Caffeine has a long history as a performance booster in sport and it has been researched extensively for its physiological and mental effects during exercise. But why? And how can you benefit from using it? High5 gives us the lowdown.
Caffeine as a stimulant
Caffeine acts as a stimulant for your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord), which reduces how hard you think you are working. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine, the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, cite caffeine as one of just five external influences that will effectively enhance your performance in high intensity exercise.
When your brain is stimulated, you experience improved alertness, increased concentration, and enhanced reaction time. You know that buzzy energy that you get after a strong coffee? That’s the caffeine! For those taking part in endurance events, this surge of energy can get you off to a strong start which helps you work for longer and decreases your perceived exertion rate. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular supplement for sport.
Caffeine for fat loss
There is speculation that caffeine also increases fat oxidation, which can help you to reduce body fat. That said, the scientific opinion on these benefits is mixed and they haven’t yet been scientifically proven.
The caffeine and dehydration debate
There have been countless investigations into whether or not caffeine acts a diuretic during exercise or recovery. The general conclusion is that caffeine does have a mild diuretic effect but exercise actually makes it ineffective. This is excellent news for athletes!
How much to take
Before you become best friends with your local barista, it’s worth noting that over how much caffeine is appropriate for sports use. As with most sports research, it’s a divided camp: some say a lot, some say hardly any. The middle ground is for 3-6 mg/kg bodyweight (210-420mg caffeine for a 70kg athlete - that’s just a large filter coffee. Individuals overly sensitive to caffeine should avoid it, or practice with lower doses.
Just use a bit of common sense. How do you feel? Good? Too wired? Not wired enough? Listen to your body a tweak your intake accordingly.
Timing your intake
Most research recommends caffeine consumption 60 minutes prior to exercise, however similar results have been shown closer to and during exercise. Again, try 60 minutes and 20 minutes. Which gave you the best results? Nothing is ever “one size fits all”.
As with any stimulant, it’s only a matter of time before we get used to feeling hyped from caffeine. This means that eventually we need more and more caffeine to feel the same effect. We suggest that you taper our intake before events so that come race day, you get to enjoy the full effect.
Sure you can just chug a cup of Joe, but a lot of athletes opt for supplements because caffeine is more powerful when consumed in a more concentrated form, without lots of water. Think capsules, tablets or powders.
Supplements are also useful if you’re keeping a tight rein on intake; they’re a bit more accurate. With coffee or tea, caffeine strength often varies depending on the type of coffee (e.g. latte, espresso), the coffee beans used and whether your “regular” is someone else’s “large”!
Sports drinks and gels have an exact amount of caffeine so that you can take the correct amount. Here are the levels found in High5’s range of caffeine-enhanced products:
- High5 EnergySource X’treme contains 150mg per 500ml, designed for caffeine loading pre race or during a longer event. It’s also great as a “get me home” drink when it gets really tough towards the end of a long ride.
- High5 ZERO X’treme contains 75mg per tablet. It’s great for extra focus during tough training sessions. With 5 electrolytes, including magnesium, it also helps you stay hydrated.
- High5 EnergyGel Plus and IsoGel Plus contain 30mg per sachet. These are designed to top up your caffeine levels during longer training sessions or events where you’ve already loaded up on caffeine using EnergySource X’treme. They are also great for those athletes that are only looking for a small caffeine hit which makes them perfect if you don’t normally take caffeine.
Please don’t just launch into a vat of Costa Rica’s finest. Proceed with caution! Stimulants actively affect your brain so they need to be treated with caution. Furthermore, products with a high caffeine content (over 150mg) are not suitable for children and pregnant or breast feeding women.