How Caffeine Improves Exercise Performance

By: Lucas Zelazny

How Caffeine Works

Caffeine is found in many foods and beverages and nearly 90% of the US population consumes it on a regular basis. It is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, and blood levels peak after 90-100 minutes. The levels remain high for roughly 3-4 hours and then begin to drop (hence that 2:00 PM crash). 

What Does It Effect?

The Nervous System

Hormones

Fat Burning Processes

Endorphins

Muscles

Body Temperature

Glycogen

Caffeine affects different areas of your brain, muscles, and hormones. It can improve your focus and energy while reducing tiredness. This effect on the body’s physiological systems can inherently improve your exercise performance. After consumption caffeine is eventually broken down in the liver.

Caffeine and Endurance Performance

A recent study found that 9.8 mg/lb of bodyweight of caffeine increased endurance capacity in athletes. In a 1,500-meter run, regular coffee drinkers were able to run 4.2 seconds faster than those drinking decaf. Another study found that coffee helped reduce the perception of effort, allowing athletes to work harder, longer.

Basically you should be chugging coffee anytime you randomly decide you want to run 1,500 meters straight and take 4.2 seconds off that time.

Caffeine and High Intensity Exercise

The evidence about the effects of caffeine on high-intensity exercise is mixed. Caffeine seemingly has benefits for trained athletes, but it seems to be less beneficial for those who are untrained. Two studies have shown that recreationally active men doing bike sprints found no difference between the effects of caffeine and water. However, when compared to a study on competitive athletes, a similar bike sprint linked caffeine to a significant improvement in power production when compared to the control group.

If you want to bike around a mountain like an absolute champ you better be slugging back red bulls like it's your damn job.

Caffeine and Strength Exercises

Evidence here remains inconclusive. A recent comparison of 27 studies found that caffeine may improve leg muscle power by up to 7%, but has no effects on smaller muscle groups. Therefore when performing heavy compound lifts with large muscle groups caffeine may have beneficial performance effects yet this is inconclusive.

With coffee comes increased intestinal motility. This can be a recipe for disaster when moving heavy weight. If you're one to take risks then by all means go for it. There is a chance you'll be able to lift more!

Caffeine and Fat Loss

Early research has shown that taking caffeine before exercise increases the release of stored fat by 30%! This occurs due to the increased heat production and epinephrine release which helps burn additional calories. Our bodies will begin to burn fat stores after your glycogen stores have been used up. This means caffeine prior to exercise will increase the amount of fat burned during exercise.

The human body does some pretty awesome stuff when you're under the influence of drugs... like caffeine.

IN CONCLUSION

Remember This

Caffeine is one of the most effective exercise supplements available to you. It is very cheap and relatively safe to use. Studies have shown that caffeine can benefit endurance performance, high intensity exercise, power production, and aid with fat loss.

Caffeine seems to be most beneficial to already conditioned individuals as an extra boost rather than a kick starter to new exercisers. The recommended dose varies based on bodyweight but is typically about 200-400 mg, taken 30-60 minutes prior to exercise. 

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