It’s almost impossible to think about every day life without caffeine and its stimulating effects: a cup of coffee in the morning wakes you up and, at least for some of us, lifts our spirits. In the world of sport, caffeine has already been known as a performance booster for years.
Occurrences of caffeine
In Europe caffeine is consumed through coffee above all else. The active ingredient in its natural form, or added, is also present in other beverages and foods. These include, for example, caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks, black and green tea, or cola, as well as chocolate (the higher the cocoa content the higher the caffeine content), and enriched sports nutrition products.
The caffeine content in natural foods is highly variable. The caffeine content of a cup of coffee / espresso depends on the type of coffee bean, or the blend (Robusta beans have a higher caffeine content than Arabica beans), the amount of coffee used per portion, and the brewing method (filter coffee contains a slightly higher caffeine content than espresso of equal amounts). Dark chocolate contains more caffeine than milk chocolate due to the higher coca content. However, even among the same types of chocolate the caffeine content can fluctuate depending on the manufacturing process.
Effects of caffeine on sports performance
A caffeine dose of 3-4mg per kilogram bodyweight affects especially the brain, i.e. the central nervous system. The ability to concentrate and alertness can be improved this way. As a result caffeine is known as a mental performance booster among athletes. If taken before and/or during endurance exercise it can increase the endurance capacity, and reduce the rating of perceived exertion.
There are very few known side effects with dosages up to 3mg per kilogram bodyweight. In their recent draft scientific opinion about the safety of caffeine, the European Food Safety Authority has assessed single doses of caffeine up to 200mg (approx. 3mg/kg bodyweight) for healthy adults as harmless health wise. However, the effects of caffeine vary between individuals, and therefore caffeine is not suitable for every athlete. Those with a sensitive stomach should try out if they tolerate caffeine well when training, and if yes, in what amounts. There shouldn’t be any experimentation in races, and only a previously planned sports nutrition strategy should be followed.
How do the Pros do it?
“During training I drink Isomax and Cola. During races I consume caffeinated PowerGel®s, Cola, and in certain circumstances also an energy drink every now and again. During an IRONMAN I have approximately 15 PowerGel®s Original in my bike bottle, of which 10 contain caffeine. For shorter races I’ll also drink cola or an energy drink before the competition, which increases the bodies operating temperature. When it comes to the amount of caffeine, I go by instinct, and the dosages go on feel”, says the Triathlon Pro Faris Al-Sultan.
The Triathlete Jodie Stimpson, double Commonwealth Games Champion 2014, is also convinced by the effects of caffeine: “With me nothing gets done in the morning without a cup of coffee. When I’ve planned a hard training session, I’ll have a PowerGel® with caffeine before, and in longer sessions I’ll have additional gels during them. In races, i.e. the Olympic distance, I’ll consume 2 caffeinated PowerGel®s during the bike, and one additional PowerGel® on the run. Even in the sprint discipline I have a PowerGel® with caffeine on the bike.”
Not just in endurance sports, but also in team sports, athletes can benefit from caffeine intake. “The highly technical demands, including the accuracy of passing and tackling in football require maximal concentration. Especially at the end of a match, and particularly during overtime, there is a high incidence of central fatigue, with an increased risk of injury. A caffeine dose of 3-4mg per kilogram bodyweight consumed 60 minutes before a match can therefore be useful. This amount can be achieved with 2-3 PowerGel®s Hydromax Cola per player”, Dr. Klaus Pöttgen, Team Doctor of SV Darmstadt 98 explains.
© Corinne Mäder, Senior EU Sport Nutrition Manager PowerBar,
International Olympic Committee Sports Nutrition post-graduate diploma
EFSA NADA Panel (EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies) (2015). Draft Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine. EFSA Journal
EFSA NADA Panel (EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies) (2014). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to caffeine and increased alertness pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 12 (2):3574, 16pp
Spriet, L.L. (2014). Exercise and sport performance with low doses of caffeine. Sports Med., 44 Suppl 2:S175-84.
– Sebastian Schels (http://www.schels.net/cycling)