Caffeine in Sport | Definitive *SCIENTIFIC* Guide
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition very recently published their organisation’s opinion on caffeine in sport by summarising numerous scientific studies. Coincidentally I had planned to write something along a similar vein to this although it wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same level of scientific credibility as this report. Now I don’t have to!
I’ve summarised the 11 take-out points for athletes, below, and if you are interested in the subject then the entire report is interesting and covers how caffeine might work, its history in sports and other related stuff. My personal take-out points are at the end along with some links to other LEGAL performance-enhancing resources.
- Supplementation with caffeine has been shown to acutely enhance various aspects of exercise performance in many but not all studies. Small to moderate benefits of caffeine use include, but are not limited to: muscular endurance, movement velocity and muscular strength, sprinting, jumping, and throwing performance, as well as a wide range of aerobic and anaerobic sport-specific actions.
- Aerobic endurance appears to be the form of exercise with the most consistent moderate-to-large benefits from caffeine use, although the magnitude of its effects differs between individuals.
- Caffeine has consistently been shown to improve exercise performance when consumed in doses of 3–6 mg/kg body mass. Minimal effective doses of caffeine currently remain unclear but they may be as low as 2 mg/kg body mass. Very high doses of caffeine (e.g. 9 mg/kg) are associated with a high incidence of side-effects and do not seem to be required to elicit an ergogenic effect.
- The most commonly used timing of caffeine supplementation is 60 min pre-exercise. Optimal timing of caffeine ingestion likely depends on the source of caffeine. For example, as compared to caffeine capsules, caffeine chewing gums may require a shorter waiting time from consumption to the start of the exercise session.
- Caffeine appears to improve physical performance in both trained and untrained individuals.
- Inter-individual differences in sport and exercise performance, as well as adverse effects on sleep or feelings of anxiety following caffeine ingestion, may be attributed to genetic variation associated with caffeine metabolism, and physical and psychological response. Other factors such as habitual caffeine intake also may play a role in between-individual response variation.
- Caffeine has been shown to be ergogenic for cognitive function, including attention and vigilance, in most individuals.
- Caffeine may improve cognitive and physical performance in some individuals under conditions of sleep deprivation.
- The use of caffeine in conjunction with endurance exercise in the heat and at altitude is well supported when dosages range from 3 to 6 mg/kg and 4–6 mg/kg, respectively.
- Alternative sources of caffeine such as caffeinated chewing gum, mouth rinses, energy gels and chews have been shown to improve performance, primarily in aerobic exercise.
- Energy drinks and pre-workout supplements containing caffeine have been demonstrated to enhance both anaerobic and aerobic performance.
- I added this important point from the main body of the article: half-life (t1/2) of caffeine is generally reported to be between 4 and 6 h, it varies between individuals and even may range from 1.5 to 10 h in adults 
It wakes you up and makes you go faster.
I take a modicum of pride in being a guinea pig in some of the studies that led to these conclusions, although to be told that caffeine wakes you up and makes you go faster is perhaps NOT a great surprise to many of you!
If you take sports performance seriously, it’s almost certain that you will benefit from legal caffeine supplementation and the dosages are 3–6 mg/kg body mass, 30-60 minutes before exercise. One espresso is about 100mg so if you weigh 70kg then you might need 420mg of caffeine and so that espresso is simply nowhere near enough.
ProPlus tablets each contain 50mg of caffeine, so you might want to take 6 (six) of those if you are 70kg. I would recommend some form of tablet where you know the dosage. 6 over-priced ProPlus tablets would be £1/dose (ish) so you might find it better to get caffeine included more cheaply in some other supplement.
It might also be worth keeping a stash of caffeine chewing gum in your car on days when you drive to races and forget to have caffeine earlier, chewing gum’s caffeine is metabolised quicker.
Caffeine half-life considerations are important for longer events but irrelevant for shorter durations. So you might want to have a caffeinated isotonic drink or gel in your Half Ironman or on your Sunday ride with your mates, perhaps also in the first half of a longer (4-hour) marathon. I use High5 Caffeine Energy Gel which also contains 2:1 Glucose:Fructose. I have no special affinity to either Proplus or High5, it’s just what I use as Tescos have recently stopped selling their own brand!
- High 5 Link
- Here is a SiS alternative.
- Caffeine is always in powders marketed as ‘pre-workout. Often these include Creatine Monohydrate and Beta-Alanine which are probably also beneficial: Amazon, try Cellucor C4 original, which I use.
Personally, I do not change my caffeine consumption at all leading up to a race and that is 2 cups a day.
Here are some other serious tips to go faster mingled with quite a few more lighthearted ones and the occasional potentially stupid one.
- 100 Tips for a faster parkrun; and the similar
- 100 tips to raise your FTP in less than a week
How to get a parkrun PB – Top *100* Tips for your best 5K time PB PR
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6 thoughts on “Caffeine in Sport | Definitive *SCIENTIFIC* Guide”
Research also indicates that the ergogenic effect is larger if one has undergone a caffeine fast prior to using it. I typically wean myself off caffeine about 10 days prior to a major competition.
i’ve heard that and i’ve heard the opposite too. the advice to me was always that previous habitual consumption makes little or no difference.
some of the research is complicated by the fact that different people react differently to caffeine. i was involved in a recent study where genetic markers were looked at and was in the ‘normal’ group
Back when times were important to me, used to make sure & have an espresso before a race, now I see should have been drinking at least four of them! Good info to know.
I wonder if there are any studies about the drawbacks especially wrt sleep impact. Probably not an issue for morning activities, but the drawbacks to taking 500mg of caffeine at 3-5pm might outweigh the benefits for many people.
fair point. i dont drink coffee after 6pm. others are more sensitive.
I’m so out of touch with my body I’m not really sure, but I have issues sleeping so try to avoid after like 3 most days just to cover that possible cause. Wouldn’t be an issue for e.g. one-off events like a race because who cares if you sleep that night but something to consider for more regular training use, especially for we non-morning people who train later.
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