Sports Nutrition

Supplement Series #4 – Caffeine

Caffeine has well-known benefits for athletic performance, and might just be our favourite supplement of all (in coffee form of course)!

It is the most consumed stimulant in the world. Caffeine is linked to increased heart rate, the contraction and relaxation of heart muscle and neural signaling. It has been shown to be effective at improving performance across a range of endurance-based sports and short-term max efforts.

How does it work?

Simply put, caffeine is a stimulant – it speeds us up!

Caffeine tricks your adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter created in the brain. It is a central nervous system depressant. When it binds to adenosine receptors, it slows down nerve cell activity.

Caffeine looks like adenosine, so much so that it binds to the adenosine receptor instead! However, caffeine doesn’t slow down the nerve cell activity, it speeds it up, causing the neurons to ‘fire up’!

The subsequent endorphin release (those feel good hormones), improves neuromuscular function and improves vigilance and alertness. Caffeine also causes the brains blood vessels to constrict, which is why caffeine can help stop some headaches!

Performance Impact

Caffeine can improve endurance capacity, including perception of effort and time to fatigue across various sports (e.g. cycling, running and rowing). In short – exercise feels easier!

Sounds good right?

How much and how often?

Current evidence suggests anywhere from 3-6mg per kg of body weight consumed 60 minutes before exercise to be effective. For a 70kg athlete – this means 420mg at the upper end. Lower doses of caffeine (closer to the 3mg/kg mark) can be provided before and during exercise, and are best consumed with a source of carbohydrate. Pill or powder forms of caffeine are recommended if you are getting specific with dosing. If we’re talking food – try a pre-run coffee and banana!

Are there side effects?

Caffeine is not recommended for adolescent athletes. Additionally, it can cause nausea, anxiety, insomnia and restlessness in some people. Because of this, different doses and variations in timing of intake should be trialed prior to using caffeine in competition.

Check out the other articles in our Supplement Series on protein powders, nitrates and creatine.