Guidelines regarding the consumption of caffeine to enhance athletic performance have changed significantly. In the past is was believed to be a diuretic, beneficial in high doses primarily for marathoners, and most effective when consumed an hour pre-event. Almost every aspect of those ideas has been replaced with newer knowledge, according to Louise Burke PhD. Australian Catholic University and Ben Desbrow PhD, Griffith University, Australia. The two were presenters at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting held in San Diego last month. Here are some of the highlights from their presentation with some tips on how you can improve your performance:
- Caffeine is not just for endurance athletes; it offers a three-percent improvement in performance in many real-life sporting events including shorter races and team sports. In addition, caffeine may help athletes such as body builders train harder.
- Caffeine offers similar benefits whether you take it one hour pre-workout or only during a long workout. Even low doses of caffeine (as in a gel or caffeinated gum) are effective when consumed just prior to the onset of fatigue.
- Caffeine can help runners and triathletes train better when they are jetlagged or when their circadian rhythms are out of line.
- Caffeine comes in many forms, including caffeinated water, potato chips, gums, gels, sprays, pouches, strips, medications, pre-workout supplements, and pills. The caffeine content of commercial pre-workout supplements can vary from batch to batch (~40 mg difference per serving) Of the top 15 most popular pre-workout supplements, caffeine content ranged from about 90 to 390 mg/serving —and often contained more—or less—of what was listed on the nutrition facts panel.
- Each individual runner and triathlete needs to learn from their own personal experiences the right caffeine source and dose for their bodies. Genetics influences the enzymes that break down caffeine.
- If you consume 1 cup of coffee in the morning, most of the caffeine will have dissipated by lunchtime. In general, caffeine stays in the body for about 7 hours. Its half-life (time taken for caffeine in the body to drop by half) might be five hours (or less) for some runners, but ten hours (or more) for others.
- Female athletes should know that birth control pills almost double the half-life of caffeine, making it more effective for longer.
- If you happen to be a slow metabolizer and then take a pre-workout caffeine boost before your afternoon workout, you might have some caffeine “overlap” from your morning cup of brew. Even if you abstain from caffeine for 12 hours, circulating caffeine might still be detected in your blood due to caffeine accumulation with repeated caffeine consumption. Depending on your tolerance, this could be helpful or harmful.
- Habitual caffeine intake does not seem to influence its energy-enhancing effect across a range of different sports. That means, if you regularly consume coffee every day, there’s no need for you to stop consuming it for a few days prior to a race. Caffeine withdrawal feels horrible and you’re unlikely to gain any benefits!
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston area. She is author of the best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (www.NancyClarkRD.com)