Caffeine Effect on Performance

It is widely regarded that caffeine can be used as an ergogenic aid to enhance physiological performance. Numerous studies conducted over the past 15 years have documented enhanced endurance performances. How exactly does caffeine affect your performance, and does it actually improve it? What doses are optimal for improvements? Read on to find out.


Proof of Benefit

In 2009, Ganio and colleagues published a systematic review of 21 studies on caffeine in timed performance, they concluded it yielded consistent improvements in performance. The majority of the research studied cyclists, along with running, rowing and cross–country skiing, in events that are greater than five minutes’ duration. Although there was variability in results, improvements of up to 3 percent were achieved. This would be an improvement of around 18 – minute boost in a 10 – hour race.

It gets better, with results from recreational runners over 10km showed a 72 second improvement in time, while one hour time trailed cyclists boosted their performance by 90 seconds.

The intake of caffeine is critical, too little and it has no effect, too much and you can cause overstimulation and gastrointestinal distress. Caffeine supplementation at 3 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight has shown no effect on cycling time trials, in elevated temperatures to 35 degrees Celsius.

Potential Effects for Increase Performance

The effects of caffeine are well documented in prompting a fight or flight response via the neurotransmitter, epinephrine, which increases the rate and force of muscular contractions, increases heart rate, blood pressure and essentially delivering more oxygen to the brain and other tissues.

Studies related to performance have observed similar responses on sedentary counterparts when placed on a 30 minute cycle time trial. Results show an increase in oxygen uptake and energy expenditure while also limiting the effects of perceived exertion, which is a positive barrier of entry for the sedentary subject. No changes in perceived levels of exertion were also shown in anaerobic performances on athletes. Subjects on a Wingate Test observed no differences in an all – out effort, while test subjects in another study were able to increase their speeds of the ’finishing burst’ in a 1500 – m treadmill test.


What about Hydration?

Contrary to popular belief about caffeine increasing dehydration, one study reported no evidence of dehydration on its 59 healthy male subjects for 11 days over varying levels of caffeine. It is reported 12 ounces of coffee or 12 ounces of water will have the same effect.


Are there any Downsides?

High doses of caffeine can cause gastrointestinal issues, nausea, shaking and overstimulation that can negatively impact training, sleep and potentially performance.

Recent headlines suggest that caffeine could be heading to World Anti – Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited substance list as of late this year. Experts are currently studying whether athletes are using it with the intent of enhancing performance. In order for it to be added to the list the substance must meet 3 criteria:

  • It has the potential to enhance performance;
  • It poses a health risk to athletes;
  • It violates the spirit of the sport.


Take Home essages and Practical Application

  • Be judicious about your use of caffeine, and dose strategically and accordingly if you want to enhance performance.
  • To be taken before and/or during exercise in moderate quantities at 3-7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
  • Everyone has a varied caffeine tolerance, trial different quantities during training to find your personal dose.
  • Abstaining from caffeine at least 7 days before use or reintroduction after cessation at low doses will yield the greatest chance for an ergogenic effect.
  • Tread with caution and keep an eye out for anti – doping agencies.


Nathan Lardelli