Caffeine – performance booster?

Caffeine is one of the most widely known and used supplements in sport. Most people have taken a caffeine gel before the start of a time trial, swigged espressos before the start of a criterium or saved their caffeine infused energy drink for the last hour of a road race… but are we using the most readily available performance booster out there correctly? and does it even work?

First things first, what is caffeine and what does it do?

Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant that effects the brain and central nervous system. It is derived from; plants, seeds and leaves. Nowadays, 80% of the worlds population consumes a caffeinated product each day.

After caffeine is ingested, it is quickly broken down in the gut and enters the bloodstream. From there, it is broken down in the liver into compounds that have effect on various organs but with the most notable effect being on the brain. It works by blocking the effect of adenosine – a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired.

However, caffeine has been shown to not just have an effect on you mentally but also physically. Research has shown that it can make significant improvements in; time to exhaustion at a steady pace, maximum watts in ramp tests, faster times in set distance TT and reducing your rate of perceived of exertion.

Does it effect everyone in the same way?

Like most things, the effects of caffeine vary from person to person. Most people will see a mental and physical performance gain. However, a small number of people will be unresponsive and unfortunately will feel no performance gain at all.

Do I need to cut down on coffee to get performance gains?

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for the cycling community… do you need to cut down your coffee intake to reap the gains on race day? Luckily for you, the research suggests that low, moderate or high  caffeine habitualisation does not effect the potential performance gains from acute supplementation (3-6mg/kg).

How much should I take?

Research has shown that taking 3-6mg per kg of body mass has been the most effective in boosting athletic performance. However, the performance gain between 3-6mg/kg was very minimal so it is suggested to stick around the 3mg/kg mark in order to reduce the chance of potential gut issues.

How long does caffeine last?

It takes around 45 minutes for 99% of the ingested caffeine to be absorbed into the body. It has an approximate half-life of 5 hours which means it takes that amount of time for the amount of active caffeine in your body to half.

When should I take it?

For a short event, we would recommend taking caffeine around 45 minutes pre competition to allow it to fully become active in the body. Even for longer events, having caffeine present in your system will most likely still generate performance gains 3-4 hours in.

What products are available out there?

Caffeine is most commonly taken in cycling via an energy gel. However, not everyone like to take them so what other options are available? Thankfully, the energy supplement/food is heavily saturated with alternative products. Currently available ways of ingesting caffeine;

  • capsules
  • coffee
  • sports drinks
  • chewing gum
  • mouth rinses
  • bars

We always recommend that you find a reliable supplier for any supplement you’re looking to take – even something as common and readily available as caffeine. Check with suppliers to see if they can offer you a batch test certificate.

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