Caffeine and Athletic Performance

It’s appearing everywhere now a days.  Lip balm, chewing gum, snack chips, protein bars and ice cream.  And there’s the obvious products such as coffee, tea, and soda.  Over 90% of American’s admit to regular caffeine use and 20-30% consume 600 mg (equal to about 6 cups of coffee) or more each day!

When consumed, it quickly enters the bloodstream and gets to all organs of the body within 40-60 minutes.  The effects of caffeine can last up to six hours!

I love coffee.  I drink it everyday.  No cream, no sweetener.  I realize that too much can have negative consequences, so I do limit myself to around 4 cups a day.  Discovering that caffeine is being added to sport drinks, energy gels, and chews,  I wanted to find out……Does caffeine actually have an effect on athletic performance?


Yes!  Research concludes that caffeine enhances athletic performance.  “Caffeine sustains duration, maximizes effort in cyclists, and quickens speed in an endurance event (Keisler & Armsey, 2006).”    The feeling of how hard your body is working is reduced and high-intensity work feels less challenging.  Most research exploring the performance benefits of caffeine has used capsule forms in doses around 400-600 mg, although benefits have been noted at doses as low as 250 mg.

Here is the content of caffeine per ounce in popular beverages/products:

  • Coffee:  13 mg
  • Monster Energy Drink:  10 mg
  • Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino:  8 mg
  • Iced Tea:  6 mg
  • Coke:  4 mg
  • Over-the-counter stimulants (NoDoz):  100 mg per capsule
  • Clif Shot (Mocha):  50 mg per shot (Double Expresso flavor has 100 mg)

So, drinking my coffee can enhance my performance?  Great!  But, there is a downside.  Non-users (<5o mg/day) see more performance-enhancing benefits than regular users (>300 mg/day).  As we adjust to regular caffeine use, the effects are reduced. Basically, we’ve built a tolerance to it.

It doesn’t help to keep increasing the amount of caffeine you consume.  Doing that can be harmful, even toxic at high doses.  Habitual caffeine use can lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, decreased bone density in women, sleeplessness, and jittery nerves.  It’s important to take note if you have any of these symptoms.

Also, if you take a “break” from caffeinated products, you may have withdrawal symptoms.  These include headache, irritability, drowsiness, decreased alertness, decreased energy, and difficulty concentrating.  Personally, I can feel a headache coming on if I skip my usual coffee times.

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Some other interesting facts I found:

  • research indicates that exercise + caffeine doesn’t cause water-electrolyte imbalances, hyperthermia (high body temperature), or reduced exercise-heat intolerance
  • in one study, nearly 70% of athletes reported regular caffeine use
  • to ensure that your body absorbs the caffeine, it should be consumed 60 minutes prior to exercise (although benefits have been seen when consumed 15-30 min prior)
  • benefits of caffeine are more powerful when consumed in capsule/powder form vs coffee

Here is a link to an informative article by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Being a “chronic” coffee drinker, I haven’t noticed any benefits that enhance my performance.  I do drink a cup before every run.  I look forward to it and it makes me happy, so I guess that’s a positive benefit!  I’ve never consumed caffeine during a race through sports gels or sports drink, although, I may try during a marathon in the future.  Any help during 26.2 miles is welcomed!

Are you a coffee drinker?

Do you use caffeine before or during a race or event?


*Reference:  ACE Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals*

4 Responses to Caffeine and Athletic Performance

  1. Huge coffee drinker here and I’ve definitely built up a tolerance for sure. I do like the little bit of a kick I get from the sports chews even if it is just psychological

  2. Linda says:

    So is it ok to have 3 or 4 cups in the morning and no more the rest of the day?

    • Cyndi says:

      Yes! That’s probably the best way to do it as the caffeine will be out of your system and won’t disrupt your sleep:)