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Can Caffeine Supplementation Benefit Your Sporting Performance?

A morning cup of coffee is a ritual for many of us to start our day. Some of us stick to one, others choose to consume more. Whether you’re the first, or the latter, there is a number of positive and negative side effects of your morning cuppa’ joe. The age old question for athletes is, can caffeine supplementation benefit your sporting performance?

Caffeine is a stimulant, which works on the central nervous system acting as the powerhouse that controls the body and mind. It’s superpower is that it increases mental alertness, concentration and attention span as well preventing the feeling of fatigue.

There are two classes of individuals:

  • ‘Fast metabolisers’ (they can process and metabolise caffeine relatively quickly), and
  • ‘Slow metabolisers’ (those who are unable to process caffeine as quickly).

Slow metabolisers are at a greater risk of experiencing side effects of caffeine (gastrointestinal upsets, anxiety etc.). These people may need a smaller dose, if they’re wanting to use caffeine as an ergogenic aid to boost sporting performance.

Potential Benefits of Caffeine Supplementation

From gym goers to competitive athletes, training and competing can use up copious amounts of energy. Lacking in energy leads to exhaustion, as well as lack of mental cohesiveness which may compromise performance.

Taking caffeine as a supplement has been shown to;

  • Prolong an individual’s hyper responsive state
  • Increase cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, activating their sympathetic fight or flight response
  • Increase an individual’s endurance during a workout
  • Lower perceived levels of exhaustion

How Does Caffeine Do All This?

Primarily, we see these effects as a result of caffeine taking the place of Adenosine (a chemical in the brain) on Adenosine brain receptors. Originally, Adenosine binding would be an indication of fatigue occurring, however caffeine is able to block that response. This leads to reducing the feeling of fatigue and masking perceived level of exertion.

Types of Caffeine Supplements

When diving into the world of supplements, it can be quite daunting.  There are literally thousands on the market, so it is important to know what to look out for. Caffeine based supplements can be taken in numerous ways including:

  • Coffee
  • Pre-workout
  • Energy drinks
  • Mouth rinses
  • Chewing gum
  • Caffeine pills e.g. No-Doz

Caffeine content varies between products and in the case of coffee, variation is common between each cup. Alternatively, sports drinks and pills are more advantageous as they are accurately dosed and measured with the amount of caffeine clearly outlined on the packaging.

What Is The Recommended Dosage?

Every individual is different and there is no one size fits all scenario. An umbrella range for dosing is between 1-3 mg/kg body weight in order to observe performance improvements.  That is between 70 mg to 210 mg of caffeine for a 70 kg individual, roughly two cups of coffee according to Sports Dietitians Australia. After having thorough assessments with an experienced Fuel Your Life dietitian, an individual’s dosage can be determined based on;

  • Weight of athlete/body composition
  • Activity level/type of activity
  • How they metabolise caffeine
  • The source of caffeine

To maximise sports performance, supplementation should be taken 30 – 90 minutes before activity to see optimal results.

ALWAYS trial caffeine supplementation during a training session rather than implementing the strategy for the first time on a competition day.  This allows your dietitian time to help you adjust the dosage to maximise performance benefits whilst minimising any side effects.

Precautions When Taking Caffeine Supplements

Although caffeine has shown to have quite incredible effects and is loved by so many, it is to be taken with caution as it can interfere with some physiological aspects within the body.

Caffeine consumption can lead to nutritional deficiencies if not taken appropriately. Caffeine is a Polyphenol, a compound known to interfere with the absorption of many nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium. Having too much caffeine can cause an over stimulation effect on the body which may result in;

  • Increased heart rate/heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration/increased thirst
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lack of sleep/insomnia/anxiety
  • Digestive issues
  • Fatigue (long term adrenal fatigue)
  • Addiction

What Are The Take Home Messages?

  • Caffeine’s favourable effects in training sessions and many difference sports have shown to benefit individuals and athletes when dosed and trailed correctly.
  • It can aid in prolonging the duration of physical efforts and halting the feelings of fatigue.
  • Caffeine supplementation is advantageous to performance and can be accessible in various forms.
  • Individual advice should be sought to determine the correct type and dose to maximise performance.
  • When taking any supplement, ensure awareness of their physiological effects to avoid unforeseen consequences.

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