How to Use Caffeine to Improve Your Athletic Performance
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How to Use Caffeine to Improve Your Athletic Performance?

Reading time: 5 min
Coffee, capsules or preworkout booster? Elevate your performance with caffeine.
How to Use Caffeine to Improve Your Athletic Performance

Caffeine is one of the most researched supplements in sports, and many studies demonstrate its efficiency in improving athletic performance.

While the positive effects of caffeine are tangible, there are also some downsides you should consider before supplementing it.

In this blog, we discuss caffeine and its effects on athletic performance.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. In other words, it is a psychoactive substance or, to put it plainly, a drug.

Most people associate caffeine with coffee, and it seems to be the drug of choice that people around the globe use to increase focus and boost mental strength during long working hours.

It's exactly these benefits that make caffeine interesting to athletes. This is further helped by the fact that caffeine, if taken below a certain limit, is not included in the list of prohibited substances, which is crucial for athletes taking part in competitions.

While coffee is a great way to enjoy caffeine, endurance athletes usually use pre-workout supplements and energy gels with caffeine, combining the intake of caffeine with a steady source of carbohydrates.

Nduranz Nrgy Unit Gel with CaffeineCaffeine is often added to energy gels for extra boost during workout. 

The Benefits of Caffeine in Sports

Caffeine is considered an ergogenic substance. This means it improves athletic performance. But what does it really mean?

It is often claimed that caffeine boosts energy levels. While this is a topic for another blog, you should know that caffeine does not really boost energy levels.

Instead, caffeine increases focus and reduces the sensation of fatigue. It's because of these effects that athletes, and people in general, often associate caffeine with an increase of energy levels.

But there's more to the story.

Indirectly, caffeine might actually boost energy levels by boosting your metabolism. Since the metabolism is directly involved in energy production, we could say caffeine does indirectly boost energy levels.

Caffeine also increases the oxidation of carbohydrates, another process that yields energy.

So, to sum up, caffeine gives you two great benefits during exercise:

  • it directly increases focus and reduces the sensation of fatigue
  • it indirectly improves the functioning of your energy systems

Caffeine increases focus and reduces the sensation of fatigue, making it easier to push harder during exercise.

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When to Use Caffeine

Many people use caffeine every day. Unfortunately, this quickly increases tolerance and greatly decreases the benefits of caffeine.

While there are surprisingly few studies researching how regular use affects caffeine's effect on athletic performance, it's safe to assume that the more you use it, the less benefits it provides.

So, if your only goal with caffeine is to improve your athletic performance, we suggest you only use it for races or important training sessions. That's also what Dr. Tim Podlogar suggests in Nduranz podcast about caffeine.

Alternatively, if daily coffee is your thing, you might take a few days off before the event — this will allow you to reset the system and get better yields from caffeine.

On a side note, using caffeine regularly during your workouts might increase the chance of overtraining and negatively affect your muscle recovery. This is of course very subjective, so don't stress too much about it.

But in terms of actually improving your athletic performance, you need to take caffeine the right way.

Caffeine works best if you use it moderately.

Caffeine Loading Phase

The opinions vary, but many studies concluded that caffeine works best if it's already active in the system at the start of exercise.

Since caffeine requires 15 to 30 minutes to be absorbed in the body, you should consume caffeine within this time frame.

You should also mind the dose. Studies confirm that you should consume 3 to 6 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass — for a 70 kg athlete, this amounts to 210 to 420 mg of caffeine (two to four cups of coffee).

Since drinking so many cups of coffee before a race seems inefficient, athletes usually use pre-workout supplements, such as PRE 4Energy, or simply caffeine capsules, such as Caffeine Capsules Nduranz.

Before exercise, you should consume 3 to 6 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass.

Caffeine During Exercise

Unfortunately, the effect of caffeine does not last long, and it will definitely peter out before the end of any event lasting more than two hours.

If you want to sustain the effect of caffeine throughout several hours of exercise, there's no other choice but to keep taking it during exercise.

The recommended dose for this is 65 mg of caffeine per hour (about 1 mg per kg of body mass).

The graph below demonstrates how the effect of caffeine reduces over time. By taking it during exercise, you can keep its levels above the performance threshold. 

Caffeine's Effect on Athletic PerformanceIf you want to keep caffeine levels above the performance threshold, you must also take it during exercise.

The best way to take caffeine during exercise is with an energy gel with caffeine. This not only allows you to easily maintain sufficient caffeine levels, but you can also preserve your glycogen stores and, depending on the gel, take care of hydration.

During exercise, you should consume 1 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass.

Negative Effects of Caffeine

Caffeine is generally considered relatively harmless, but the more you increase the dose, the more its potential negative effects become important.

There are three main negative effects we'd like to point out:

  • increased heart rate,
  • increased anxiety,
  • disturbed sleep cycle.

All these negative effects can become a threat to your health. They can also negatively affect your athletic performance.

So what should you do about it?

Like with most things, moderation is key.

Regular caffeine use is generally considered harmless as long as you don't suffer from any of the issues above and you do not exceed the recommended daily dose — anything up to 400 mg per day is considered acceptable.

If you do suffer from these negative effects, you can alleviate them by lowering your intake or not consuming caffeine late in the day when it might prevent you from getting quality sleep.

In terms of athletic performance, moderation might become an issue. If you want to use caffeine regularly to boost your athletic performance, not only will you regularly exceed the recommended daily dose, but you will also increase your tolerance, forcing you to keep further increasing your caffeine intake.

That's why we recommend you only use caffeine for athletic purposes when it truly matters — during races or important training sessions.

While caffeine is generally considered safe, consuming excessive amounts may cause unwanted side effects.

Conclusion

Caffeine is a well-researched supplement that can improve your athletic performance by decreasing the sensation of fatigue, increasing focus, and supporting your energy systems.

To improve athletic performance during a race, you should take from 3 to 6 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass within 30 minutes before the start of the event.

You should also take about 1 mg of caffeine per kg of body mass per hour during exercise to keep caffeine levels above the performance threshold.

We also recommend using caffeine sparingly, as regular excessive intake will quickly increase your tolerance and possibly have negative effects on your health.