12 Apr 2022


What are the effects of caffeine on exercise performance?

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Academic level: University

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Coffee is one of the oldest drinks in the market due to its history tracing back over 1000 years ago. Today, it is approximated that up to 75 percent of Americans consume coffee on a regular basis. Average caffeine consumption in the US is around 2 cups of coffee per day or 200mg, and ten percent of the same US population consumes more than 1000 mg per day. Despite the centuries that have passed since coffee came, however, mysteries and controversies are surrounding the biological effects of the products due to its principal active ingredient, Caffeine. Caffeine is today considered to be the most widely used stimulant on earth, and absorbed from different products such as chocolate, soft drinks, and tea, coffee, and non-prescription medications. Caffeine is publicly suitable, and a legal drug consumed by people from all walks of life. 

Caffeine is considered one of the most popular substances throughout the world. Competitive and recreational athletes drink caffeinated beverages socially and as a way to enhance physical performance. Recognized as a prevalent supplement, caffeine was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from 1984 – 2004. The benefits that athletes received from the substance is considered to give a competitive advantage in the sporting world and subsequently barred from competition. Caffeine has various effects on the body regarding improving an athlete’s level of performance (Bagji et al, 2013)

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Caffeine does not come with any nutritional value, and often referred to as nutritional ergogenic aid. When caffeine gets absorbed in the body, it takes roughly 1-2 hours before it peaks inside the blood cells. Caffeine affects most of the systems inside the human body because most tissues absorb it, and the remaining traces gets broken down in the liver before the byproducts excrete in the urine. 

Federal regulations on producing and marketing dietary supplements are nonexistent. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), companies that produce dietary supplements are not required to provide validity of the ingredients within their products. Most individuals consume these unregulated nutritional supplements and pre-workout beverages to produce an ergogenic effect when exercising. If the ultimate goal is to get bigger, faster, and stronger, is there a way to accomplish this admissible? For competitive and recreational athletes, there is an immense reason to seek safer methods of dietary supplementation in addition to improving exercise performance with these implications in mind. One such product that may produce positive effects on exercise performance and still maintains its security is caffeine (Fimland & Saeterbakken, 2011). 

Clinical results since the early 70’s indicate that caffeine enhanced endurance performance by increasing the release of adrenaline in the blood system hence motivating the discharge of free fatty acids from the skeletal muscle and fat tissues. The muscles utilize the extra fat early on during the exercise process, minimizing the need to us muscle carbohydrate or glycogen. 

During the 80’s several studies were commissioned, and it stood that caffeine did not alter metabolism, indicating that the drug did not have any ergogenic effect, without measuring performance. It was, therefore, concluded that caffeine never altered metabolism during endurance exercise and was therefore not ergogenic. 

However, recent research has revealed that by absorbing 3-9 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight an hour before any training activity, it was recorded that there was a corresponding endurance in running and cycling performance. To bolster the argument, 3mg per kg of a human body is more or less the same with 1-2 regular sized cups of drip-percolated coffee, and 9mg per kg is around three mugs which are also more or less the same with 5-6 regular sized coffee cups. The research studies were conducted in collaboration with seasoned recreational athletes, because, amateur athletes were unable to exercise reliably to exhaustion (Olvieira et al, 2008). 

Why is Caffeine Controlled

High levels of caffeine are restricted in the athletic world, and urinary levels exceeding 12ug/ml are considered to be illegal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, athletes who use caffeine before intense exercise activity seldom approach the legal limits during competitive events. Therefore, caffeine is a vital product in the sports world. Caffeine is an integral part of the diet of several athletes even though it comes with no nutritional value coupled with its potential to act as a “legal” ergogenic in different exercising activities (Doubt & Hsieh, 1991). 

Caffeine and Endurance Performances

The interest in observing caffeine as an endurance performance substance was first previewed from costill’s laboratory. The test center examined the aftermath of absorbing 330mg of caffeine an hour before engaging in an exhaustive cycling activity. It was revealed that the trained cyclists improved on their performances from 75 min in the placebo condition to an astonishing 96 minutes following caffeine absorption. In a separate study, it was revealed that 250mg of caffeine was associated with a corresponding 20 percent of an increase in work performance over a period of two hours. These two studies, therefore, indicates that 30% increased utilization of fat for energy during the caffeine trials. In the third study, exercise muscle metabolism was examined, and it was revealed that an absorption of 5 mg of caffeine per a kg of body weight spared muscle glycogen and also enhanced the use of muscle tissues (Slivka et al., 2008). 

Latest study on caffeine Effects on Endurance Performance and Metabolism

There have been a lot of studies that have evaluated the performance and metabolism effects of caffeine in seasoned athletes who are used to exhaustive exercises and competitive sporting activities. During the training, performance assessments were used as the metrics to simulate competitive conditions. These studies attempted to examine effects of caffeine dose of 9mg per kilo body mass on running and cycling time to exhaustion at 80-85 percent VO2max. The study also evaluated the effects of different doses, and the effects of a moderate dosage of caffeine on the performances of repeated 30 min bouts when cycling (Weir et al., 1987). 

