Caffeine for Sports Performance

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For athletes, caffeine is a proven performance enhancer. In their new book Caffeine for Sports Performance, sports dietitians Louise Burke and Ben Desbrow and exercise physiologist Lawrence Spriet address all-things-caffeine that an athlete might want to know. Here are just a few tidbits that I gleaned from this comprehensive resource. Perhaps the information will help you add a little bit of zip to your workouts.

Note: No amount of caffeine will compensate for a lousy diet. If you choose to use caffeinated products to enhance your sports performance, make sure you are also fueling wisely!

  • A cup of pre-exercise coffee can help most athletes work harder without realizing it. Caffeine has been shown to enhance performance by about 1% to 3%, particularly in endurance sports. For example, cyclists who consumed caffeine prior to a 24-mile (40-km) time-trial generated 3.5% more power than when they did the ride without caffeine.
  • Athletes vary in their responsiveness to caffeine, from highly effective to negative. Some of the side effects associated with too much caffeine include higher heart rate, anxiety, “coffee stomach”, irritability, and insomnia.
  • The recommended performance-enhancing dose of caffeine is about 1.5 mg/lb (3 mg/kg) body weight. This can be consumed 1 hour before the event, and/or during the event (such as a caffeinated gel or defizzed cola every hour). For example, triathletes commonly consume caffeinated gels before each segment, to distribute the caffeine throughout the event rather than have a big pre-race jolt that might make them feel shaky and unable to concentrate. Some athletes delay caffeine intake until fatigue starts to appear, and then they ingest 0.5-1 mg/lb (1-2 mg/kg) body weight.
  • Caffeine’s ergogenic effect maxes out at about 200 to 250 mg caffeine. (This is much less than previously recommended.) More is not better.  Experiment during training to learn what amount (if any) works best for your body!

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Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, is a sports nutrition consultant with the Boston Red Sox and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. For more sports nutrition information go to www.nancyclarkrd.com.

 

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