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Home / News / Caffeine – the kick when you need it most.
20 February 2015


As any endurance athlete knows, getting through the last few kilometres of a long race can be a reallychallenging task. Despite all the training, the closer you get to the finish line, the harder it is to keep going,thanks to depleted energy stores and fatigue setting in from the brain. This is when caffeine - a naturallyoccurring chemical compound - becomes an athlete's best friend. Caffeine is a legal performance-enhancing stimulant that can improve mental focus and therefore performance. (The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) approved its use in January 2004*)


How does caffeine work?

Recent research has shown that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system via the brain. The brain is the "powerhouse" of the body from where signals are sent to activate muscles. When you exercise, changes in neurotransmitter levels occur in the brain, which can influence a person’s level of fatigue. These levels can be manipulated using nutrition, which is a great opportunity to enhance your performance.It was previously thought that caffeine, consumed with carbohydrates, increased the rate of carbohydrate oxidation (the burning of carbohydrates for fuel) presumably by improved glucose absorption.  Additionally, it was thought that caffeine increases lipolysis - the breakdown of fat for use as a fuel source. However, new research has shown  that caffeine is unlikely to have a metabolic role in increasing performance (such as sparing muscle glycogen or increasing fat oxidation) and instead alters the athlete’s perception of fatigue and through this helping to improve  physical performance. Not everyone has the same results when they use caffeine, but most people find that they’re more alert, energised, focused and experience a perceived sense of ease in racing effort. The potential positive and negative side effects of caffeine are very individualised so it is recommended that all athletes choosing to use caffeine test their nutrition plan in a non-competitive/training event. If you experience a negative reaction to caffeine during training, it’s obviously not the right nutrition choice for you. 

How much caffeine should you consume?

Most endurance athletes seem to benefit from a dosage of between 2 -5mg/kg. Performance benefits don't necessarily increase if the dosage is increased - effectiveness has been shown to level off at 5mg/kg - so avoid drinking too much coffee or ingesting too many caffeine supplements! On average, a 70kg athlete would need between 140 – 210mg of caffeine. To give a practical example, one Enervit Sport Cheerpack Competition with Caffeine (60ml serving) is an instant energy booster, providing 42mg of caffeine per 100ml. Caffeine is recognised as a diuretic, so many athletes have been advised to, for practical reasons, avoid caffeine before and during an event. However small doses of caffeine do not have a diuretic effect, whilst still potentially enhancing performance.  "Fatigue in endurance performance is a complete and multifaceted occurrence and while there is good evidence that caffeine may enhance performance, the value of good nutrition cannot be underestimated," commented Monique dos Santos, a registered dietician and nutrition consultant. No amount of caffeine will compensate for an unbalanced diet. If you are using caffeine to boost performance, make sure you are also fuelling adequately with a good diet and appropriate supplements during training and racing. 

When should you consume caffeine?

There does seem to be potential in the strategic timing of caffeine before and during exercise. Some studies have shown that divided doses of caffeine during exercise are most effective, whereas others have shown benefits in consuming caffeine an hour before exercise and in the last third of an event. Regular doses of caffeine throughout a longer race can be just as beneficial as a single greater dose before the event.  * Note: Caffeine is still on the WADA monitoring list as a substance to screen in athletes' blood and watch to determine patterns of use. Caffeine remains a restricted drug by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, an athlete would have to ingest a vast amount of caffeine before reaching their legal limit. It is virtually unknown for an athlete being banned due to high levels of urinary caffeine.

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