From endurance to recovery: how caffeine improves sports performance

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At a time when sport is front of mind and Team GB is number two on the medals table, Coffee & Health examines the benefits of coffee and caffeine consumption on sports performance

A wide variety of research has been done into many aspects of coffee, caffeine and sports performance, from fluid balance and intake levels, to what is currently understood about caffeine’s mechanisms. From enhancing endurance to aiding quick recovery, caffeine can play a role in improving sports performance.

Professor Greg Whyte OBE, a former Olympian and Professor in Applied Sport & Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University, explains, “caffeine has the potential to improve sports performance across the board from marathon runners to Saturday sports teams. Both elite and recreational athletes are physiologically similar, meaning relatively low doses can have an effect, including improved endurance and high-intensity performance, and muscle pain relief.”

It is widely accepted that any effect of coffee consumption on sports performance is linked to the caffeine in coffee. Facts about caffeine and sports performance include:

  • Caffeine is most effective during endurance sports (e.g. running, cycling, rowing) lasting more than five minutes1
  • Caffeine can improve short term high-intensity performance in sports such as football and rugby 2
  • Caffeine has been shown to reduce muscle pain during endurance exercise, reduce muscle soreness after strength exercises, and assist in the recovery process4,5
  • Caffeine can also help during the recovery period by improving the renewal of glycogen (muscle energy stores) when consumed with carbohydrate6
  • Caffeine may also reduce the perception of pain, through a role in the central nervous system, further enhancing endurance during sporting activities1

Although it has been suggested that caffeine causes dehydration, research has concluded that moderate consumption of 3-5 cups of caffeinated coffee per day contributes to overall fluid balance and does not cause dehydration3.

To read more about coffee and sports performance, or coffee and fluid balance, read our report, The good things in life: can coffee and caffeine enhance sports performance?



  1. Hodgson A.B. et al. (2013) The metabolic and performance effects of caffeine compared to coffee during endurance exercise. PLoS One, 8(4):e59561.
  2. Davis J.K. et al. (2009) Caffeine and Anaerobic Performance – Ergogenic Value and Mechanisms of Action Sports Medicine, 39, 813-832.
  3. Killer S.C. et al. (2014) No Evidence of Dehydration with Moderate Daily Coffee Intake: A Counterbalanced Cross-Over Study in a Free-Living Population. PLoS ONE, 9(1):e84154.
  4. Duncan M.J. et al. (2012) Acute caffeine ingestion enhances performance and dampens muscle pain following resistance exercise to failure. J Sports Med Phy Fitness, Vol 52 (3):280-5.
  5. Hurley C.F. et al. (2013) The effect of caffeine ingestion on delayed onset muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res, Vol 27 (11) 3101-9.
  6. Pedersen D.J. et al. (2008) High rates of muscle glycogen re-synthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is co-ingested with caffeine. J Appl Physiol, 105(1):7-13.

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