Caffeine for Exercise Performance: Does it Work?

Having a cup of coffee is how most people like to start their day. It’s also become a go-to drink before a workout. Or, in the case of Serena Williams during the 2015 Hopman Cup, a mid-match espresso is the perfect way to overtake her opponent (which she did).

While that’s certainly relatable, is there any truth to the claims made about caffeine as a performance enhancer? Let’s find out.

What caffeine does to your body

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that has an instant effect on one’s physical and cognitive abilities. It’s so powerful that even its aroma can wake you up, according to some studies.

Caffeine affects the body in many ways. The most evident is the instant boost of energy, which is linked to the increased production of adrenaline — the hormone that activates the fight or flight response. This makes you more alert and focused, and also less tired. Caffeine also enhances your body’s ability to burn more fat and calories through thermogenesis, which can then be used for energy.

Combining all of that — higher energy and cognition with less fatigue — can lead to small but effective changes to your exercise performance. A Sports Medicine study on caffeine and sport performance indicated that low caffeine doses (~200 mg) can be ergogenic, a term used to describe performance-enhancing drugs. Researchers looked at different kinds of activities, including running, team sports, and high intensity training. Caffeine seemed to help sprinters and middle-distance runners go faster and longer, while volleyball players spiked with greater accuracy. As for high intensity workouts, caffeine didn’t seem to have much of an effect, while more research is needed on the effect of caffeine on strength training.

Consuming caffeine the healthy way

While caffeine can give you more power, it should still be taken in moderation. Healthline points out that overstimulation can diminish your performance because you’ll have a harder time concentrating on basic tasks, let alone a workout. This can be due to the negative side effects of too much caffeine, which include anxiety, increased heart rate, fatigue, and insomnia.

If you want to power your activities with caffeine, experts recommend sticking to a 200-400 mg dosage. A Venti Caffe Americano should do! But you can benefit from the caffeine boost without the bitter taste of coffee. One alternative is to take a coffee drink mix so the taste is not too overwhelming, which makes it perfect for non-coffee drinkers. Pretty Me highlights that Lean ’n Green coffee contains additional substances, like collagen and L-Carnitine. It’s a coffee mix that combines the energy-boosting benefits of coffee with other potentially performance enhancing ingredients. L-Carnitine, for instance, burns fat for energy and can help you feel less sluggish. Coffee drink mixes can be a bit of adjustment for the body, however, because of the other substances that you might not be used to.

But if you really can’t stand even the slightest hint of coffee, you can also look at caffeine-based workout supplements. They usually come in powder or pill form and contain low to medium doses of caffeine that can fuel your workout.

Boosting energy without caffeine

It seems that caffeine does have some marginal effects on sports performance. If you want to increase your running speed or mileage, or develop focus when playing sports, you can benefit from moderate caffeine consumption.

However, there are some acute and chronic risks to consider. Caffeine is really hard to give up — we’ve all been there! Not to worry because having a cup of Joe is not the only way to enhance energy. A previous post by Frances Cheung highlighted a few ways to have consistent energy which starts with making easy lifestyle changes. It goes without saying that you need a more nourishing diet so you don’t have to rely on supplements to charge your workouts. And don’t forget to adjust your nighttime habits, making sure you’re getting quality rest every day. It’s key to recovery and preparing your body for another day of working hard at the gym or on the field.