Caffeine for Sports
We have all been in the situation where we get to the gym and have no urge to do anything. Maybe we didn’t sleep well the night before, sore from previous days of work in the gym, or just exhausted from the day. No problem, take some pre-workout or a cup of espresso, and next thing we know we start to feel really strong and stimulated. It is because of trimethylxanthine, aka caffeine anhydrous. Or more simply: caffeine.
Caffeine is considered nootropic because it can lead to tremendous amounts of mental consideration. Caffeine can decrease pain and actually enhance pain tolerance. On top of that, caffeine can dramatically increase power output as well as strength endurance. Caffeine is a very, very potent compound.
We argue that it is one of the most potent compounds that can be found on the entire planet, especially when talking about drugs that are actually legal according to USADA and WADA.
What Does Caffeine Do?
We need to figure out exactly what caffeine does and how it interacts with the brain. Immediately we need to recognize that there are adenosine and adenosine receptors in the body. When we start to feel a little sluggish or fatigued, adenosine will fill up those receptors which are actually making the body feel fatigued.
This is where caffeine comes into play.
The trimethylxanthine will actually block adenosine from getting into the receptors which then forces the body to feel more awake, less sluggish, and more motivated to go. From there, it can start to trigger dopamine and its interaction with serotonin which will increase power output and elongate the means of power output over a longer period of time.
Caffeine actually has a great impact on strength endurance. It has a greater acute impact on endurance than it does on strength. For instance, a lot of distance runners have taken tremendous advantage of caffeine to enhance their performance.
The Spanish boxing team took eight elite boxers and measured a plethora of athletic factors: wind-gate test, counter-movement jump, power output, how quickly they got to peak power production.
The researchers gave the athletes a placebo and put them through the workout. They then gave them caffeine and put them through the workout/test.
What ended up happening is every single metric tested improved when taking caffeine. The athletes’ strength improved, power output improved, rate of power output dramatically increased, and on top of that, the wind-gate test had the larges progression from the placebo test. This means that the greatest performance increase came in the endurance realm. This is common and pretty standard among all different caffeine-related tests.
It is important to recognize that caffeine is available in many different drinks: energy drinks, chocolate drinks, coffee, black teas, green teas, and more. It is available in different amounts based on serving and type of drink per serving. There are some pre-workouts out there that might have 400 to 450 milligrams.
The best way to understand how to utilize caffeine is to understand the goal of that training session, in the weight room, or in our chosen sport. For instance, if we are in a sport that requires a ton of power output and a really heavy training session is on the day’s agenda, and we feel sluggish, we may want a little more caffeine.
According to most of the research, the safest amount of caffeine to be taken is between 4 and 6 milligrams per pound of bodyweight. So somebody who weighs between 105-110 kilograms may be able to ingest 600 milligrams. A 50-kilo athlete may only be able to handle 200 milligrams before they might feel a little anxious, panic, or even to a point of dizziness.
It is important to recognize that if we want an acute response for endurance base training or a wrestler with a six-minute match approaching. A 105-110 kilo wrestling athlete in a tournament should probably be taking 200 milligrams for each match about a half-hour to one hour out because it takes anywhere from thirty to sixty minutes for the body to start to utilize and metabolize the caffeine so it can block the adenosine receptors.
Negative Impact On Recovery
Having caffeine at 5 or 6 PM at night typically leads to a bad night of sleep. A bad night’s sleep causes the body to not handle the caffeine as well as it could have if we slept well.
A lot of research shows that sleeping 8-10 hours and working out around 10 AM taking the appropriate amount of caffeine we can be wired and effectively hold that level of performance. Only getting 4-6 hours of sleep will stop this from happening. The body will not tolerate it and will also have negative reactions to caffeine.
It is important to use a cyclical level around caffeine. Training sessions that are easier to handle that don’t require as much of a mind-muscle connection, the amount of caffeine can be lessened. On the flip, if we have an intense training session in which a serious amount of weight is trying to be pushed, not only do we want a great amount of sleep, but we want to use the appropriate amount of caffeine relative to bodyweight.
It is important to periodize and figure out what amount of caffeine is needed for specific days. Recognize that having caffeine after 3 PM is a bad idea because it can have a negative impact on sleep. It typically takes 7 to 8 hours for the body to get the caffeine out of the system.
Caffeine has a great impact on strength endurance. Timing caffeine consumption based upon when that extra burst is needed in training, sport, or within the season can help. We recommend finding a great pre-workout, understanding the different amounts of coffee based on which drink is selected, and make sure to not be drinking coffee into the PM so that a solid night of sleep can be achieved.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.