- Caffeine can bind to adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine can make you feel tired, sleepy, or drowsy when it binds to its receptors. However, when caffeine blocks some of those receptors by binding to them instead, you become more alert.
- There may be a mechanism related to improved skeletal muscle performance, either through enhancing strength and/or neuromuscular function.
- Studies have shown that caffeine intake resulted in improved fuel utilization, encouraging a greater reliance on fat oxidation compared to glycogen (carbohydrate) utilization.
- It may increase endorphin secretions, which have a mood-boosting effect and may reduce pain perception during long bouts of endurance exercise.
Let’s say you are an 80 kg athlete (175 pounds). Based on the 3 to 6 mg/kg range, the dose for potential performance enhancement would be approximately 240 to 480 mg of caffeine. This is equivalent to a few cups of coffee. It’s important to note that even though caffeine is a mild diuretic, the current research does not suggest that doses in the range above contribute to dehydration or negative effects on fluid balance during exercise.
Some studies suggest that anhydrous forms of caffeine (like a caffeine pill, gel, or chewable tablet) may provide greater benefit compared to the ingestion of caffeine through coffee, teas or other forms. However, the caffeine in these drink/food sources do still lead to positive outcomes, are often more easily accessible, and newer research is suggesting there is not as big of a difference in performance enhancement when compared to anhydrous forms as once thought.
Whether or not you decide to utilize caffeine before a race depends on your personal habits, tolerance/sensitivity (which can be influenced by genetics), and medical conditions. If you regularly consume large quantities of caffeine, you may not see an additional performance benefit when you drink your standard amount of coffee on race day. However, you will likely see a decline in performance if you randomly decide to give up that caffeine on race day. If you’re a caffeine junkie and want to have optimal use of it for a race, consider weaning off of it for week or so leading up to the event. This will decrease your body’s reliance on it. Note that during this process you may experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms which include headaches and irritability. Although this is not pleasant, the benefits can be worth it. After you have been “clean” off caffeine for at least three to four days, when you go to use it on race day your body will get those desired stimulant effects again just like you’re a caffeine newbie.
Along the same lines, if you never drink caffeinated beverages, you may see a performance boost with caffeine at the very low end of the 3 to 6 mg/kg range, since your body isn’t used to the effects of caffeine. However, you may also experience side effects such as feeling restless or jittery. Caffeine can also cause stomach upset in some individuals. If this happens to you, you’re probably better off just skipping it.
No matter what your situation, I can’t stress enough that it is wise to practice with caffeine in training situations if you are planning to use it on race day. The way your body reacts to a certain food or substance at home on the couch can be very different when you are using it before exercise. Experiment during training to find out if this is right for you!
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