How To

Boosting Your Performance with Caffeine

Learn how drinking a cup of coffee could make you a better athlete.

In today’s society, an astounding 80 percent of people drink coffee, with almost 100 percent of adults reporting some sort of caffeine consumption throughout the day, according to Active.com. Many of us use it for a jolt in the morning, but what about a jolt for our workout? After all, as any endurance athlete will tell you, sometimes you need a little extra help to power through a race. But will using caffeine hurt or hinder you?

A recent article by the American Heart Association determined that caffeine boosts come from improved small-blood-vessel function and oxygen intake. This improvement in the central nervous system increases blood flow to your muscles, decreasing pain and fatigue. Caffeine also has the ability to improve mental functions. Those who use it are more focused and may experience technical skill improvements because the body believes it is doing less work.

The main take away is that we could all use a little pick-me-up now and then to help us reach our fullest athletic potential. Here are some tips for turning that caffeine habit into an advantage.

Moderation is key

It’s pretty common to think that the more you consume, the more effective the product. Not so with caffeine. In fact, research shows that about 1.5 milligrams per pound (or three milligrams per kilogram) body weight is the right amount, with enhancement topping out around 200 to 250 milligrams. Also, if you take too much, you could fizzle out too quickly, or cause anxiety, irritability, upset stomach, or insomnia. Like anything else, caffeine affects everyone differently, so it is important to do some testing to find out the lowest dosage that works for you and stick to it.

Choose wisely

There are a bunch of different sources out there for the caffeine addict. It is important to think about what you are ingesting and not just choose one on a whim. Unfortunately, for coffee lovers, the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies, even if you use the same brand daily. The same is true for espresso shots and specialty drinks. This unpredictable nature may make other forms of caffeine a more desirable choice.

Sources like energy drinks and soda, whether defizzed or not, are extremely effective. The thing to consider when using these forms of the stimulate is the sugar content. If the drinks are high in sugar, they should be taken near the end of an event as opposed to at the beginning in order to avoid the “crash.” For the beginning of your workout, many endurance athletes recommend less common forms of caffeine like caffeine pills, caffeinated gums, or caffeinated gel.

Time your intake

Most forms of caffeine don’t have an immediate effect, with the average taking around 45 minutes to an hour to kick in. So plan accordingly. Long-distance runners shouldn’t ingest caffeine immediately before the race, but instead take an hour prior, and in the middle of a race to avoid fatigue. Many people also suggest taking caffeine at the end of an event in order to promote faster muscle recovery.

Another factor of effectiveness is whether or not you ingest caffeine regularly. If you are a coffee addict, or are a soda fiend, chances are the effects will be dulled. To counteract this, lay off the caffeine a few weeks before a big race. That way, when you reintroduce it into your diet, you are sure to get the full effects.

Best usages

Though the benefits of caffeine for shorter distances are not as drastic, most athletes experience some kind of positive effects from the legal stimulant. Caffeine is best at boosting performance in high-intensity activities, like sprints and stop-start sports, for example. Those who use it for endurance benefit the most because, as previously stated, caffeine has a dulling effect, allowing you to push yourself.

Still a skeptic? Check out the new book, Caffeine for Sports Performance, by highly regarded sport dieticians Louise Burke and Ben Desbrow, for more great tips and tricks.

Image courtesy wikimedia commons user Quasipalm

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