June 29, 2008

CaffeineCaffeine is one of the most widely discussed supplements used in athletics to enhance the body’s ability to perform optimally. It is used most often to increase both power and endurance levels during training sessions and can have positive effects on both. Caffeine is naturally occurring substance found in plants, for example coffee beans and tea leaves, however, supplements allows quick ingestion of a more concentrated dose.

Scientists are not completely certain how caffeine works in the body to achieve performance-enhancing effects. The most common explanation involves the release of stored glycogen from fat tissue, which is stimulated by the ingestion of caffeine. This glycogen is the body’s source of quick energy. This process is likely only part of the caffeine effect. Studies show there is a connection between the balance of ions created inside the active muscle cells by caffeine supplementation and the increased physical abilities that athletes report.

Although caffeine does not directly improve oxygen capacity, it could allow athletes to train longer and/or with a greater power output. Studies show that it increases both power and speed in simulated race conditions and that it also significantly increases endurance to exhaustion times. An ability to think more clearly and concentrated for longer periods of time are also noted effects of caffeine supplementation.

Caffeine is available in a wide variety of products like coffee and energy drinks. Many athletes drink these, but others prefer to regulate their intake more carefully by ingesting gels and pills for example with known dosages. The optimal performance-enhancing dose of caffeine is about 250 mg daily, although for heavier athletes with routine uses, the dose can be as high as 600 mg. Higher amounts have not been shown to increase performance further. Caffeine should be taken 3 to 4 hours before exercise to allow time for the glycogen stores to be released after the initial energy spike.

Studies have found no significant connection between the ingestion of caffeine before exercise and dehydration, ion imbalance, or other significant side effects. Athletes should consider, however, that caffeine has different effects in each person, with some experiencing abdominal pain and cramping that could have negative consequences for performance.

Graham, Terry E. Caffeine and Exercise: Metabolism, Endurance and Performance. Sports Medicine. 31(11):785-807, 2001.

Ryu S, Choi SK, Joung SS, Suh H, Cha YS, Lee S, Lim K Caffeine as a lipolytic food component increases endurance performance in rats and athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2001 Apr;47(2):139-46.


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