Performance athletes are always looking for ways to get faster, perform longer, and reduce recovery times. Caffeine has long been a popular choice for many athletes, but how much caffeine should you consume, and will it really give you an edge?
Benefits of caffeine
Once consumed, caffeine is easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and intestines, causing physical and psychological responses within the body. Levels peak between 60-100 minutes after consumption. But how does it effect us when we’re gearing up for a big race or endurance sport? Recent tests have shown that in addition to increasing alertness, caffeine reduces pain levels and alters your perception of fatigue, allowing endurance athletes to work at a higher level of intensity for a longer period of time. Less research is available on caffeine’s effect on strength training and shorter events, but what is available has shown caffeine consumption increases the dynamic and isometric muscular force, power, and endurance strength – all of which positively impact endurance performance.
After averaging out findings from various studies, researchers concluded that caffeine consumption before an endurance event can improve performance by 3-3.5%. That may not sound like much, but think about it; in a one-hour time trial that’s almost 1.8-2.1 minutes and in a 10-hour race that’s 18-21 minutes! Recent research has concluded that caffeine has a significant impact on recovery as well, reducing perceived muscle soreness.
How much caffeine should you consume to improve performance?
The studies have concluded that the optimal amount of caffeine consumed is 1.14-1.7mg/lb. So, for example, a 165 pound male would have to consume between 225mg-450mg of caffeine before the event. Consuming more caffeine does not enhance the effects on performance; if anything it can increase the chances of experiencing side effects such as nausea, gastrointestinal upset, and shaking.
To put this range in perspective:
8 ounces brewed coffee: 80-100mg
2 ounces espresso: 65-100mg
8 ounce energy drink: 80mg
8 ounces brewed tea: 40-50mg
12 ounce soft drink: 35-55mg
2 capsules Excedrin: 130mg
1 Tablet NoDoz: 200mg
Deciding the amount of caffeine to consume, when, and in what form you tolerate best can be intimidating and is different for everyone. Therefore, we recommend you start early and trial different amounts using different forms during your long workouts. Consult with a sports nutritionist or doctor before making big changes to your caffeine intake. Journal what you consume, when you consumed it, and how you felt during and after your workout. Caffeine isn’t for everyone, and no one wants GI issues throughout their race. If the side effects outweigh the benefits, recognize that and move on to another performance enhancer like a Gait Analysis or nutrition plan.