Caffeine and Performance

0 4 years ago

By Alice Ashe | Registered Nutritionist and Qualified Personal Trainer

We all love a warm beverage to wake us up in the morning… and perhaps a cup at lunch… and definitely one before bed… OK a nice warm coffee or tea whenever is great, regardless of the time of day, especially on a cold winter’s day! It is a chance for us to take a little break and relax, it makes us feel good.

One thing that Coffee/caffeine cannot do though, is make you lose weight, unfortunately. In fact, no “fit tea or fit coffee” can, even if you consistently see products claiming this. Trust me on this one, save your money.

BUT… caffeine does have some really ergogenic benefits. Not only does it smell and taste amazing, caffeine has many other benefits, especially when it comes to performance in sport or in the gym.

This is a topic that brings me back to my uni days, as when I wasn’t out partying (which was admittedly quite a lot haha), I was studying about caffeine and performance for my dissertation project.

The essential thing to know, is that caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. The mechanism is that caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist. This means it can block our feelings of fatigue, lower perceived exertion (RPE) during exercise and enhance performance.

Moderate (5-9 mg/ kg/ BM) and low doses (3-6 mg /kg / BM) have shown to improve performance in endurance, intermittent and short-term high intensity exercise when consumed 1hr prior and during exercise. It is actually so beneficial to performance, that it was once on the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) banned substances list. You could be flagged up and punished as an athlete for taking this for training and competition because of how beneficial to performance it is! However, it was taken off in 2004 because it is so prevalent in day-to-day products and it is also quite difficult to test for.

Caffeine is in so many products, the obvious one being coffee, but many other food and drink sources such as chocolate, soft drinks, chocolate cake, sports gels and capsules. The amount of caffeine in these products can vary quite widely, from 20mg in 50g of milk chocolate, to 50mg in a 100ml cup of Americano coffee. The amount of caffeine in these products can also vary quite widely from brand to brand, for example one study has shown that a 100ml cup of americano coffee can actually vary from containing 20 up to 70mg of caffeine, depending on brand, source and brewing.

As nutrition is so individual, for some people too much caffeine can have negative effects. It can cause anxiousness, jitters, insomnia, headaches, nausea and even dysphoria. If you’re quite an anxious person anyway, I would recommend sticking to much lower doses, de-caf or don’t use at all. Aim for the lower doses first and assess how you feel. If you do have a bad reaction to caffeine and you want to cut back, it’s important to gradually do so as you can experience withdrawal symptoms if done abruptly, it is a strong stimulant after all.

Trial and error is always key in nutrition, and as always, seek help from a qualified nutritionist or dietician if you need some support or extra advice.

By Alice Ashe MSc SENr.
Registered Nutritionist and Qualified Personal Trainer