Caffeine Improves Endurance- Active Wellness Physiotherapy, Kitchener-Waterloo


Caffeine Improves Endurance

All athletes eventually learn that caffeine helps them to exercise faster and with more force over longer periods of time (J Strength Cond Res, 2009 Jan;23(1):315-24). In January 2004, caffeine was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List primarily because it was impossible to ban because it is in coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks and just about every sports drink or supplement advertised to improve athletic performance.

How Caffeine Increases Endurance

Caffeine increases endurance during long events such as a marathon, triathalon or bicycle race by helping muscles use more sugar. Caffeine increases the entry of sugar into muscles by as much as 26 percent (Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2006).

The limiting factor in how fast an athlete can move is the time it takes oxygen to get into the exercising muscles. Muscles use sugar, fat and, to a lesser extent, protein for energy. Since sugar requires less oxygen than protein and fat do, anything that increases muscles’ use of sugar will also help to make that person faster in events that require endurance. Therefore athletes have to take sugar along with the caffeine to enhance performance.

Caffeine also helps athletes run faster in both short and long-distance races. In short races, it makes athletes faster by causing the brain to send messages along nerves to cause a greater percentage of muscle fibers to contract at the same time.

Caffeine Is Not a Diuretic During Exercise

Caffeine can increase urination in people who take it when they are not exercising. However, this rarely happens during exercise. Caffeine-containing drinks contain a significant amount of fluid that helps to keep athletes hydrated during exercise.

Can You Be Harmed by Taking Caffeine?

Nobody really knows how much caffeine you can take in without harming yourself. Caffeine is a potent stimulant that can cause irregular heartbeats in people who already have heart disease, and raise blood pressure in people with hypertension. Most research shows that it doesn’t take more than two to four cups of caffeinated soft drinks to increase endurance.

How Much Is Effective?

A caffeine dose of 3 mg/kg body weight improves cycling performance in well-trained athletes. That comes to a little more than 300 mg prior to or during a competition. Doubling the dose to 6 mg/kg(-1) body mass does not give any additional improvement in performance (J Sports Sci, 2012;30(2):115-20). Caffeine is effective when taken before and/or during competitions (J Strength Cond Res, 2009 Jan;23(1):315-24). Caffeine continues to improve performance when taken during several days of competition (Nutr Res, 2012 Feb;32(2):78-84). This study showed that heart rate during exercise was significantly higher with caffeine versus placebo.

Should You Avoid Caffeine Before Competitions?

Caffeine is thought to lose its performance enhancing beneficial effects with repeated exposure, so athletes who want to gain maximum advantage from caffeine during competition are often told to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages for several days prior to major competitions.

However, in a double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over design study, involving four experimental trials, bicycle racers who used caffeine regularly were asked to stop all sources of caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc) for four days prior to time trials. They then raced time trials after taking caffeine or being fed placebos. Their improved times with caffeine were similar whether they had abstained from caffeine for four days or they had not (J Sports Sci, 2011 Mar;29(5):509-15).

Be well.

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