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Caffeine and Athletic Sports Performance: what is the relation?

The famous ‘Coffee ‘ is culturally present in the routine of several people in different parts of the globe.

This tradition, even without intention, may be leading some people to improve their physical performance in training.

This effect is due to a substance contained in the coffee called caffeine, a substance that has been widely studied by its relationship with the improvement of sports performance.

But what is caffeine and how does it influence sports performance?

Find out everything in this article!

Caffeine: What is it?

According to McLellan, Caldwell and Lieberman

“Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed foods and supplements in the world.”

Caffeine is a substance that can be naturally found in various plants.

According to the International society of sports nutrition, caffeine is quickly absorbed by our body and appears in the bloodstream between 15 to 45 minutes after its consumption, reaching its peak 1 hour after its ingestion.

Many mechanisms are proposed to explain the benefits of caffeine in performance, but the most consolidated is the action of caffeine as an antagonist of adenosine receivers (i.e., contradicting the action of adenosine-a compound which influences the transfer of energy at the cellular level and has a “relaxing” effect).

This feature leads to an activation of the Central nervous system (causes an excitation effect), increasing the alert status and diminishing the perception of the effort – something that will be essential in improving the sports performance.

Caffeine and Sports Performance: what is the relationship

coffee and sports performance

The previous factors, the activation of the Central nervous system, the increase of the alert state and the decrease in the perception of the effort, are related to an improvement of the physical and cognitive performance, such as the article “International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance” indicates:

“(…) it is possible that caffeine acts on central nervous system as an adenosine antagonist, but may also have an effect on substrate metabolism and neuromuscular function.”

These characteristics make the caffeine a great supplement for sports that have long periods of duration and need a lot of concentration, but also for sports that have less duration and that are intense.

Effects of caffeine supplementation on long-term sports

long-term sports

Examples of long-term sports:

  • Marathons
  • Cycling competitions
  • Collective sports (e.g. football and basketball)
  • Combat sports (such as MMA)

Some of the benefits in caffeine supplementation in these sports are:

Effect of caffeine supplementation in short-term sports

quick exercise

Already in the short-term exercises requiring high intensity and strength (sprints and bodybuilding, for example), there are still some doubts about its effectiveness.

However, several studies have been conducted to prove that caffeine influences sports performance also in this type of activities.

Some studies have concluded that caffeine seems to lead to a:

“The addition of caffeine to the carbohydrate-electrolyte solution improved sprinting performance, countermovement jumping, and the subjective experiences of players.”

  • Increased strength, mainly in upper limb exercises (arm, pectoral, shoulder)
  • Increased power

According to Grgic, Trexler, Lazinica and Pedisic:

“The meta-analyses showed significant ergogenic effects of caffeine ingestion on maximal muscle strength of upper body and muscle power.”

Some characteristics, such as the level of training (the more advanced the better the response) and the habituation of caffeine (greater effect on consuming less caffeine throughout the day) may influence the results of some studies, as demonstrated by the article of International Society of Sports Nutrition previously cited.

Attention! The habituation of caffeine (high consumption) can interfere with the time of action that caffeine has in the body (more accustomed, less time of effect), but this does not seem to interfere with the benefits in performance.

Where you can find caffeine: food and supplements

caffeine – supplements and food

In addition to coffee, the caffeine can be found in teas, of which the green tea is highlighted, in the guarana, in kola nut, among others.

It is also an ingredient that is very present in energy drinks and soft drinks.

However, its effects are more evident when it is supplemented through capsules and powder in the form of anhydrous caffeine.

Caffeine is also one of the most common ingredients in supplements like the pre-training (due to its stimulating action) and is the basis of some of the thermogenics (also known as fat burners) bestsellers on the market.

The use of this ingredient in some supplements can also be justified by its antioxidant effect, fundamental to help eliminate free radicals (molecules that can damage cells) that can be formed during the practice of physical exercise.

Recommended doses

recommended doses

Before thinking about supplements, you should pay attention to the recommended doses, as these are directly linked to the effect and safety of the supplement.

For the improvement of sporting performance, some specialists recommend between 3 to 6mg per kg of body weight 15 to 60 minutes before the exercise and refer that there are no additional benefits when their consumption is increased:

“Caffeine is effective for enhancing various types of performance when consumed in low-to-moderate doses (~3-6mg/kg); moreover, there is no further benefit when consumed at higher dosages.”

Larger doses than those recommended in addition to not showing performance benefits, can still cause problems such as: nausea, anxiety, insomnia and tachycardia, as indicated by the authors of the article “IOC consensus statement: Dietary supplements and the High-performance athlete.”

Thus, the recommended dosage for a person weighing 70kg, for example, may vary between 210 mg (minimum dose) and 420 mg (maximum dose).


Like all supplements, we should assess the risks and benefits of supplementation, and with caffeine is no different. We should consider the level of training, the sport practiced and the sensitivity to the caffeine that each individual present.

Now that you know more about the benefits of caffeine, how about taking a coffee?


The information included in this article concerns the authors opinion only.

About Fernando Gonçalves

Fernando Gonçalves
Fernando Gonçalves is a nutritionist specialised in sport nutrition. He always worked in the sport world as a nutritionist and muay thai instructor. He is currently the nutritional consultant for a Brazilian MMA team. His purpose is to promote healthy lifestyles, and to assist people and athletes to achieve their goals.

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