Caffeine – The athletic performance enhancer

Following the recent post on creatine, today’s piece is going to look at another science backed means by which to improve your athletic performance.

There is a wide and wonderful selection of products promising to improve your athletic output, but very few supplements are actually evidence based to show consistent and robust improvements. One which does however demonstrate this across the board, is caffeine.

Why supplement?

For the athlete, at its very basic level, performance outside of technical competence means excelling in endurance, speed and strength. What is particularly appealing about caffeine is it actually has a pretty far reaching effect on each of these different qualities.

Caffeine is a stimulant that effects cognitive functioning. It improves neuromuscular function, vigilance and alertness, as well as reducing the perception of exertion during exercise. These improvements are seen across endurance based situations, (running, cycling, swimming,etc), and short term sub-maximal and/or repeated sprint tasks.

Timing

As in all posts, I do like to give a nod to combat sports performance. In a recent podcast, a well respected performance nutritionist working with pro boxers discussed using caffeine prior to a fight. He’ll give his fighters a coffee or caffeine shot, 30 minutes before the fight. Then the same 10 minutes before they enter the ring.

The above strategy appears logical when considering blood levels rise and peak approximately 60 minutes after ingesting. A men’s professional boxing match at the top level is between 10 and 12, 3 minute rounds with 1 minute breaks between. This strategy would allow for cognitive enhancing effects early on in the fight, whilst ensuring the significant ergogenic effects from peak caffeine blood levels will be realised towards the end of the fight. This should occur exactly around the point that glycogen levels and dehydration could all be taking a toll on the fighter’s performance

The above strategy can be adjusted in line with any other chosen disciple, by purely doing the calculations of 60 minutes being peak blood level presence and relate that to where in the competition the athlete will most benefit from a higher perceived level to exhaustion and greater cognitive functioning.

Dosing strategy

In regards to dosing, 3-9 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight (bw) has shown a ergogenic effect on endurance exercise of 1 to 2 hours and exercise around 100% of vo2 max that lasts approximately 1-5 minutes.

With sub maximal and repeated sprint tasks, look to initially work with the 3-6 mg per kg of bw range, 50/60 minutes prior to exercising. A more practical strategy for longer endurance events of 90 plus minutes maybe to work with lower doses closer to around 3mg per kg of bw. This should be consumed between 15 – 80 minutes during the event and keeping in-line with the research, taken alongside a carbohydrate solution beverage.

Doses above 9mg per kg of bw do not appear to increase performance benefits and could raise risks of negative side effects including nausea, anxiety and insomnia.

Caffeine Anhydrous

An effective method for ingestion is using caffeine anhydrous, a super charged alternative to a standard caffeine pill. After harvesting, caffeine is extracted from the plant matter and dehydrated. This produces a highly concentrated caffeine powder termed caffeine anhydrous. It will hit the bloodstream much faster than just a plain caffeine pill so consider this in regards to your timing of ingestion.

Final Thoughts

We’ve basically focused exclusively on taking caffeine pre exercise to enhance performance, Whilst also touching on taking during exercise. However, caffeine is also a powerful substance to include post workout and has been seen to support glycogen resynthesis in the muscle and liver post exercise. Therefore don’t be shy to add a coffee to your post workout shake.

Although contradicting evidence exists, on balance it dosnt appear necessary to practice caffeine withdrawal to get a better sport performance effect from supplementing pre exercise. With this in mind, do experiment to see what works best for you.

In closing, what’s important to note is that the effects of caffeine are highly individual due to your genetic makeup. As seen on the dosing strategies, the range is fairly significant in what represents the best “effective dose”. With this in mind, just be mindful of where start with your experimentation and probably best to air on the side of caution, your sleep could thank you for it.

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