Caffeine for Exercise Performance
Are you an avid exerciser or gym-goer? Have you ever thought to yourself- does caffeine improve exercise performance? The answer is an outstanding YES! Yes, it certainly does. To be very clear however, caffeine is most beneficial for aerobic exercise lasting longer than 30 minutes (Goldstein et al., 2010).
It’s apparent that we live in a world that survives on caffeine. For most people, it’s how they start their day, get through their day, or a substance they turn to when a late night of studying, working, or grinding of some sorts is in order.
The question is, how much caffeine is too much? What is a safe dosage for adults? Health Canada recommends a maximum daily intake of 400mg of caffeine for adults (and less if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding). To put things in perspective, a medium cup of original blend Tim Horton’s coffee has approximately 205mg of caffeine in it. So, two medium sized cups would put you slightly over the daily limit. Although on the pricier side, a grande (aka medium) cup of Starbucks coffee contains 330mg of caffeine, which is quite a bit more caffeine comparably.
If you’re looking to consume caffeine to maximize exercise performance, you want to ensure you’re taking your caffeine at an optimal time. In our bodies, peak plasma caffeine concentration occurs at 60 minutes post-consumption. So, take the caffeine 60 minutes before you want to “peak”. Perhaps take your caffeine 30 minutes before your workout if you want to peak midway through your exercise session (Goldstein et al., 2010).
Another strategy would be to take a bolus dose of caffeine before a nap. This way when you wake up 60 minutes later, you will have peak energy! What a life hack! In other words, decide what the most important part of your day to be caffeinated for is. Is it school, work, post-nap, your exercise session? This will help you a) ensure you are not exceeding the recommended daily intake and b) energize yourself for what is a priority in your day (Pesta et al., 2013). When talking specifically about performance however, the optimal dosage ranges between 2-6mg/kg of body weight. 9mg/kg is the upper tolerable limit. Anything over 9mg/kg will start to produce side effects and “red flags” (Goldstein et al., 2010).
Research also suggests that taking smaller doses every couple hours is optimal to taking a bolus dose less frequently. Having smaller doses of caffeine may not lead to the GI irritation that may occur with larger dosages and will likely have more practical applications for prolonged aerobic exercise. Research also suggests that trained individuals appear to be more responsive to caffeine than untrained individuals. This means that trained muscles can use caffeine more efficiently than untrained muscles can. (Pickering, 2019).
I’m a big proponent of coffee, but we all know caffeine comes in various forms. Coffee, in my opinion, is the most cost effective, effective in general, and most easily accessible. If your caffeine of choice comes from a pre-workout, energy drink, etc- you do you!
Goldstein, E. R., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D., Kreider, R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., Willoughby, D., Stout, J., Graves, B. S., Wildman, R., Ivy, J. L., Spano, M., Smith, A. E., & Antonio, J. (2010). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), 5–5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-5
Pickering, C., & Grgic, J. (2019). Caffeine and Exercise: What Next? Sports Medicine (Auckland), 49(7), 1007–1030. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01101-0
Pesta, D. H., Angadi, S. S., Burtscher, M., & Roberts, C. K. (2013). effects of caffeine, nicotine, ethanol, and tetrahydrocannabinol on exercise performance. Nutrition & Metabolism, 10(1), 71–71. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-10-71