Apart from liquid, a lot of sports people consume caffeine during competitions. But can caffeine really enhance our performance? This article by the Swiss magazine Fit for Life provides some answers to this question.
Caffeine has been a controversially discussed substance for years. Only 15 years ago, caffeine was still categorised as doping. In the meantime, restrictions for the consumption of caffeine have been abolished. Amongst other reasons, because caffeine, being one of the oldest medicinal product and stimulant, is so popular in society in the form of coffee, chocolate or tea. This is what you should consider when it comes to the consumption of caffeine:
The effect of caffeine
Undeniably, caffeine has a performance-enhancing effect for many people. Caffeine increases attention, it lightens up the mood and it reduces tiredness. In addition to the stimulation of the nervous system, caffeine also improves our fat metabolism, and it enhances the energy supply in our body. Since the effect of caffeine in given foods might be dependent on other ingredients and since the exact amount of caffeine can not be determined exactly, scientific studies generally use pure caffeine in their experiments.
The ideal amount
An increase in performance is likely already at an amount of 1-6 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. However, as from 3 mg/kg, a plateau effect can be observed, where the effect stagnates significantly. Amounts over 6mg/kg often lead to stress-like symptoms such as trembling, restlessness, irregular heart rate, palpitation and a headache. Sleeping disorders are another frequently observed consequence. Furthermore, during competitions, an “overdose” of caffeine can strain our gastrointestinal tract.
What contains caffeine? For a man of 70 kg, an increase in performance is expected as from around 100-200 mg of caffeine consumed. A cup of coffee contains, depending on the way of preparation, 50-150 mg of caffeine, a cup of tea 20-50 mg, a can of energy drink (250 ml) about 80 mg and a Coca-Cola 8250 ml) 25 mg. Chocolate contains caffeine, too. A bar of dark bitter chocolate contains up to 70 mg, a bar of milk chocolate about 15 mg.
In sports, continuous supply of caffeine can be provided by a range of sports drinks and sport gels rich in caffeine (a Powerbar gel contains e.g. 50 mg). Some people even use special, highly concentrated caffeine liquids (e.g. Sponser Activator, 160 mg/portion or the new Red Bull shots, 80 mg/shot).
«Peak» after one hour
The reviving effect of caffeine is only felt as from roughly half an hour after its consumption. The maximum effect kicks in after about one hour, while it begins to decrease again after 2 to 3 hours.
Different kinds of caffeine
The caffeine which is contained in a lot of gels stems from the Guarana berry, in an espresso, it comes from the coffee bean, in chocolate, it’s from the cocoa bean. Further sources of caffeine are the kola nut (Coca-Cola), the mate leaves or tea plants. Which kind of caffeine has which effect has not been treated closely in research yet, and the question is further complicated by the fact that other ingredients have an influence on the effect of caffeine. Furthermore, the reactions to caffeine are highly individual.
Reduced effect for coffee lovers
Those who consume a lot of coffee on a regular basis profit less from its performance-enhancing effect. As a consequence, some sports people stop drinking coffee a couple of weeks or months before a competition, in order to be able to profit from the effect of espresso or Coca-Cola again on competition day.
Avoid carbonic acid
As a source of caffeine during competitions, people don’t normally drink Coca-Cola ice-cold and with sparkles, as it is done normally, but tepid and without sparkles. The reason: carbonic acid causes belching and cold drinks strain the gastrointestinal tract.
You can even take in caffeine via pills. A pill contains 40 mg of caffeine. 22 pills can be purchased for CHF 11.50 at the pharmacy.
Children below the age of 12 are not recommended to consume caffeine. According to Swiss food regulations, special drinks containing caffeine (e.g. energy drinks) are not allowed to exceed 32 mg per 100 ml.
As with all supplements, the following applies for caffeine: you should really test different products beforehand. Test for yourself and try to find out which amount of caffeine provides you with the desired kick and in which moment!
This blog entry by Andreas Gonseth was provided by Fit for Life. Fit for Life is the Swiss magazine for fitness, running and endurance sports. Would you like to read such articles on a regular basis? Then click here (unfortunately, this page is not available in English).