Trying to gain an edge on the course? Caffeine is one trick used. Athletes are commonly seen downing a power drink before a competition… or grabbing a coke in the last feed zone. The performance benefits of caffeine are widely supported. But before you get your next game-day caffeine fix, check-out these tips to optimize its effects.
Limit Caffeine to Race Day, Really?
Athletes can build up tolerances to caffeine and its performance enhancing effects. To prevent this from happening, it’s best to abstain from caffeine for the days leading up to your race. The recommended abstinence period ranges from 3-4 days to a week. A more hard line approach is to drink caffeine only on game day, and avoid it at all other times. By reducing your caffeine tolerances, you’ll make your body more susceptible to caffeine effects on game-day.
When to Consume Caffeine?
Studies very on when caffeine should be taken – suggesting it should be consumed anywhere from 0-2 hours prior to the race. However recent consensus seems to lean towards consuming caffeine immediately before an event – and also during the event for endurance races. In a study published in the April 2012 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research/ National Strength and Conditioning Association, cyclists were given caffeine gum or a placebo two hours, one hour and five minutes before a time trial race. Cyclists taking the caffeine just before the start rode faster, while the others showed no benefit. A usage study done by Griffith University in Queensland, Australia seems to support this. This study found that 90 percent of tri-athletes used a caffeine substance immediately prior to or during a competition. (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, October 2006.)
How Much Caffeine?
Studies show that athletes can get the desired caffeine-boosting effect with as little as 1 milligram of caffeine per 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. To put this in perspective, a 176-pound man only needs to drink one 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull (80 mg of caffeine) or a cup of coffee to receive the full ergogenic benefits.
For endurance athletes, higher – but still moderate – levels of caffeine (3-6 mg of caffeine per 1 kg of body weight) have been found to effectively boost performance. This equates to about 240-480 mg of caffeine, and is within safe levels advised by the Mayo Clinic.
Athletes should be careful to not over-consume caffeine (over 500-600 mg a day). This can actually have an opposite effect on performance. Side effects caused by too much caffeine include insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach upset, diarrhea, fast heartbeat, and muscle tremors and cramping. Any of these can hurt your ability to concentrate and negatively impact performance.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, even minor use of it can lead to unpleasant side effects. It’s always best to pre-test your caffeine sensitivities before trying it for the first time before an event.
Consume Caffeine with Carbs
Studies have found that caffeine will only improve your performance if taken with sugar. (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, July 2010; and the Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2006). When caffeine is consumed with carbohydrates during exercise, it increases endurance by increasing the absorption of sugar from your intestines, rather than relying on the use of the limited glycogen in your muscles. Similar findings were reported in the Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition et Metabolism, March 2012, based on time trial testing lasting less than 30 minutes.
Can Caffeine help you Win?
Let us know if you’ve noticed a difference in performance or endurance when consuming caffeine on game day; and what usage has worked best for you.
- Caffeine: How Much is Too Much, MayoClinic.com
- Caffeine and Sports Performance, Australian Institute of Sport
- “Journal of Applied Physiology”; Caffeine Increases Exogenous Carbohydrate Oxidation During Exercise; Yeo et al.; September 2005