Caffeine for sports performance

Caffeine for sports performance

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It's been an exciting few months for sports fans, with the World Cup, Tour de France, and now the Commonwealth Games have started! I don't think it is just the athletes needing caffeine, I am sure there are many a droopy eye wandering into workplaces at present!

In recent posts we have looked at what the riders eat whilst on the bike, what they eat before hand, along with some traditional meal choices and a discussion about nutrition and immune function. Today, the focus goes to caffeine. Other than use of carbohydrate during physical activity to promote performance, I think caffeine would have to be my favourite supplement to recommend. The buzz you get, along with the fact it makes the exercise effort feel easier (or to put it technically, the reduction in perception of fatigue) makes it a great choice for many athletes.

Caffeine has shown benefit on long, multi-day races, such as the tour, or in team sports (such as football), or sustained energy events lasting between 1-60mins (for example the female swimmers who just won the gold at the commonwealth games, smashing the world record in the process!).

Like most things though, more doesnt equal better. If you have ever had one too many coffees, you'll know what this feels like, and can have a seriuosly detrimental effect on performance. Just 3mg/kg, or 70-150mg over the day is all that is required for performance benefit, with some people responding well to even smaller quantities. To put this into perspective, a can of coke has 49mg, a shop bought coffee can vary between 25mg-214mg and Red Bull has 80mg in a can. Compare these quantities to your normal sports foods, most gels/chews contain between 20-50mg per serve, though some are as low as 8.5mg, or as high as 80mg (Burke, 2008).

The key take home is to practice with what you want to use for your event before hand, so you know how your body tolerates it. You don't want any surprises on race day!


Burke, L. M. (2008). Caffeine and sports performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 33(6), 1319-1334. doi:10.1139/H08-130

Chloe McLeod is a dietitian at BJC Health.
This blog focuses on diet & nutrition generally and diet & nutrition in relation to the treatment of arthritis and arthritis-related diseases.
Contact us if you’d like our help in managing diet-related health issues.

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