Health & Habits
How Caffeine Increases Athletic Performance
Posted November 24, 2021
In the pursuit to optimize personal performance, athletes have been experimenting with different food sources and supplements for years. Despite the shifting fads for performance enhancement, caffeine has been a long-time favorite for athletes. It can help keep our minds sharp, increase our performance, and even speed up our recovery.
Caffeine itself is technically a psychoactive stimulant drug that is metabolized by the liver. It’s absorbed through the small intestine and stomach within 30 to 45 minutes after ingestion, and can stay elevated in the system for up to three to six hours after consumption. As it’s metabolized, it breaks down into three compounds that have an influence on vasodilation (the dilation of blood vessels), triggering fat oxidation and decreasing airway constriction in the lungs. In other words, it helps open up ventilation, stimulating the central nervous system, heart, muscles and the centers that control blood pressure.
One of the ways that caffeine can enhance athletic performance is reducing mental fatigue, jumpstarting our brains into high-function gear. This sort of mental acuteness actually works to the advantage of athletes. While mental fatigue has very little impact on the physiological variables of performance, it has proven to take a serious toll on perceived maximum power or output. Simply put, when our minds are tired, it’s easy to convince our body that it’s tired too. “Where the mind goes, the body will follow”, so our physical performance easily follows the lead of our mental state.
It’s no mystery that caffeine, with its stimulation of the nervous system and respiration, combined with a boost of energy, can influence sports performance in several ways. Endurance athletes in particular have found caffeine beneficial to performance. Studies have reported the effects of a moderate dose of caffeine (6 mg/kg) on a one-hour time-trial cycling performance. The caffeine condition resulted in the cyclists riding significantly farther during the hour-long time trial, as compared to placebo and control. In fact, time-trial performance was improved 4 to 5 percent by the caffeine treatment over the other two treatments.
Research also indicates the benefits of caffeine in strength performance. Studies on the effects of caffeine in strength/power sports or activities, while varied in results and design, suggest that supplementation may help the training of such athletes. Specifically, researchers examined the effects of 5 mg/kg of caffeine in highly conditioned team-sport male athletes. The protocol consisted of a leg press, chest press and the Wingate test (an anaerobic test performed on a cycle ergometer). The leg and chest press consisted of repetitions to failure (i.e., muscular endurance) and all exercises were separated by 60 seconds of rest. Results indicated a significant increase in performance for the chest press and peak power on the Wingate, but no statistically significant advantage was reported for the leg press or average or minimum power.
Caffeine may also help assist in enhancing recovery after exercise. Research suggests that using caffeine post-workout can speed up glycogen resynthesis by a whopping 66%. This is important because the quicker (and more efficiently) our bodies can absorb carbohydrates (specifically glycogen) back into our working muscles, the quicker we’ll recover post-exercise. Therefore, using something as simple as caffeine could make a huge difference in how well our bodies adapt to training stimulus. Carbohydrates are the most preferred fuel source of the body, and caffeine can stimulate the uptake of this vital macronutrient. By adopting this practice of taking caffeine post-exercise, it can allow us to recover quicker and train with greater consistency day after day. And it couldn’t be easier with a product built for recovery from intense training - Vedge Plant Protein Cold Brew. Each serving delivers 25 grams of U.S.D.A. organic plant protein along with 100 mgs of caffeine from organic Colombian coffee. This pairing offers not only a boost of our daily protein intake, but also caffeine to jump start our recovery process.
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McNaughton LR, Lovell RJ, Siegler J, Midgley AW, Moore L, Bentley DJ. The effects of caffeine ingestion on time trial cycling performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2008 Jun;3(2):157-63. doi: 10.1123/ijspp.3.2.157. PMID: 19208924.
Woolf K, Bidwell WK, Carlson AG. The effect of caffeine as an ergogenic aid in anaerobic exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Aug;18(4):412-29. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.18.4.412. PMID: 18708685.
Beelen M, Kranenburg Jv, Senden JM, Kuipers H, Loon LJ. Impact of caffeine and protein on postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Apr;44(4):692-700. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31823a40ef. PMID: 21986807.
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