Walking through the supplement isle it is easy to get confused about what works and what doesn’t. There are many sports supplements making all sorts of unsubstantiated claims and in reality very few are proven to be effective. I must also remind you that the market is unlegislated making the likelihood of contamination and illegal substances very high.

Caffeine was previously on the banned substance list, however with a wealth of research to show that caffeine enhances both endurance and high intensity performance in trained athletes when the recommended amount is consumed, 12 ?g of caffeine per ml of urine is now allowable.

Caffeine is one of the few sports supplements which has been extensively researched is recognised to be generally effective and safe as an ergogenic aid. Throughout the research which has been done on caffeine its effectiveness has been found to vary according to condition of the athlete as well as intensity, duration, and mode of exercise.

Who can use caffeine?

  • Caffeine has been shown to enhance maximal endurance performance this can be extremely useful in improving time trial speeds
  • In conditioned athletes caffeine has been shown to assist in prolonged high intensity exercise such as rugby, soccer, rowing, hockey etc.
  • Use in strength and power training is still controversial with mixed findings, but studies show that it may help trained athletes
  • Caffeine enhances vigilance and alertness, which can assist athletes in exhaustive exercise which requires alertness
  • When combined with carbohydrates, caffeine can enhance glycogen resynthesis during recovery from exercise.

How much and when?

It is generally recommended that caffeine in a low to moderate dose (3-6mg/kg) be taken 60 minutes before exercise to allow for optimal absorption. Intake above 9mg/kg is not shown to have any additional advantage. Interestingly, consumption as little as 15-30 minutes before has still produced enhanced performance. Research has also been done on the use of caffeine for exercise recovery and glycogen replenishment, however at this stage it is believed to be more beneficial to use before exercise. From a practicality point of view it’s use post exercise may often interrupt sleeping patterns which could have detrimental effects to recovery.

What is the best form of caffeine?

Although, a cup of coffee or espresso generally pop to mind when we think of caffeine, it is more powerful when taken in a condensed form such as a capsule/ tablet or powder when compared to coffee.

Will caffeine cause dehydration?

Studies have shown that caffeine induced dieresis does not take place during exercise. There has been no change in sweat rate, fluid loss or any negative changes in fluid balance caused by caffeine. This is true even in extreme heat. Sufficient fluid intake is still very important for recovery.