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Does caffeine improve exercise performance?

Yes. Caffeine is a powerful substance that can improve physical and mental performance.

Just one dose can significantly improve physical performance, focus and fat burning (1, 2 , 3 , 4).

Caffeine is found in many foods and beverages, and over 90% of the U.S. population consumes it regularly (5)

This article explains the benefits of caffeine for physical performance.

How does caffeine work?

Caffeine is quickly absorbed into the blood, peaking after 90 to 100 minutes. The caffeine level stays high for 3-4 hours, then starts to drop (6, 7)

Unlike most substances and supplements, caffeine can affect cells all over the body, including muscle cells and the brain (6).

This is why the effects of caffeine on the body are very varied.

Here are a few :

  •     The nervous system : Caffeine activates areas of the brain and nervous system to improve concentration and energy, all in reducing fatigue (6 , 8)
  •     Hormones : Epinephrine (adrenaline) is the hormone responsible for the "fight or flight" response, which can increase performance (3).
  •     Fat burning: Caffeine can increase the body's ability to burn fat by lipolysis, or the breakdown of fat in fat cells (3).
  •     Endorphins: β-endorphins can increase the feeling of well-being that people often feel after a workout (9, 10).
  •     Muscles : Caffeine can impact the motor cortex, which is a part of the brain that signalsactivation muscles (11)
  •     Body temperature : Caffeine has been shown to increase thermogenesis, or heat production, which helps you burn more calories (12 ).
  •     Glycogen : Caffeine can also spare the carbohydrate stores of the muscles, mainly due to the increased fat burning. This can improve endurance performance (13 ).

The caffeine is ultimately broken down in the liver (6).

    To conclude: Caffeine can easily pass throughout the body. It affects your hormones, your muscles and your brain.


Caffeine and endurance performance

Caffeine is the ideal complement for many athletes.

A study has shown that 4,45 mg / kg, (approximately 400 mg in total) of caffeine increased endurance in athletes.
They were able to travel 2 to 3,2 km more than the placebo group (14 ).

In a study of cyclists, caffeine was found to be superior to carbohydrates or water. It increased workload by 7,4%, compared to 5,2% in the carbohydrate group (15 ).

Another study has combined caffeine and carbohydrates, which improved the performance of 9% compared to water alone, and 4,6% compared to carbohydrates alone (16 ).

Other research has tested coffee, due to its naturally high caffeine content.
In a 1-meter run, regular coffee drinkers were 500 seconds faster than those who drank decaf. Another study found that coffee helped reduce the perception of exertion, allowing athletes to work harder (17, 18 ).

    Bottom Line: Caffeine and coffee have been shown to cause major performance improvements in endurance athletes.

Caffeine and high intensity exercise

The evidence for the effects of caffeine on high intensity exercise is mixed.

Caffeine has impressive benefits for trained athletes, but appears to have less beneficial effects for beginners or untrained people.

Two studies of men in the leisure category who sprinted on a bicycle found no difference between the effects of caffeine and those of water ((19 , 20 ).

However, for competitive athletes, a similar bicycle sprint linked caffeine to a significant improvement in power (21).

Another study looked at the effects of caffeine on trained and untrained swimmers. Here again, we observed a positive improvement in the group of trained swimmers, but no benefit was seen in untrained swimmers (22).

In team sports, caffeine supplements improved passing accuracy in rugby, performance over 500 meters in rowing, and sprint times in football (23, 24, 25).

    Bottom Line: For high intensity sports like cycling or swimming, caffeine may be beneficial for trained athletes but not for untrained people.


Caffeine and muscle power

A comparison of 27 studies found that caffeine can improve leg muscle power by up to 7%, but has no effect on small muscle groups (26).

Caffeine can also improve muscle endurance, including the number of repetitions performed at a certain weight (26).

Overall, current research indicates that caffeine may provide the most benefit for power-based activities that use large muscle groups, reps, or circuits.

    Bottom Line: For strength or power exercise, research on the effects of caffeine is mostly positive, but still mixed.

Caffeine and fat loss

Caffeine is a common ingredient in weight loss supplements.

Early research showed that taking caffeine before exercise increases the release of stored fat by 30% (1).

Another study found that caffeine supplements significantly increased the release of stored fat before and at the end a training session (29)

Caffeine can also increase the amount of fat you burn during exercise. It increases the production of heat and epinephrine, which helps burn extra calories and fat (3 ,12).

However, there is currently no evidence that caffeine improves weight loss. long-term in people who exercise.

    Bottom Line: Caffeine can help release stored fat from fat cells, especially before and at the end of a workout. It can also help you burn more calories.

How to take a caffeine supplement?

There are several things to keep in mind when taking a caffeine supplement.

If you consume coffee, energy drinks, soda, or dark chocolate, you may get less benefit from supplements. This is because your body has developed a tolerance to caffeine (30).

The dose is often based on body weight, set at approximately 3-6 mg per kg. This works out to around 200-400 mg for most people, although some studies use up to 600-900 mg (31 ).

Start at a low dose, 150-200 mg, to assess your tolerance.

If you want to use caffeine for your athletic performance, you should also save it for key events or races, in order to maintain your sensitivity to its effects.

For optimal performance, take it about 60 minutes before a race or event. However, be sure to test this protocol first if you are new to caffeine.



Side effects of caffeine:

At a reasonable dose, caffeine can provide many benefits with few side effects. However, it may be unsuitable for some people.

Here are some common side effects of too much caffeine:

  •     Increased heart rate.
  •     Anxiety.
  •     Dizziness.
  •     Insomnia or sleep disturbance.
  •     Irritability.
  •     Tremors.
  •     Stomach discomfort.

High doses of 600 mg have been shown to increase tremors and restlessness, especially in people who are not used to caffeine.

People prone to anxiety may also want to avoid high doses (28).

Also, caffeine is not recommended for people taking certain medications, as well as those with heart problems or high blood pressure (6).

Timing can also matter, as caffeine taken late at night or at night can disrupt sleep. Try to avoid caffeine after 16 or 17 p.m.


Caffeine is very effective

Caffeine is one of the most effective exercise supplements around. It is also very inexpensive and relatively safe to use.

Studies have shown that caffeine can be beneficial for endurance performance, high intensity exercise, and strength sports. However, it seems that it is the trained athletes who benefit the most.

The recommended dose varies depending on body weight, but is usually around 200-400 mg taken 30-60 minutes before a workout.

Caffeine is a fairly safe supplement at the recommended doses. It may cause minor side effects in some people and should not be used if you have a heart problem or high blood pressure.

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