It is true, caffeine has found its way in our routines, as it seems to fuel our mind and body when we need the extra energy and focus. However, most of the current studies on caffeine focus on its effect on athletic performance- and for good reason.
Caffeine can provide a significant benefit when the body is forced to go that extra mile at endurance sports, especially at sustained maximal effort. That effect seems to be significant for active individuals even with lower to moderate caffeine doses. More specifically, caffeine intake of 3-6 milligrams per kilogram of one’s body weight (for a 70kg male that means 210-420 mg of caffeine) can result to a 3-4% improvement in performance. The reported benefit, however, varies according to the ingestion timing prior to the exercise, the specific requirements of different sports, in addition to what is called individual habituation – how used is the body to different caffeine doses in people who consume caffeinated beverages in their daily lives.
Caffeine seems to benefit the athletic performance regardless of training level (recreational or well trained) or duration of the exercise (sustained maximal endurance exercise or even at team sports, which require short bouts of high intensity exercise for an hour or more).
Recently, a study conducted in well trained male runners concluded that a low ingestion of caffeine (3mg per kg of body weight) 1 hour before a run led to a 24 s or 1.8 % improvement in 8 km run time on a track. Similar results were also reported by studies on both trained and recreational runners when they consumed a moderate dose of caffeine 1 hour before a 5km run. As for the women population, although the research is somewhat limited, most studies show a moderate dose of caffeine could potentially benefit performance in both trained and moderately active women.
Moreover, literature shows a potential benefit in strength and power activities, especially when examining upper body performance like chest press or bench press, though the findings do not seem consistent (no similar benefit reported in leg extensions and lower body performance).
How does all that relate to your training:
Note: The following examples are based on running performance, however similar results are reported for other sports like cycling, swimming, rowing etc.
Short distance exercise like a tempo run – a caffeinated drink (providing 3 mg of caffeine/kg) 15-30 minutes before a 5 up to 10 km can help you run more efficiently or beat your previous time by a few extra seconds. One reason more if you are planning to go for a morning run, since that could also exacerbate your focus and alertness and give your body a wake up call.
Longer distance up to a marathon - consuming a moderate dose (5-6 mg of caffeine/kg) 30-60 minutes before the run can have the added benefit of postponing the feeling of tiredness and fatigue.
In longer or ultra- distance run - caffeine could also be ingested during the run, since it has been reported that it can enhance fat oxidation and allow you to spare your stored glycogen for a slightly longer time.
On recovery or non training days – a moderate consumption of up to 400 mg/day can be incorporated into your daily routine. The specific consumption has also been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in habitual drinkers (you can find more information on caffeine content of different beverages and health in my article here).
So, whether you are already a professional runner, preparing for your first event or just running a few miles for fun, consuming a caffeinated drink 40-60 minutes before your run could help you run the extra kilometre or beat your previous time.
Still wondering how else you can support your training or event preparation through your diet? Contact us here.
Goldstein et al.: International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2010 7:5.
Higgins S, Straight CR, and Lewis RD: The Effects of Pre-Exercise Caffeinated-Coffee Ingestion on Endurance Performance: An Evidence-Based Review. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2015
Bridge CA, Jones MA: The effect of caffeine ingestion on 8-km performance in a field setting. Journal of Sport Science 2006; 24:433-9
Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (Advisory Report), as found in the ODPHP database ( health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/)