Does Caffeine Affect Athletic Performance?

sports nutritionist

Does Caffeine Affect Athletic Performance?

Research shows that average caffeine consumed by people in the US on a daily basis is around 300mg which is 2- 4 cups. 80 % of the population consumes some form of it on a daily basis. It is the worlds most used a pharmacological and psychoactive substance. It is generally found in coffee beans, chocolates, tea leaves, cola nuts, and cocoa beans. The levels will vary according to how it is prepared, the amount consumed and the frequency of intake. Tea, coffee, cola contains around 40 – 60mg, 60 – 150mg and 40 – 50 mg respectively of caffeine per cup. Even though it has no nutritional value it has caught the attention of many athletes as it can play a role in their overall performance. The intake can have a positive as well as a negative effect on the athletes. Hence questions about caffeine are frequently asked a sports nutritionist or a sports dietitian.

It has a major impact on our central nervous system, hormones, muscles, and cardiovascular, pulmonary and renal functions while exercising and at rest. These physiological, hormonal and metabolic effects of caffeine decrease the respiratory exchange ratio, peripheral fatigue, increase oxygen intake, cardiac output, metabolic rate, and fat oxidation during intense exercise in untrained and trained people. Research has shown an improvement with caffeine on their moods, a decrease in their tiredness, increased mental alertness in them and increased energy levels. Caffeine intake does depend upon caffeine tolerance and habituation and athletes should mindfully consume caffeine and know the pros and cons of caffeine intake.

So, what is caffeine?

It is an alkaloid which is a natural stimulant. It is mostly found in tea leaves, coffee beans, cocoa beans, cola nuts, and chocolates. Today it is used worldwide as a psychoactive drug that prevents tiredness and helps to stay alert. On consumption works as early as 15 minutes in a person and the effect can last for up to 6 hours. Every person reacts differently with caffeine as it works differently with every individual body. Research shows that ingestion of caffeine has a different effect on athletes than the regular individual and the different amount shows different effects on various individuals.

Some positive effects of caffeine on athletes

  1. Monitored doses of caffeine have shown great benefits in endurance based activities over a long period of time like marathon runners, cross country runners and long distance cyclists. As per some research, endurance is improved by 4-5%.
  2. Caffeine in some studies is shown to improve physical performance in strength related sports activities. It enables the body to use fat as the primary source of fuel thus sparing glycogen for later consumption.
  3. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system thus impacting the alertness, which makes the athlete more alert and less tired throughout the sports event. It helps to reduce the pain and perception of fatigue thus allowing the athlete to work at higher intensities. It even helps in speeding up the recovery allowing them to be prepared for the next day’s training or event.

Some negative effects of caffeine on athletes –

  1. Athletes can get addicted to caffeine so much so that they may not be able to function without it. This mainly depends on the frequency and the amount of caffeine content in the drink regularly taken.
  2. Though associated with alertness, during sports events caffeine can cause lethargy and fatigue when over consumed.
  3. Caffeine in high doses could lead to diarrhea, headache, vomiting, stomach upset and body discomfort. In excess can also lead to insomnia, tremors, anxiety, dizziness, etc. It should be used with discretion in people with a heart condition or high blood pressure.

Recommended Limits –

International Olympic Committee has strictly restricted the athlete from consuming only up to 12 micrograms of caffeine per milliliters urine which is a healthy limit allowed before a sporting event. Adolescents should consume no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine per day whereas children should be restricted from consuming any.

Every athlete is looking to improve his / her performance, whether it is eating good food, training well or taking in caffeine. Whilst taking in caffeine one needs to remember that what so ever may be the intake of caffeine, it cannot replace the energy that is provided by the food. It cannot be the sole factor for providing the competitive edge that the athlete is looking for. A balanced diet appropriate to the sport plays a vital role in sporting performance. Whether you are looking for an online sports nutritionist or an offline one, it is always helpful to reach out to a qualified sports nutritionist specialist to help chalk out a sound sports nutrition plan.

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