Caffeine and Exercise Performance

Does caffeine help or hurt physical or athletic performance?  The answer is yes, and no. There’s a lot more to it than a simple yes or no. Caffeine along with a very select few other ergogenic aids (athletic performance enhancers) are proven effective. The answer isn’t that simple however, several things about caffeine and it’s use to enhance physical performance need to be understood.



Caffeine is perhaps one of the most widely used drugs in the world. It has been used as an athletic performance enhancer for over 30 years. It’s found in substances like coffee, tea, chocolate and other foods. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant with effects similar to, but weaker than amphetamines (as in meth amphetamine or crystal meth) Many people forget that caffeine is a drug and that it is a physically addictive substance. If you drink enough of it regularly, you’ll most likely experience physical withdrawl symptoms if you don’t have it


Caffeine has been shown to improve athletic performance for both cardiovascular endurance and strength and power activities in elite athletes. Ingesting caffeine through both food sources or pill form are both effective. The pure caffeine in pill form works better than caffeine from coffee. Bioavailability is the same in both coffee and supplement form, it could be that some compound in coffee interferes with the absorption and utilization of the caffeine.


Now, with that said, keep in mind these were highly trained athletes. Recreational athletes, or exercise enthusiasts typically don’t get the same results as elite athletes . In fact, in studies measuring caffeine’s effect on strength and power, using recreational athletes. No significant difference was seen in performance with the aid of caffeine.


One thing most average individuals, fitness enthusiasts and recreational athletes underestimate or neglect is water intake. I can assure you, most highly trained athletes take this very seriously because it is the single most important factor affecting athletic performance. If you’re dehydrated, no amount of caffeine is going to help you as much as good old fashioned water will. So hydration status needs to be carefully considered when consuming caffeine.


The kicker is that caffeine is a diuretic causing your body to excrete water, therefore, dehydrating you. So before you drink coffee or pop an energy pill with caffeine make sure you’re drinking an adequate amount of water as part of your regular routine.


In addition to hydration status, the other major thing you need to pay careful attention to is how well your body handles the substance. I’m always preaching listening to your body, and this is a prime example. Each person and situation is usually very different. Keep in mind that coffee or a caffeine pill can cause stomach discomfort, which will surely effect your performance negatively.


The right intake and timing mostly depends on how well trained you are, how well you tolerate certain substances. and what and how much you had to eat and drink at your previous meals.


If you’re already at a high level of training, eating good, and hydrating properly you may enter my realm. Supplementing with caffeine can help improve performance, but the building blocks of a solid foundation need to be there first Caffeine is a supplement to the right diet and training program not a substitute for one.


The NSCA guideline is 3mg/kg-9mg/kg for well trained individuals. or the equivalent of 1.5-3.5 cups of coffee for a 70kg (154lb) athlete. However, my personal recommendation to clients is no more than 3 cups coffee per day for anyone, and really I prefer only 1 cup, as little as possible, or none at all depending on the individual. I’ll explain more later.


Timing of caffeine intake is similar to guidelines for pre activity food, and fluid intake. I wouldn’t recommend having any more than 8 oz of fluid 15 minutes before activity and I would take a (pill form) supplement with a small amount of food no less than 30 minutes before. However, each person is different some people may notice they can drink coffee 20-30 minutes before activity without issue, while others may need more time for the coffee or supplement to break down or empty from the stomach. It takes about 20-30 minutes for the caffeine to kick in. Generally, I’d recommend waiting at least a half hour after intake before activity, but some people may need up to an hour, some may sip a coffee protein shake shortly before and during their workout, and be completely fine.

If you’re performing a cardiovascular type of activity, you’ll probably want to drink less or wait longer. If you’re performing a strength type of activity, you might be able to get away with having fluids closer to the workout or during, without it upsetting your stomach.


Some people may already be drinking in their upper limit of coffee, and be no where near the training level of an athlete. If you order a large coffee it could be anywhere from 1.5-3 cups right there in one cup. A serving of coffee is one 8 oz. cup so you’ll need to check the fluid oz. to determine how many servings you’re actually taking in.


Hydrated or not, many negative effects are seen in consumption of over 9mg/kg caffeine. Negative effects associated with caffeine are anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbance, restlessness, insomnia, tremors, and heart arythmias. Since caffeine is a diuretic it can cause heat illness in high temperature.


A person with high blood pressure, or a genetic risk for developing high blood pressure (or other conditions aggravated by caffeine) should keep caffeine and coffee intake to a minimum, and certain medications interact with caffeine, coffee, and or tea If you’re not in great shape or don’t eat right and you put cream or sugar in your coffee then those calories can add up big time. I’ve had clients lean out just from cutting down (or cutting out) on the cream and sugar they put in their coffee.


You usually drink lots of coffee because you want more energy. A worse scenario is you’ve made it a habit, built up a tolerance, become dependent on it, and now need an increased amount to have an effect It’s important to note that in the big scheme of things regularly drinking more water usually increases energy more than drinking more coffee does If this sounds like you, I’d first recommend cutting down on caffeine gradually, using specific strategies for behavior change to a lower your intake At the same time you’ll focus on eating better and drinking more water. This will certainly give you more energy with less stress (anxiety) caused by excess caffeine intake.


I always emphasize getting nutrients from foods. It’s rare I recommend supplements, especially in pill form. I’m definitely not in the habit of recommending caffeine pills. I don’t drink coffee anymore, I prefer green tea over coffee and recommend the same to my clients. I usually drink Matcha green tea powder to be more specific. Matcha green tea has caffeine like coffee. More importantly it has L theanine and ECGC the synergy of these nutrients with the caffeine has many more beneficial effects than coffee does.


A lot of people like to know what I do because I’m a professional and train at a very high intensity level So, here’s something I might do or recommend. I might have 1 or 2 small squares of Dark Chocolate (usually 60% cocoa or higher) a handful of nuts or seeds and an 8 oz. cup of matcha green tea 30-60 minutes or so before a workout. I usually start drinking some green tea first thing in the morning with my breakfast. I keep sipping the same cup through the morning, I’m also drinking plenty of water. Then I’ll have a second cup after lunch and save about 1/2 of it for that 30-60 minute window before my workout That way, I have something that’s going to stick to my stomach, won’t be sloshing around and will be in my bloodstream. while I’m training. There’s protein and some higher glycemic carbs, and some caffeine in the chocolate and in the green tea. which is nearly a perfect balance of nutrients to keep me fueled for my workout . Green tea seems to give you what I call clean energy. You feel satisfied, energized, and focused not anxious or jittery and stressed with an upset stomach.

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