Can Caffeine Improve Exercise Performance?
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Many of us rely on a cup – or three – of coffee to get going in the morning. Or maybe a diet cola to give us a little post-lunch jolt in the afternoon. But can this boost impact other parts of your life?
According to the International Society of Sports Medicine (ISSM), the answer is yes.
Enough evidence has been gathered regarding the benefits of caffeine to exercise performance that the society felt compelled to publish a “position stand” paper on the subject in 2021. They concluded that caffeine – when taken in the right amounts and at the right time – has a positive impact on certain aspects of athletic performance.
“Small to moderate benefits of caffeine use have been shown in muscle endurance, movement speed, and muscle strength,” says Carolyn Marie Landsberg, M.D., a pediatric sports medicine specialist with the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. “There is also evidence for benefits in sports-specific actions such as jumping and throwing.”
The ISSM offered recommendations for caffeine consumption in their paper.
- The ideal amount of caffeine is 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body mass. “This is equivalent to a few cups of coffee for an average-weight person,” says Dr. Landsberg.
- Doses of 9 mg/kg of body weight or higher can have detrimental effects.
- Optimal timing can vary based on the source of caffeine, but around 60 minutes of pre-exercise is a good rule of thumb.
However, if these simple rules are met, the benefits seem real and measurable.
Dr. Landsberg says that the most significant benefits appear for those participating in endurance sports, but they can also impact other sports.
Caffeine in the right amounts seems to have a positive impact on muscle strength and endurance, movement velocity, sprinting, and more. If a sport involves specific movements like jumping or throwing, it can benefit those athletes, too. And the ISSM notes that these impacts seem to affect both trained and untrained individuals, regardless of their overall skill level.
Why is caffeine effective in workouts?
It seems strange that something as simple as your daily cup of coffee could impact athletic performance, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out caffeine is a drug, after all.
Though its overall impact is relatively mild, it creates an ergogenic effect. When it comes to exercise, that means it changes your perception of how much effort an activity requires, which gives you a boost to push yourself a little harder than usual. The academy says that the impact is more pronounced on individuals who don’t regularly use caffeine.
While a little caffeine in the form of coffee, an energy drink, or others may be worth a try before your next training run, Dr. Landsberg says there is such a thing as too much caffeine.
You don’t want to go overboard. Caffeine does have side effects such as palpitations, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety.Carolyn Marie Landsberg, M.D.
A good rule of thumb may be to try a bit before your next workout to see if it helps.
That way, you can safely adjust your approach to come up with the right level of caffeine to use before your next fun run or cycling event. The evidence seems sound enough that taking the right amount of caffeine at the right time may just give you the safe edge you need to get a little extra boost from your usual abilities.
Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.