Professional athletes use coffee to gain an edge over their competitors. Many athletes are looking for ways to improve their performance, no matter what sport they play. However, many drugs are illegal, and even occasional use can get you permanently disqualified from a competition.
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Effects of caffeine on athletic performance
Research suggests that caffeine has an ergogenic effect, meaning it can improve physical performance by reducing fatigue.
The effect of caffeine on athletic performance is most evident in endurance sports lasting more than five minutes, such as running, cycling, and rowing.
When coffee is consumed, it is quickly absorbed by the body into the bloodstream, peaking 30 to 120 minutes later and its effects become noticeable.
Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, heart, muscles, and the centers that control blood pressure. Caffeine can increase blood pressure but may not have this effect in people who consume it continuously.
Increased adrenaline production
Caffeine can displace a calming brain substance called adenosine. The result: you feel more energetic.
During both aerobic and anaerobic activity, caffeine most likely exerts its effects through adenosine receptors in the brain, a pathway that results in increased adrenaline production, which stimulates energy production and improves blood flow to muscles and the heart.
Caffeine can increase blood flow
A Japanese study suggests that the caffeine in a cup of coffee may help the small blood vessels work better, which could ease the strain on the heart.
According to the research, a cup of caffeinated coffee resulted in a 30 percent increase in blood flow through the small vessels in the fingertips compared to a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
Coffee as a pre-workout
The high caffeine content in coffee has been shown to improve the body’s ability to burn fat during exercise. Drinking coffee also helps with calorie control because caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant.
Best results are achieved when coffee consumption to enhance athletic performance occurs 30 to 60 minutes before exercise. Once caffeine is in the bloodstream in sufficient quantities, the body’s heart rate and blood pressure increase, fat stores are broken down, and fatty acids are released. All of this leads to a feeling of energy that prepares you for a good workout.
Reduced muscle soreness after exercise
Studies have shown that consuming caffeine can help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, thereby speeding healing and recovery.
Researchers found that a group of participants who consumed coffee showed a significant increase in metabolic rate during exercise that persisted three hours after ingestion. They also showed a sharp increase in fat burning as a result of increased metabolism, meaning that coffee is very efficient at helping burn fat during and several hours after exercise.
Coffee can also serve as a post-workout recovery drink, replenishing fluid lost through sweat and restoring energy levels.
Less perceived exertion
A special chemical that caffeine causes the body to release are endorphins. These increase well-being. This can make physical exertion feel easier.
Is coffee dehydrating?
Contrary to popular belief, a 2014 study found that coffee consumption does not contribute to dehydration.
When you exercise, blood is diverted to working muscles, reducing blood flow to the kidneys and producing less urine overall. It is therefore not necessary to increase fluid intake to compensate for performance-impairing dehydration during a performance.
There may be some diuretic effect in the following cases:
- When high doses of caffeine are consumed.
- When a high dose of caffeine is taken without liquid (such as a caffeine pill with a small amount of water).
- For people who are not used to consuming caffeine in moderate or high doses.
Sporting achievements, especially at the highest level, are just as demanding mentally as they are physically.
Coffee has been shown to improve mental focus. Studies show that coffee and caffeine stimulate the central nervous system and improve brain function. Other studies have also found that caffeine positively affects the areas of the brain responsible for memory and concentration.
This heightened vigilance can be useful during multi-hour events where concentration can falter.
Improved performance of the nervous system
Caffeine helps activate parts of the brain that keep you more focused and alert. When the sport being played requires lightning-fast decisions or reactions, caffeine can significantly improve performance.
Caffeine also increases the body’s production of epinephrine, the hormone that triggers the fight or flight response. It can help an athlete cope better with a difficult situation and can even give them the energy to get back up and keep going.
Caffeine can help boost your metabolism so you can burn more calories. Caffeine can even suppress appetite. Weight gain is a serious problem for many athletes, and caffeine can help keep it under control.
Can Olympic athletes consume caffeine?
Caffeine has been shown to increase athletic performance and its consumption is under constant scrutiny among elite athletes.
Today, Olympic athletes can have a cup of coffee before their competitions. But between 1984 and 2004, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned high levels of caffeine in all Olympic competitions.
Because the dose of the performance-enhancing stimulant is indistinguishable from regular coffee consumption, WADA lifted the caffeine restrictions to avoid unfairly punishing athletes.
However, athletes’ caffeine levels continue to be actively monitored for consumption patterns.
According to the previous restrictions, the legal limit was 12 micrograms/ml in the urine, which roughly corresponds to the consumption of 8 servings of espresso over the course of a few hours.
How much caffeine is too much?
According to the Sports Science Institute of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) published sports nutrition, cardiovascular and wellness literature entitled Effects of excess caffeine on athletic performance ” (effects of excessive caffeine on athletic performance), consumption of more than 500 mg per day can result in undesirable side effects, and at very high consumption (600-800 mg) an athlete may test positive for caffeine as prohibited by the NCAA substance to be tested.
Recommendations for the consumption of caffeine as a dietary supplement
Know your dose
In order to effectively increase performance, athletes need between 2 and 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight.
If you’re feeling overly jittery or anxious, reduce the amount of caffeine you consume before you exercise.
Reduce caffeine consumption
In a study published in the journal PLOS One, healthy, active adults who previously consumed little caffeine were given one capsule containing 3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight daily for 20 days.
For an additional 20-day period, the participants took a caffeine-free placebo. Before and after each study period and three times a week during the study, subjects completed a VO2max test (a test to determine cardiorespiratory fitness) and a 15-second sprint on a stationary bicycle.
Results showed that when participants started taking caffeine on day one, they benefited from an approximately 5% increase in peak performance compared to taking a placebo. But after the first few days, progress slowed, so by day 11 the difference in performance between those taking caffeine and those not taking it was almost equal.
So, caffeine withdrawal about 5 days before a big event can be a worthwhile strategy to get a caffeine boost on the day of the event.
Not all athletes benefit from caffeine
Most caffeine is metabolized in the body by the enzyme CYP1A2, which is influenced by our genes. Those who have a specific genotype for this enzyme benefit, while those with a different genotype experience no increase in performance.
More is not always better
The body can build up a tolerance to caffeine, which can decrease its performance-enhancing physiological effects. In general, those who consume less caffeine on a daily basis are likely to need less caffeine to experience the beneficial effects, while someone who regularly drinks multiple cups of coffee may need a little more to experience the same effects.
Coffee at amateur athletes
It’s no surprise that many top athletes depend on caffeine. However, it is not only performance-enhancing for elite athletes. Even amateur athletes benefit from caffeine consumption.
In addition to faster strength recovery, increased concentration, better focus, and faster reaction time, several studies show that the overall quality of performance improves after taking a caffeinated product.
Caffeine may provide the greatest benefit during strength-oriented activities that use large muscle groups, repetitions, or circuits. For example, muscle strength in the legs can increase by up to 7% after consuming caffeine.
Caffeine consumption has several benefits for athletes. It can help improve concentration, which leads to faster reflexes. It can help with weight control and even contribute to a better emotional state of the athlete.
However, excessive caffeine consumption can have negative effects not only on athletic performance but also on long-term health. This is also related to individual genetic variations. Therefore, before making any drastic dietary changes, we always recommend that you seek advice from a healthcare professional on how best to incorporate coffee into your diet as part of a healthy routine.