This article on caffeine consumption in sport is courtesy of HPT athlete Hannah Otto.
Caffeine is so present in our day to day lives that you may or may not even think about when or how much you are consuming. In fact, caffeine is probably the most widely accepted ‘drug’ in the world, even though we rarely think of it that way. At one point in time there were restrictions on how much caffeine could be consumed by an athlete, but both the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Association have removed restrictions and athletes are now fully allowed to legally partake in however much or little caffeine they desire to consume. (With the notable except of the NCAA who still has a limit on the amount of caffeine that an athlete is allowed to ingest prior to competition.)
Since caffeine has been shown to have significant impacts that lead to an improvement in performance, it makes sense that there has been an enormous amount of research dedicated to caffeine.
What Does Caffeine Do?
The most notable effect of caffeine is on the central nervous system. While some effects of caffeine are still up for debate and undergoing meticulous studies, the proported benefits of caffeine are increased mental alertness, increased concentration, elevated mood, decreased fatigue or a delay in fatigue onset, and faster reaction times. Other sources claim that caffeine can also assist with increased catecholamine release, increasing free fatty acid mobilization, and increasing the use of muscle triglycerides.
What does all of this mean? Multiple studies show that these benefits of caffeine have equated to approximately a 3% increase in performance.
How Much Should We Consume?
The amount of caffeine needed to find a performance benefit has long been debated. It’s safe to say that the most advantageous route for an athlete to take would be to consume the least amount of caffeine needed for the performance benefits as to avoid some of the side effects that may be associated with large intakes of caffeine.
According to Clinical Sports Nutrition by Louise Burke and Vicki Deakin, for events lasting 30 minutes or longer, 1-3 mg per kilogram of body weight of caffeine inspires performance benefits that do not seem to be further enhanced with larger amounts of caffeine. Based on this, it’s safe to say that 1-3 mg per kilogram of body weight may be the appropriate dose of caffeine.
When Should We Consume It?
Caffeine is absorbed quickly in the body and reaches peak concentration levels in the blood within 1 hour after consumption. The peak concentrations then lasts approximately 3-4 hours and the half-life is 4-6 hours.
This means that the best time to consume caffeine would typically be 1 hour prior to competition. The long half-life may be important to point out for athletes competing in late competitions or stage race events in which getting a good night’s rest may out-weight the performance benefit of caffeine consumption.
To Withdraw or Not To Withdraw?
A big question that has consumed caffeine research is whether or not habitual caffeine consumers will still encounter performance benefits when consuming caffeine before an event. In some instances, athletes have felt the need to withdraw from caffeine for days or even weeks leading into an event in order to get the ‘full benefit’ from the caffeine.
Luckily for caffeine consumers world-wide, this myth has been largely de-bunked and athletes who consume caffeine on a daily basis will likely still encounter performance benefits from caffeine on race day. This topic was discussed in detail recently on TrainerRoad’s The Science of Getting Faster Podcast. So keep enjoying your morning coffee!
Examples of Caffeine
The most common form of caffeine known world-wide is coffee. While I am a big coffee drinker myself, I have to mention that coffee is probably the least reliable source of caffeine from a performance standpoint. The reason for this is that the caffeine content in a cup of coffee varies so greatly that it’s difficult to actually know if you are meeting your caffeine goals.
Since too much caffeine can result in side-effects and not enough caffeine may not give you the benefits you want, it’s important to reach for a source of caffeine that is reliable and constant. This is where supplements from The Feed can come in handy.
The double espresso gel from Clif Bar features 100 mg of caffeine per gel. Pre-Race formula from First Endurance features 200 mg of caffeine per serving. Still other options exist like Voke Tabs with 77 mg of caffeine per tab. There are endless options for vehicles in which to consume caffeine or amount per serving. Now that you know the basics, find what works best for you! If you want to try something out, make sure to use my link at The Feed to get $15 off. Click here to use my discount code.
Photo credit: @CXHairs