Already one of the most widely-used stimulants in sport, recent research suggests there may be greater scope for caffeine to be used in a wider range of sports as well as during exercise, says sports nutrition researcher and consultant in elite sport.
The research tested how to use caffeine to obtain the best results in sports performance. It was conducted across a range of sports and found that even small doses of caffeine (1.5 mg/kg) could improve the performance, according to Sophie Killer, a doctoral researcher in exercise metabolism and performance nutrition at Loughborough University.
In endurance exercise it was shown that caffeine improved the ability to exercise for a prolonged period of time. In high intensity sports such as swimming or rowing, lasting between 1-60 minutes, performance also improved with the use of caffeine.
Although team sports were harder to test, caffeine was believed to help when fatigue was a limiting factor. Even the strength-based sports could benefit from caffeine use, but only if there was an endurance component.
Coffee on the run
Contrary to the traditional view, the research showed that caffeine did not have to be taken before exercise.
“Traditionally we used to ask athletes to take it before exercising, however there is some new evidence showing that as you become more fatigued the brain is more susceptible to the effect of caffeine so actually there might be a benefit in delaying the caffeine intake,” said Killer, who apart from being a researcher was also a performance nutritionist in elite and professional sport.
“We typically recommend caffeine to be taken anywhere between half an hour to an hour before exercise. However, it’s highly individual so we tend to ask athletes to experiment in training before using it in the competition environment, ” she added.
Too much of a good thing
Despite a large choice of products containing caffeine which could be used to improve sports performance, Killer said format did not matter.
“Really there is no reason why coffee shouldn’t be as effective as a caffeine pill. It’s just a personal preference and the practicality of taking the caffeine,” said Killer.
“The only problem with using natural caffeine sources such as coffee, it is difficult to know the exact dose of caffeine that is present. If you know exactly how much caffeine you want your athlete to be consuming it is difficult to deliver it in coffee,” she added.
Although overdosing on caffeine was very rare in sport, Killer said it was possible and could lead to adverse reactions such as anxiety and the shakes.
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