, J.R., Trexler, E.T. and Smith-Ryan, A.E., 2021. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), pp.1-37.

(8) Pedersen, D.J., Lessard, S.J., Coffey, V.G., Churchley, E.G., Wootton, A.M., Ng, T., Watt, M.J. and Hawley, J.A., 2008. High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine. Journal of Applied Physiology.

(9) Pickering, C. and Kiely, J., 2019. What should we do about habitual caffeine use in athletes? Sports Medicine, 49(6), pp.833-842.

(10) Roehrs, T. and Roth, T., 2008. Caffeine: sleep and daytime sleepiness. Sleep medicine reviews, 12(2), pp.153-162.

(11) Rosenbloom, C., 2014. Energy drinks, caffeine, and athletes. Nutrition today, 49(2), pp.49-54.

(12) Zwyghuizen-Doorenbos, A., Roehrs, T.A., Lipschutz, L., Timms, V. and Roth, T., 1990. Effects of caffeine on alertness. Psychopharmacology, 100(1), pp.36-39.

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