It is almost not possible to think of everyday life without the stimulating effects of caffeine: a cup of coffee in the morning, at least for some of us, kick starts the day. Also, in the world of sport for many years caffeine is known as a performance booster.

Occurrences of caffeine

The most common way to consume caffeine is through coffee. The active ingredient can also be found either naturally or in an added form in other drinks and foods. These include for example caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks, black and green tea or cola as well as chocolate and enriched sports nutrition products.

The caffeine content in natural foods varies significantly. For example, the caffeine content in a cup of coffee/espresso depends on the type of bean and/or blend (Robusta beans have a higher caffeine content than Arabica beans), the amount of coffee used per serving and the preparation method. Dark chocolate contains more caffeine due to the higher cocoa content compared to milk chocolate. However, even among the same types of chocolate, the caffeine content varies widely depending on the way it is manufactured.

This is how much caffeine is in…


Effects of caffeine on sports performance

Caffeine counts as a legal ergogenic aid in sport. A given exercise can feel easier with caffeine than it actually is. Fatigue and exertion can be felt less intensely or alertness and vigilance can also be improved (2). The effects of caffeine on performance are influenced by factors such as the amount of caffeine and at what timepoint it is ingested. Consuming 3mg of caffeine per kg bodyweight approximately one hour before endurance exercise can improve endurance performance according to the European Food Safety Authority (3). Caffeine consumption can benefit performance not only if taken prior to exercise but also when taken during exercise (2).

However, the effects of caffeine affect individuals very differently and our genetics play an important role in this. Both the CYP1A2 and ADORA2A genes predominantly determine ‘how’ we react to caffeine (4). Not every athlete achieves performance enhancements with caffeine. In addition, unwanted side effects such as headaches, increased nervousness or a rapid heart rate can occur, especially after high doses and can adversely affect performance. For healthy adults, the European Food Safety Authority classifies single doses of up to 200 mg (approximately 3mg/kg bodyweight for a 70kg-adult) as harmless to health in their scientific report about the safety of caffeine (1). Whether caffeine is useful and tolerable and in what doses should be tried out individually in training.           

How do the professionals do it?

Tyrese Rice, a Basketball player with Brose Bamberg says: ‘A Caffeine Boost ampoule before the game enhances my ability to concentrate. During half time I almost always take a second caffeine load.’

Sebastian Kienle, one of the best German triathletes and winner of the Hawaii Ironman 2014 also relies on caffeine: ‘Pretty much my first ever prize money was spent on a premium coffee machine. During a typical day I’ll have 1 to 2 coffees in the morning, also often shortly before I start a (fasted) training ride on the ergometer. If I rather want to consume fewer carbohydrates during training I like to use the caffeinated 5Electrolytes Lemon Tonic as a drink. During races, especially during the run and the second part of the cycle leg, I rely on Isomax and towards the end also on an energy drink. The right amount of caffeine is very important. Too much caffeine does not further increase performance. Actually, it is the opposite and can lead to negative side effects.’

Footballers also appreciate the effects of caffeine. ‘Some of our players take caffeine before a match and/or during half-time. The PowerGel Hydro Cola is very popular as it contains 100mg of caffeine as well as carbohydrates’ says the medical department of the VfL Wolfsburg.

“The right amount of caffeine is very important. Too much caffeine does not further increase performance.” – Sebastian Kienle, Ironman Hawaii Winner 2014

Author: Corinne Mäder Reinhard, International Sports Nutrition Lead at Active Nutrition International. She has a postgraduate diploma in Sports Nutrition from the International Olympic Committee and is a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

The implementation of the nutrition information and recommendations described in this article is done at your own risk and cannot replace a personal and individual consultation. Especially individuals under the age of 18 years, with health restrictions (especially those with orthopaedic or internistic complaints / illnesses, or food intolerances or allergies), during pregnancy or lactation should first consult a doctor. Should any complaints develop during the implementation of the nutrition recommendations a doctor should be consulted immediately. Active Nutrition International GmbH does not assume liability.

1) EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2015). Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine. EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102
2) Peeling, P. et al. (2018). Evidence-Based Supplements for the Enhancement of Athletic Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 1;28(2):178-187
3) EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increase in physical performance. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2053.
4) Pickering, C., & Kiely, J. (2018). Are the Current Guidelines on Caffeine Use in Sport Optimal for Everyone? Inter-individual Variation in Caffeine Ergogenicity, and a Move Towards Personalised Sports Nutrition. Sports Med, 48(1):7-16.