April 1, 2021

Why athletes use caffeine to boost exercise performance

Has it occurred to you that coffee is very often associated with cycling? There are numerous cycling coffee bars and a few coffee brands that focus on cycling such as Il Magistrale. It’s not without reason that Segafredo co-sponsors a WorldTour cycling team. It is both a culture of having stops in endurance rides as the benefit of the nutrients in coffee that come in natural form…: caffeine! You probably know that caffeine is a product used by athletes to improve their performances, but does this really work and if yes, how? This article will explain you all about caffeine.

 

What is caffeine and where can you find it?

Caffeine is a natural substance found in coffee beans, tea and cola nuts. There are also some products that contain caffeine in an artificial way like energy drinks, cola, iced tea and some chocolates. In addition, caffeine can be found in the form of supplements and even caffeinated chewing gums. The use of caffeine is very popular, especially among athletes like cyclists. This is not without any reason since research has shown caffeine can improve sports performance, such as endurance events and high intensity exercise. But how does it work and how should you use it?

 

How might caffeine improve performance?

Caffeine has several functions in the body, but the main mechanism by which caffeine can improve sports performance is because of the effect it has on the central nervous system (CNS). Caffeine stimulates the CNS which accordingly might reduce the perception of pain and fatigue. In addition, it can increase alertness and reaction time of athletes. All of these effects may contribute to an increased performance.

 

How much caffeine do you need?

Even a small dose of caffeine might improve sports performance. How much caffeine someone should take exactly in order to perceive benefits is very variable and highly depends on genetics (your DNA). However, the general recommended intake of caffeine is 3 to 6 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. For reference, one cup of coffee on average contains about 70mg of caffeine and a cup of black tea about 35mg. This would mean a male of 70kg might benefit from drinking 3 cups of coffee. If you want to know exactly what amount of caffeine works for you, it’s advisable to experiment with the dosage around your training sessions.

 

Note that taking higher doses than the 6mg/kg bodyweight would most likely not result in additional benefits. This can even lead to negative side effects, such as insomnia, headache, stomach or intestinal complaints, restlessness, nervousness, an accelerated heartbeat and cardiac arrhythmias, which are more likely to negatively impact performance than that they would help.

 

When should you take the caffeine?

Caffeine is readily absorbed after ingestion and blood levels peak about 1 hour after consumption. Ingestion via a caffeinated gum might be a bit faster. Taking this into account, it is advised to consume the caffeine about 1 hour before you take off, in order to obtain the proposed benefits.

If you are having a prolonged ride, it might be a good idea to consume some caffeine during the ride as well. The time it takes for caffeine to breakdown varies from person to person, but the average half-life time is about 4 hours. This means, when you take for example a supplement that contains 200 mg of caffeine, your blood will contain 100 milligrams of caffeine after approximately 4 hours. If you are having an 8-hour ride and your body works best with 200 milligrams of caffeine, you might benefit from taking extra caffeine during this ride. However, be aware that it takes some time before the caffeine level in your blood peaks, so consuming caffeine in the last ten minutes would not likely have an impact on your performance.

 

Conclusion:

Caffeine can improve sports performance. However, take in mind that the response is very individual, so not everyone will benefit. The advised dose is 3 to 6mg/kg body weight, meaning 3 to 6 cups of coffee. Consuming higher doses will not likely result in additional benefits. Consuming less short to or during rides can work if it is an addition to consumption in the few prior hours. It is advisable to experiment with caffeine during training sessions, to know how much cups of coffee you will need to win your race 😉 

 

Test your caffeine intake!

When you want to experiment with caffeine, it’s a good idea to test it in a time-trial (for boost of peak performance) or for the end of an endurance ride (for the delay of perceived fatigue). How? Take an average dose of at least 3mg/kg bodyweight and take it 1 or a half hour before your ride. Chose for yourself if you want to consume it by nutrition or supplements!