Caffeine And Athletic Performance

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Caffeine is a societal mainstay because of its effectives on alertness and improved energy. Many athletes turn to caffeine for its ergogenic effect, providing an added boost in performance, both in training and competition. However, like any drug, too much caffeine will have an adverse effect and lead to problems.

Benefits of caffeine for athletes
Since the 1800s, studies have been conducted on caffeine and athletic performance. These studies revealed that caffeine is proven effective for:

  • Endurance increase
  • Concentration increase
  • Pain tolerance improvement
  • Coordination and speed improvement

Many experts agree that caffeine works by altering your perceived level of exertion, inducing the feeling of ease during exercise, allowing you to train for longer durations. Consequently, these prolonged training sessions directly relate to greater caloric expenditure.

Some scientists suggest caffeine stimulates the release of fat stores, allowing your muscles to convert fat to viable energy source during training. As a result, your body holds onto glycogen stores longer, delaying onset fatigue and muscle depletion.
Caffeine works by binding to receptors in the brain, heart, skeletal muscles, and fat cells, which stimulate your central nervous system. It is known to increase your heart rate, enhance your body’s ability to burn fat, and stave off pain and fatigue.

Side effects of caffeine in athletes
The effect of caffeine directly relates to dosage. A recommended dose for performance enhancement is anywhere between 3 to 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Likewise, the higher your dose, the greater the effect. Higher dosage may lead to the following side effects:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Cardiac arrhythmias

Some forms of caffeine act as a natural diuretic, removing excess water from your body through your kidneys. That is why hydration is very important when taking caffeine as a performance-enhancing supplement.

Caffeine overdose can lead to issues of overtraining. The drug induces a psychomotor effect, wherein an athlete believes he or she can train past levels of exertion tolerance. This leads to metabolic damage, and decreases your body’s ability to recovery well from each training session.

Cautions when taking caffeine
Caffeine isn’t necessary for athletic performance. However, if you do decide to take it for its ergogenic effects, then take it in moderation. A person who normally does not consume caffeine on a daily basis will have an adverse reaction from a simple cup of coffee.

Avoid stimulant supplements designed to enhance performance, or burn fat. They are not regulated by the FDA and often have high doses of other stimulants and herbs that may harm your body. Also, avoid sodas, and energy drinks promoted as health supplements. They are loaded with sugar, aspartame, and other harmful chemicals.


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