Caffeine – the benefits, but not as you know them.

Who doesn’t love a good cup of coffee eh? But how does it actually effect us?

Caffeine is being increasingly used to help deliver percentile gains in sports performance. Using caffeine for performance is not a new idea, but it’s only recently that we’re starting to understand more about how it affects us. Contrary to popular belief, the benefits are not from raising your heart rate to increase blood flow to muscles. So how does it work?

Caffeine affects your workout by acting on your Central Nervous System. As you exercise, your body creates a chemical called adenosine which makes you tired.

By drinking a coffee prior to working out, the caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in your nerves so that your body experiences less pain and fatigue. This will help enable you to go for longer.

Image from British Sailing Team Facebook Page

Really this only benefits certain types of athletes – such as thoseĀ  in endurance sports like long-distance running and cycling. Even the British Sailing Team (one of our most regularly successful Olympic sports) is starting to experiment with taking caffeine during their long days of racing in the form of chewing gum. This helps to deliver an accurate dosage of caffeine quickly into the bloodstream, and has added benefits of not filling you full of liquid!

The optimum amount is around 3mg per kilo of body weight – around 1-2 large cups of filter coffee.

To get the most benefit, it should be ingested at least 1 hour before exercise, but not too regularly! Having too much caffeine on a regular basis can actually reduce the beneficial effects as your body can build a tolerance to it.

So, if you’re really serious, best practice is to save it as an extra trick up your sleeve for that important race day, and the rest of the time, drink decaf!

For more benefits of coffee, check out our post ‘Spilling the Beans’.


Sources: BBC’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor – Series 7 episode 1

Watch the episode below. The caffeine feature is from the 8 minutes mark.

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