The Scoop on Caffeine and Athletic Performance

Caffeine is currently the most widely used stimulant in the world. It is actually considered a drug and is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, over-the-counter medications, and sports supplements. If you are wondering whether caffeine is an effective performance enhancer, there are a few facts to consider.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the average caffeine consumption in the U.S. is 200mg/day, which is equivalent to 2 cups of coffee. Current research has debunked the diuretic myth, and it has been shown that caffeine does not affect hydration regardless of amount consumed. On the other hand, researchers have also concluded that caffeine is only effective in moderate doses (5 mg/kg body weight), and it is only beneficial during specific types of performance.

Below is a summary of caffeine effects during different types of exercise:

  • During endurance exercise: (benefits)
  • Examples: speed walking, running, biking, swimming, stair stepping and other forms of cardio for a prolonged period of time
  • Ingesting caffeine before low-to-moderate intensity exercise affects metabolism. Caffeine encourages the body to depend on fats rather than carbohydrates during exercise. The carbohydrates that were spared are then used later on in exercise, delaying fatigue. In other words, you may be able to extend your workout and train for longer.
  • During short-term exercise: (benefits)
  • Examples: fast paced running or running/walking intervals
  • Ingesting caffeine before a 2-5 minute high intensity exercise will have similar effects as endurance exercise. Some individuals may be able to extend their workouts and prolong the onset of fatigue.
  • During immediate exercise: (no benefit)
  • Examples: sprinting or power lifting
  • Ingesting caffeine has no effect on immediate performance lasting less than 90 seconds. There is essentially no benefit during this type of exercise.

In general, caffeine is considered an effective ergogenic aid because it enhances performance of high-intensity exercise. By stimulating the brain, caffeine enhances concentration and may encourage a more focused workout. Caffeine also has a numbing effect; many individuals claim to prolong pain-free workouts.

On the other hand, individuals sensitive to caffeine may experience jitters, lack of focus, nausea and increased bowel movements that could pose a problem on race day. It is best to experiment with caffeine consumption during training and avoid any unfamiliar routines on the day of an event.

To calculate amount of caffeine needed for benefits:

Body Weight (in lbs) / 2.2 = Body Weight (in kg)

Body Weight (in kg) x 5mg = Minimum Effective Caffeine

Example: (120lb female)

120lb/2.2= 54.5kg

54.5kg x 5mg = 273 mg caffeine desired

If you are considering taking caffeinated supplements to enhance performance, be cautious of the amount of caffeine suggested for your body weight compared to the amount found in a standard serving size found in typical drinks. If you are sensitive to caffeine or unaware of how it may affect you, consult your physician prior to trying it out. More isn’t always better, and it is possible to overdose. Pure caffeine consumption for athletic advantage is considered unethical, so if that doesn’t tell you something about how effective it can be… I’m not sure what will!


Taylor Thompson, Fitness and Wellness Intern


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