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Coffee, caffeine and sports performance

What active people eat and drink affects their performance. Recommendations in sports nutrition range from following the general principles of a healthy diet for individuals involved in a general fitness programme, to personalised diets and supplements for top athletes. For specific recommendations from The International Society of Sports Nutrition1, click here.

The effects of coffee, and caffeine in particular, on sports performance have been extensively studied. The International Society of Sports Nutrition’s 2010 position paper on caffeine supplementation and sports performance is available at www.jissn.com/content/7/1/5.

Caffeine as an ergogenic aid

  • Caffeine can have an ergogenic effect, meaning it can improve physical performance.
  • Caffeine’s effect is most evident in endurance (aerobic) sports which last for more than five minutes. Caffeine appears to improve time-trial performance2,3 and reduce muscle pain4 .
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that a cause and effect relationship has been established for caffeine intake and increased endurance performance (3mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise), endurance capacity (3mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise), and a reduction in perceived exertion (4mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise5. EFSA, in its 2015 Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, concluded that single doses of caffeine up to 200mg (about 3mg/kg bw) from all sources do not raise safety concerns for the general adult population, even if consumed less than two hours prior to intense physical exercise under normal environmental conditions6.
  • Although caffeine also appears to improve performance in certain types of short-term, high intensity (anaerobic) exercise in specific groups such as trained athletes performing intermittent exercises and team sports7 , the overall evidence on the effect of caffeine on anaerobic activities remains inconclusive. EFSA does not currently consider there to be sufficient published science to support a cause and effect relationship5.
  • In both cases, caffeine most likely exerts its effects via a pathway that leads to an increased production of adrenalin, which stimulates energy production and improves blood flow to the muscles and the heart2,8.
  • Caffeine may also moderate fatigue and influence ratings of exertion, perceived pain and energy levels, all of which are likely to lead to improvements in performance3.
  • Fluid balance is critical in sports performance, and although caffeine can have a slight diuretic effect, the benefit of fluid intake from a cup of caffeineated coffee outweights the small diuretic effect and contributes to overall fluid requirements. Statements advising the avoidance of caffeinated beverages before and during exercise are unfounded9.

References

  1. Kreider et al. (2004) ISSN exercise and sport nutrition review: research and recommendations. J. Int. Soc Sports Nut. 7: 7
  2. Ganio M.S. et al. (2009) Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review. Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1):315-24.
  3. Hodgson A.B. et al. (2013) The metabolic and performance effects of caffeine compared to coffee during endurance exercise. PLoS One. 8(4):e59561.
  4. Astorino T.A. et al. (2011) Effect of caffeine intake on pain perception during high-intensity exercise, Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 21(1):27-32]
  5. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increase in physical performance during short-term high-intensity exercise (ID 737, 1486, 1489), increase in endurance performance (ID 737, 1486), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1488) and reduction in the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise (ID 1488, 1490) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal;9(4):2053 [24 pp.].doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2053
  6. European Food Safety Authority (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine. EFSA, Palma, Italy.
  7. Astorino T.A. et al. (2009) Efficacy of Acute Caffeine Ingestion for short-term high-intensity exercise performance: A Systematic Review. J Strength and Conditioning Research, 42 (12)
  8. Davis J.K. et al. (2009) Caffeine and Anaerobic Performance – Ergogenic Value and Mechanisms of Action. Sports Medicine, 39, 813-832
  9. Zhang Y. et al. (2014) Caffeine and diuresis during rest and exercise: A meta-analysis. J Sci Med Sport, S1440-2440(14)

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