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What if I told you there was a sport enhancing drug that’s legal, cheap, and easy to get, and chances are, you’re already taking it. Yes, it exists and it’s called caffeine.
Caffeine is a substance that is found naturally in some of your favorite foods – including coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate. Caffeine is also sometimes added to soft drinks, energy drinks, sports gels, and some medications available on the market.
While it’s well known that caffeine can help you feel more alert – and perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself – caffeine can also help you boost your game in the gym.
It’s reasonable to assume that consuming caffeine could have some benefits on your training session – it makes you feel more energized, it makes you feel more motivated, and it can give you that little extra push to help you train hard. While at first this may seem like speculation, research has shown again and again that consuming caffeine can enhance your performance in endurance sports such as distance running or cycling, high intensity intermittent exercise (think: team sports such as soccer, rugby, football), and can even help you prolong reaching your point of exhaustion, allowing you to train longer. However, when it comes to strength and power performance, the direct effect of caffeine on sprint performance, lifts, and throws, remains unclear and more research is needed in this area.
Essentially, caffeine blocks signals in the brain that make you feel tired and instead gives you a feeling of ongoing alertness – making you feel more energized to exercise. Caffeine has also been shown to stimulate the release of fat into the blood steam. This encourages muscles to use fat as fuel thus delaying glycogen (the principal fuel for muscles) depletion and muscle exhaustion – allowing for longer training sessions. It’s also been suggested that caffeine reduces your perception of effort, resulting in longer and harder workouts.
The great thing about caffeine is that you don’t need to go caf-crazy to see a real performance benefit. In fact, the amount of caffeine required to achieve better performance results is well within normal social uses. It’s been shown that caffeine in doses as low as 3-6 mg/kg is effective for enhancing sport performance in trained athletes. To put this in perspective, a 70 kg (155 lb) person would only need to consume between 210 – 420 mg of caffeine – roughly the amount of caffeine found in 2-3 cups of coffee, 2-4 shots (30 ml) espresso, 2-3 small (12 oz) lattes or cappuccinos, 4-8 cups of tea, 2-3 cans (16 oz) of energy drink, 1-2 caffeine pills (200 mg), or 3-6 75 mg caffeine gels. This value is also in line with the 400 mg/day recommended by Health Canada.
What’s even more interesting? The relationship between caffeine intake and sports performance isn’t dose dependent. This means that taking more caffeine beyond this level of intake (3-6mg/kg) won’t result in further increases in your sports performance.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends that you take caffeine one hour before training or playing. However, the time it takes to receive the maximal benefit from caffeine varies from person to person and depends on various factors such as time of last meal, hydration, tolerance, and sleep quality; so see what works best for you.
While caffeine can enhance sports performance, it can also impair it. Caffeine doesn’t affect all people in the same way, therefore results may vary. Some people may find that they are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others and experience headaches, cramps, diarrhea, nervousness, or anxiety. Additionally, the wakefulness of caffeine on the body can interfere with sleep, another important part of any athlete’s routine.
Contrary to popular belief, caffeine is not dehydrating. While it is true that caffeine is a mild diuretic – meaning that it increases the urge to pee, there is no current scientific evidence that caffeine increases the risk of dehydration, especially in regular users of caffeine. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to drink water!
Caffeine is an easy and simple way to boost endurance and team-sports performance, and you don’t need to take that much. So before your next game, don’t forget to grab your coffee!