With an ever-increasing social acceptance of caffeinated products in the fitness industry, are we really making appropriate use and enhancing our performance or are we interfering with our training?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in various leaves, nuts, seeds and numerous plants – including the more commonly known coffee beans and cacao beans. Coffee, teas, cola, energy drinks and supplements are part of our general social acceptance (Catch up for a coffee, anyone?) and are increasingly popular for helping improve performance when marketed towards the fitness industry. These beverages often contain anywhere from 30mg to 120mg of caffeine and acts as an ergogenic aid during exercise. This helps our body to perform better during physical activity and change our perception on effort while exercising.
While we don't usually promote the use of caffeine or caffeinated products (due to long-term dependance or cortisol-related side-effects, we thought it may be useful for those who do use caffeine to understand what it's doing during your training session!
Does timing affect performance?
Consuming caffeine before or during training will increase our performance by influencing our central nervous system and reducing our perception of effort and perception of fatigue when consumed appropriately to an individual. Timing is important – for example, consuming caffeine prior to fasted cardio will promote the capacity for exercise due to the body’s low glycogen levels.
What benefits does caffeine have for training?
The most efficient way to benefit from caffeine during exercise is to use the lowest effective dose in the best form to minimize side effects. Generally the recommended dose of caffeine (to improve performance) is 1-3mg per kg of body weight. Daily, a 'healthy' amount to consume is 3-400mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to 3-4 cups of brewed coffee (where 1 shot of espresso is 75mg).
Endurance and resistance training session can benefit from caffeine consumption as it promotes a greater power output, increased speed, increased endurance and resistance to fatigue. When performing multiple lifts, throws or plyometric movements (box jumps, squat jumps, etc.), strength training can benefit from caffeine. Focus, vigilance and perception of fatigue are a bonus of the increased dopamine in the brain from caffeine.
Is caffeine effective for everyone?
During exercise a similar dose of caffeine can be effective on a person who is a habitual consumer to someone in withdrawal (of 2 – 4 days), however can be more effective when cycled with other supplements. It is possible to build up a tolerance within a few days of continued use – this is when side effects such as headaches upon withdrawal or trouble sleeping may occur. Try to “reset” your tolerance by taking 1-2 weeks off caffeine, then slowly re-introducing with smaller doses.
Are there any side effects from caffeine?
Whilst caffeine intake can effective for most people, high levels can cause a decline in performance - over-arousal during training may interfere with technique. Other side effects include impaired fine motor skills (shakiness), increased heart rate, high blood pressure and gastro-intestinal upset. Sleep disturbances and anxiety can also be a negative from being over-caffeinated or by incorrectly timing your dosage (check out our previous blog – Why am I tired all the time (part 1) - Adrenal Maladaptation).
Continued use of caffeine in exercise or social situations can lead to a long-term addiction or dependency. Signs and symptoms of caffeine dependency include mood swings, anxiety, insomnia and twitching. Whilst a pre-workout supplement or energy drink may seem like a good idea before your training session try avoid using it every time that you train. Choose 2 training sessions each week (in a situation of training 4-5 times/week) where you feel you may need that boost the most.
Caffeine supplementation can be effective when focusing on endurance and resistance training. Remember to choose sugar-free options to remove the effect of carbohydrates – the benefits from caffeine are smaller in situations when carbs are consumed prior or during training.
Burke, L., Desbrow, B., Spriet, L., 2013. Caffeine for Sports Performance, 1st ed. USA: Human Kinetics.
Eat Right – Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sarene Alsharif, MPH. 2018. Caffeine and Exercise. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/sports-and-performance/fueling-you-workout/caffeine-and-exercise.
Live Strong, Grey Evans. 2017. Is Caffeine Pre-Workout Bad? [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/487685-is-caffeine-pre-workoutbad/.
Sports Dieticians Australia. 2018. Caffeine. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.sportsdieticians.com.au/factsheets/supplements/caffeine/.