ACaffeine: the go-to brew for productivity, creativity, and sometimes even sanity! Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in a variety of food and beverages, including coffee, tea, and chocolate. It would not be wrong to go as far as to say that the world mostly runs on caffeine, as it is one of the most widely consumed substances in the world with more than 80% of the world’s population consuming a caffeinated product at least once a day. We rely on our daily coffee or our favourite chocolate treat to keep us awake through long hours. to increase alertness and to help us stay focused all day.
However, caffeine’s effects on the body go beyond just keeping us awake during the workday – it can also have a significant impact on athletic performance. Many athletes turn to caffeine as a tool to enhance their performance, as it has been shown to improve endurance, reduce perceived exertion, and even increase strength in some cases.
But how exactly does caffeine affect the body, and what are the benefits of using it as a supplement for athletes? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the science behind caffeine and its effects on athletic performance because for athletes, the right fuel can make all the difference. And when it comes to caffeine, the benefits are hard to ignore!
WHAT IS CAFFEINE, AND WHAT’S THE SCIENCE BEHIND THIS MAGICAL COMPOUND?
Caffeine is a stimulant that acts as a psychoactive drug, which means it affects the central nervous system and, in return, affects the brain. The history of caffeine can be traced back to the early 1800s, where it was extracted from coffee beans by a German scientist. It is legal nearly everywhere in the world but can also cause overdose if consumed in large proportions. When humans consume caffeine, it is quickly absorbed to the bloodstream and taken to the brain, where it blocks the action of a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine has a calming effect on the brain, which promotes the feeling of drowsiness and fatigue. In turn, other neurotransmitters like dopamine are activated, which has a positive impact on mood, energy, and cognitive function. Caffeine can be found in different parts of plants like cacao and guarana, as well as produced food and beverages such as instant coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks.
HOW DOES CAFFEINE HELP ATHLETES?
Caffeine is a commonly used stimulant that has been shown to have positive effects on athletic performance. Athletes often use caffeine as a supplement to enhance performance due to it’s ability to stimulate the CNS, otherwise known as the Central Nervous System. This has been proven through multiple scientific researches and studies to understand the long-term effects and potential benefits and drawbacks caffeine has on athletes. According to the publications of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Caffeine allows enhanced endurance performance by reducing fatigue levels. In 2017, the Journal of Applied Physiology published that caffeine improves reaction time, which is especially good for players who engage in sports that require quick reflexes like motor sports and badminton
. HOW MUCH CAFFEINE SHOULD AN ATHLETE CONSUME, AND THE DANGERS OF GOING ABOVE LIMIT (SCARY STUFF, Y’ALL!) Although caffeine has a positive impact on athletic performance, like most things, too much of it causes more harm than good. So, how much caffeine is considered “too much”? The optimal dose of caffeine for athletes may vary depending on a lot of physical factors such as body weight and the type of activity the athlete is engaging in. Generally, around 3-6 milligrams per one kilogram of body weight is effective rather than harmful.
However, as caffeine works as a supplement in this scenario, it is important to note that, like other supplements, the amount of caffeine an athlete should consume changes from person to person. Individuals react to caffeine in different ways, and some bodies may be sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. The level of sensitivity a human body presents to caffeine is based on factors such as age, body weight, genetics, health conditions and even on previous exposures to caffeine and it is important for individuals to pay attention to their own response to caffeine and to start consuming it in smaller doses initially.
Consumption of caffeine in higher doses may cause an overdose and can bring forth negative side effects such as jitters, anxiety, and dehydration. Although the amount of caffeine that is considered ‘too much’ varies, consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is frowned upon. When calculating the amount of caffeine that is safe to be consumed, athletes (and everyone, really) should take into consideration that caffeine exists not only in coffee and energy drinks, but in many common food and beverages (in minimal amounts).
LET’S TALK ABOUT ADVANTAGES!
With all this safety information in mind, let us talk about the positive aspect of caffeine in athletic performance in detail.
Increases endurance: Caffeine increases endurance in athletes by manipulating neurotransmitter levels of the brain, which helps with focus and endurance. It enhances fat burning by increasing the body’s metabolic rate, breaking down fat cells, and oxidizing fat when the body is exercising. These oxidized fatty acids are transported to the muscles and used as fuel. Caffeine also increases the rate of Thermogenesis. This is the process by which the human body produces heat. It is a natural process that occurs in all loving organisms. This causes an increase in the amount of calories burned during athletic performance, which in turn promotes weight loss.
It also increases the force by which muscles contract. Increasing muscle activation and producing greater force, it counteracts against muscle fatigue and decreases the rate of glycogen depletion in muscles. Glycogen is a form of glucose stored in muscles and is burned up during exercise. Caffeine reduces perception to pain as it blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine, which is also involved in pain perception. Caffeine boosts athlete alertness, too. It positively stimulates the release of adrenaline and other various hormones that influence heart rate, blood pressure, and the metabolic rate, which increases energy levels and improves overall athletic performance.
Scientific research shows that caffeine decreases perception of effort. This means that the perception or awareness that an athlete has about how much effort they are exerting during athletics is decreased. Perception of effort plays an important role in athletics because it affects the overall performance by changes in the athlete’s motivation and mindset. For example, if an individual is in a headspace of thinking that the activity they are engaged in is tiring and difficult, it may be hard to sustain the activity for a longer time duration due to acute experience of fatigue. This happens because of the connection our mind has on our body. This is especially useful in engaging in short-term high intensity activities such as short distance races and jumps.
There is also evidence that suggests that the use of caffeine helps with faster recovery from accidents. This notion is obviously not applicable to all forms of injuries, but since it is a stimulant that reduces pain perception while aiding with alertness and focus it is understandable as to why caffeine is considered a positive influence post-accident. Caffeine is by no means a substitute for medical assistance but instead may be used as a helping hand to improve an athlete’s physical and mental well-being following the injury.
IS IT LEGAL?
Simply speaking, caffeine is legal and safe to use in almost all countries in the world. It is a commonly used substance around the globe and is not prohibited by sports organizations. Some organizations have rules and guidelines around the consumption of caffeine for players, such as the amount of caffeine that is acceptable to consume and the time period within which it can be consumed. For example, the World Anti-Doping Agency requires athletes to prove the amount of caffeine in their system through a urine sample before the competition begins and will put athletes through penalties and sanctions if they exceed the accepted caffeine levels during competition. Although caffeine is not a prohibited drug, there are still some regulations athletes must follow in terms of caffeine consumption. The consumption limits vary according to the sports organization, but most organizations adhere to the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Athletes should have an understanding of the risks that come with caffeine consumption as well as their own reactions and tolerance to caffeine. They should also be mindful of the caffeine content in supplements and medications as they could contain forms of caffeine that will contribute towards the total amount of caffeine in their bloodstream during a certain time.
In conclusion, caffeine is not illegal, nor is it generally unsafe, and it is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. It is naturally found in many plants and is created artificially in various foods and beverages. Caffeine makes a positive impact on athletic skills and provides a helping hand to athletes during performance when used in moderation and with risk awareness.
Did you know? Decaf coffee (De-caffeinated coffee) still contains small amounts of caffeine, that is, around 2-15 milligrams per cup!