Caffeine for the Athlete

In several past posts, we’ve discussed the use of caffeine when it comes to athletic performance. For the most part, though, we’ve only looked at general information. Thanks to some newer research that has emerged since those posts were typed, we can now get a little specific. Primarily, we want to look at appropriate dosages of caffeine for and how you can properly manage your caffeine intake for optimum results – and limited side effects.


The Goldilocks Effect

Let’s just get this out there: Caffeine is a drug. As with most drugs, your body will eventually form both a tolerance to – and dependance on – caffeine. Thanks to the dependance, you will crave caffeine and experience withdrawal symptoms when you go without it. But your brain’s ability to form a tolerance means that you will consistently need more and more caffeine to feel the same effects.

For many people, this is knowledge enough to make them totally cut caffeine out of their lives. But the truth is that numerous studies have proven that caffeine can be incredible useful to athletes competing in an number of sports. The stimulant has been shown to improve power output, endurance, mental focus, reaction time and the metabolism of fats. The trick, then, is to find a maintenance dose of caffeine that will allow you to enjoy the benefits without developing a tolerance and dependance.

Since caffeine effects people differently, depending on a variety of factors, it’s difficult to come up with an exact dosage. According to many experts, though, dependance is unlikely to occur when your daily dose hovers around 100mg of caffeine every day – equivalent to about one 8oz cup of coffee. Again, though, this may not be true for everyone and some studies have observed withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing even this small dose. It may take some experimenting to find the sweet spot for you – the lowest possible daily dose of caffeine that allows you to feel the benefits without being totally hooked.


The Hardcore Taper

If you’re really willing to dive in and make some serious sacrifices to get your coffee habit under control while discovering your optimum maintenance dose, you might think about a two-week taper. To start, pick a two week period that seems like it will be relatively low in stress and estimate your normal caffeine intake – including coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and anything else you can think of that contains even small amounts of caffeine.

Each day, gradually decrease the amount of caffeine until you’re down to just 100mg. Maintain this for a few days and then – when you’re ready – cut out all caffeine for three days. You will probably experience headaches and other withdrawal symptoms. After a few days, though, these will fade and you will totally free of your caffeine habit. At this point, you can resume 100mg or less of caffeine every day and you should be able to exercise more control over your habit.


For the Athlete

So far, though, we’ve only covered daily use. Once you find your lowest possible baseline dose, you can start to use caffeine as a performance enhancing supplement. In most studies, the optimum dose is calculated as being ~3-6mg of caffeine for each kg of body weight. Which means you’ll have to do some math. Sorry.

If you’ve found your ideal daily dose and it’s relatively low, you should be able to make due with just 3mg/kg. To keep yourself from developing a tolerance while using caffeine in this way, only boost your dose on training days and only when you feel like you need it. Some days you may be feeling great and not need any help, other days may be different.

Strictly speaking, coffee is not the best source of caffeine. The exact amount of caffeine found in the coffee will depend on a huge number of factors, including brewing method, filter type and the quality of bean. If you really want to be precise, you might consider a caffeine pill or powder that has a specific dosage.





This entry was posted in Nutrition by jonathan.thompson. Bookmark the permalink.

About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.