The connection between caffeine and exercise performance has been shown again and again. And you can probably attest to the extra energy a couple shots of espresso give you.
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Caffeine is legal, has only minimal side effects, and can significantly boost your performance. And it was recently removed from the International Olympic Committee's banned substances list.
You feel the caffeine when you've had a few cups of coffee. But the caffeine in your coffee is doing more than just making you 'feel' jittery and energetic.
Caffeine has been shown to improve performance in endurance athletes who do not normally eat or drink caffeine products. Caffeine also benefits intense, short-term effort athletes.
Caffeine gives these benefits because it increases the concentration in your blood of free fatty acids (FFAs). These FFAs are then burned by your body as fuel, and help primarily with endurance exercise.
As for how caffeine helps intense-effort athletes like sprinters… sorry, we don't know yet. It's not clear whether it's simply the FFAs, or whether something else is going on. But it does help, which is good enough for us.
Caffeine can have a benefit for short, intense activities as well (sprinting, weight lifting, etc.).It's very handy and versatile for whatever you're doing.
However, far fewer studies have been done on the effects of caffeine on intense power production. And those that have been down showed that the biggest gains were made by trained athletes, while the benefits were minimal to nonexistent for weekend warriors.
Take 3 - 9 mg of caffeine per kg of your bodyweight - around a half hour before you start exercising.
This is easy to calculate, and will give you all the caffeine and exercise benefits listed above.
Warning: Taking more than 9 mg per kg of bodyweight results in an increased risk of side effects. Don't go over that amount.
And don't take a ton of caffeine for the first time right before a meet or competition; there may be side effects you aren't prepared for. Take it a few times before, at moderate amounts to start, to see how the caffeine affects you.
Example: A 180 pound (81.6 kg) guy wants to get caffeine and exercise benefits. He takes 734 mg of caffeine (81.6 kg X 9 mg = 734.4 mg) to get the maximum benefit while still being safe.
Additionally, you'll get the greatest benefits when you take caffeine in a concentrated, tablet form. When you get your caffeine from foods its effects will be watered-down, since your body is processing other nutrients along with the caffeine.
And there are some compounds in coffee that suppress the performance-enhancing effects of the caffeine.
Also, you'll need to drink a huge amount of espresso to get the dosage that you'll need! Tablets are way easier.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the side effects from taking caffeine can include,
Most of those are on the extreme end of the spectrum, but still keep them in mind if you take high doses of caffeine and exercise frequently.
Also, caffeine is physically addicting (as well as being a diuretic), and its effects will wane the more you use it. Keep your caffeine use in perspective and don't overdo it.
Oh, and be sure to sign up for the e-zine Starting Strong to get monthly strength training, exercise, and diet tips e-mailed to you - and access to the free e-book Train Smart, Eat Smart: Exercise Nutrition Hacks!
Caffeine and Exercise: Improve Your Performance Today
1. Benardot, Dan, and Dan Benardot. 2006. Advanced Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Pp. 111.
3. Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle. 2008. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: National Strength and Conditioning Association. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics. Pp. 197.
4. Benardot. Pp. 112.
5. Baechle. Pp. 197.
6. Ibid. Pp. 198.
7. Benardot. Pp. 112.
8. Baechle. Pp. 197-8.
9. Ibid. Pp. 198.
11. Benardot. Pp. 112.
12. Baechle. Pp. 198.
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