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Caffeine

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Article posted: 10/01/2013

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Caffeine is found in a wide range of foods and drinks, with the most common sources being coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, and cola nuts; coffee accounts for approximately 75% of all caffeine consumption1.

Caffeine is one of few nutritional supplements that have been shown to improve performance on a consistent basis, in particular in endurance exercise. The early studies into the effects of caffeine on performance were performed in the 1970’s and many well controlled studies conducted since have supported this assertion.

Mechanisms

Early investigations on the performance enhancing effects of caffeine were done in endurance cycling 2, 3. These studies hypothesised the performance effect was due to increased fat oxidation leading to a sparing of glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. However, in recent years there has been little evidence to suggest that caffeine exerts its performance enhancing effects in this way3.

Nowadays the most commonly held view on how caffeine improves performance is through a central effect (on the brain and spinal cord) with several studies showing a reduction in perceived effort (athletes found the session easier) possibly thorough an increase in the pain threshold4.

There is little evidence to suggest that caffeine consumption will enhance high-intensity sprint or strength performance, but there is no evidence that it negatively affects performance.

British Cycling and Gatorade

Practical Application

Coffee has long been part of the culture of endurance cycling both in performance and social settings. Long before we had access to the gels, bars and drinks that are now readily available, riders were using caffeine – either in the form of coffee, tea or flat cola - to help support their performance.

When it comes to how much caffeine to take, studies have shown performance enhancing effects with doses ranging from 1mg per kg of body mass up to 9mg per kg of body mass. This wide range can make it confusing when deciding how much to incorporate into your training and race plan.

It is always advised to start with the lower doses in order to see how you respond, especially if you are not regular caffeine consumers. Non-habitual caffeine users may experience stomach upset, pre-exercise diuresis (increased urine production) or tremors that may negatively affect your performance. Therefore, gradually introduce caffeine into your training to avoid any of these unwanted side-effects.

Consuming caffeine in the hour before a ride is a good tactic to adopt as caffeine concentrations peak in the blood around 60 minutes after consumption and remain elevated for up to 5 hours – try an instant coffee an hour before you set off - something that is already common practice for many cyclists especially when the ride is in the morning.

As caffeine is absorbed relatively quickly, consuming caffeine during long ride (longer than 2 hours) can also be of benefit. Traditionally endurance athletes consumed flat cola towards the end of an event. Nowadays there are many sports nutrition products – gels, bars, chews and drinks - that contain approximately 50mg of caffeine per serving.

Many riders will take these products shortly before a challenging climb or towards the end of long ride. Try experimenting with taking a couple of caffeinated products on your long rides and take them around 30 minutes before you reach a challenging hill or with an hour or so to go. As there are a wide variety of formats and flavours in these products, it should be easier to find one that works best for you.

Caffeine can affect people in different ways depending on  factors such as habitual intake and fitness level so it is strongly advised to gradually introduce caffeine into your training plan well in advance of competition.

Take home messages

Make sure you try anything you plan on taking in competition during training to see how your body reacts

Evidence that caffeine consumption will enhance high-intensity sprint or strength performance is lacking, but there is no evidence that it negatively affects performance.

Some athletes, especially those who don’t consume much caffeine in their diet, may experience some gastrointestinal upset, pre-exercise diuresis or tremor that may inhibit performance.

For habitual caffeine consumers, it may not be wise to abstain from caffeine in the 8–12 h before exercise; the withdrawal side effects (headache) may inhibit performance.

Try to avoid pure caffeinated powders as getting the dosage right is difficult – consuming too much can be very dangerous. Pharmaceutical or sports nutrition products (tablets, gels, drinks etc) can provide exact doses which can help you mange how much you are taking.

Below is a list of the caffeine content in popular drinks5:

 

Source

Caffeine content (mg) per serving*

Tea

15-75

Instant Coffee

50-140

Filter Coffee

60-200

Cola

20-70



 

 

 

 

*Serving size is corrected to 200 ml for tea, coffee and to 330 ml for cola.

For more information from Gatorade click here


Reference List

  1. Jeukendrup, A.E & Gleeson M. (2010). Sport Nutrition. An Introduction to Energy Production and Performance. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics.
  2. Costill, D.L., Dalsky, G.P., and Fink, W.J. 1978. Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance. Med. Sci. Sports, 10(3): 155–158.
  3. Ivy, J.L., Costill, D.L., Fink, W.J., and Lower, R.W. 1979. Influence of caffeine and carbohydrate feedings on endurance performance. Med. Sci. Sports, 11(1): 6–11.
  4. Graham T.E, Battram D.S, Dela F, El-Sohemy A, Thong F.S. (2008). Does caffeine alter muscle carbohydrate and fat metabolism during exercise? Appl Physiol Nutr Metab; 33:1311–1318.
    1. Maughan, R.J., Depiesse, F., and Geyer, H. (2007). The use of dietary supplements by athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 2007; 25(S1): S103 – S113

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