The above study revealed a significant milestone. Endurance performance was enhanced by 20-50 percent in comparison to the placebo trial to the placebo trial 20-25percent when doses of between 3-15 mg per kilo were injected in seasoned athletes who could run or cycle at 80-90 percent VO2max. Without exception, the 3,5, and 6 mg per pound created some ergogenic effect with urinary caffeine intensity above 12 mg per ml (Williams et al, 1986). The side effects of caffeine intake including gastrointestinal distress, insomnia, headache, and dizziness were uncommon with doses below 6 mg per kilo, but on the other hand common with higher doses of 9-13 mg per kilo. These side effects were also very familiar with declining performances in some athletes at 9 mg per kilo. 

The research findings indicated that caffeine produced a double increase in venous plasma EPI at rest and also when exercising in venous plasma FFA at rest. 

However, there is tiny information about the performance and metabolic effects of caffeine in amateur athletes, because, performances in these groups is tough to determine precisely. A separate research indicated that a variable glycogen was sparing reply to a high caffeine doses from 9mg per kg, it is only half of the athletes who demonstrated glycogen sparing during a 15 minute period of cycling at 80-85 percent V02max. These results clearly attest that metabolic responses to caffeine ingestions in amateur athletes are more variable when compared to professional athletes who are trained for sporting activities (Powers et al., 1982). 

Mechanisms for Improved Endurance

It can be argued that metabolic mechanism is part of the explanation for enhancement of endurance with caffeine, except low caffeine doses. The increased FFA during the beginning of the exercise activity, glycogen sparing in the first fifteen minutes, and the report about the increased intramuscular during the initial thirty minutes of the exercise. These results indicate that there is a significant role for fat metabolism during the onset of an exercise when caffeine doses greater than 5mg per kilo of body mass are absorbed. However, it is true to say that these metabolic findings do not disqualify other factors that may contribute towards improved endurance performance. For instance, caffeine stimulates the transport of potassium into immobile body tissues, and this leads to the decrease of the rise in plasma potassium concentration during exercise. It is assumed that the lower plasma potassium assists in preserving the excitability of the cell membrane in shrinking muscles hence contributes to caffeine’s ergogenic effect throughout endurance exercise. Therefore, the known adjustment in an athlete’s muscle only cannot presently clarify the ergogenic effect of caffeine during endurance exercise in all circumstances. 

Caffeine and Performances of Graded Exercise Tests

There have been many research works that have reported no effect on moderated doses of caffeine ingestion on time to exhaustion andV02max during graded exercise that could last for 8-20 min. However, two separate studies from the same laboratory have revealed extended exercise periods when massive doses of caffeine are ingested. In the first study, 10 and 15mg per kilo were given, and the results were a small and a massive increase in athlete’s performance. In the second study, the athletes were given 10mg per kilo caffeine dose 3 hours before their training, and it was reported that there was a corresponding increase in time to exhaustion. The athletes managed to complete the control, and the placebo and caffeine trials with the control trial were always coming first, with the rest of the two trials being randomized. From the study, it was clear that the high caffeine quantity was the primary factor that separated the positive findings from the studies and indicating that there was no significant effect. Unfortunately, there has not been a mechanistic information at present that can elucidate on the ergogenic effects (Jackobson, 1982). 

Caffeine and Performance of Intense Aerobic Exercise Activities

Intense exercises are competitive sporting events that go for more for than 20 minutes which require sportsmen to operate at power output exceeding 90 percent of V02max. A research study was conducted on the effect of 6mg caffeine per kilo on performances in a 1500m swimming competition in trained athletes. The study revealed that caffeine ingestion minimized on swim trials from 21:22 to 20:59. The research further went on and explained less pre-exercise plasma potassium levels and increased plasma potassium levels and higher after exercise blood glucose concentrations through caffeine and recommended that glucose availability and electrolyte balance are related with ergogenic effects of caffeine (Gummadi & Bhavya, 2011). 

It can, therefore, be summarized that absorbing caffeine of quantities between 3-13mg per kilo before exercising is likely to enhance performances in periods of prolonged endurance cycling and running within a lab environment. Caffeine doses which are below 9mg per kilo dispense urinary caffeine levels that are below IOC recommendations of 12mg per ml. It has also been revealed that modest caffeine doses within 5-6 mg per kilo enhance short-term intense cycling within a lab environment and at the same time decreases swim time for 1500metres to less than 20 minutes. These reports are developed in collaboration with professional athletes. However, there are no present field studies that validate ergogenic effects of caffeine in the world of sporting. Mechanisms supporting enhanced endurances have not yet been clearly established, but on the other hand, they may encompass hormonal, metabolic, or direct effects of caffeine on the nervous system and the muscles (Zen et al., 1987). 


Bagchi, D., Nair, S., & Sen, C. K. (2013). Nutrition and enhanced sports performance: Muscle building, endurance, and strength . Amsterdam: Academic Press.

Doubt, T. J., & Hsieh, S. S. (1991). Additive effects of caffeine and cold water during submaximal leg exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 23 (4).

Fimland, M. S., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2011). No Effects of Caffeine on Muscle Hypertrophy-Style Resistance Exercise. Journal of Caffeine Research, 1 (2), 117-121.

Gummadi, S. N., & Bhavya, B. (2011). Enhanced degradation of caffeine and caffeine demethylase production by Pseudomonas sp. in bioreactors under fed-batch mode. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 91 (4), 1007-1017.

Jacobson, B. H., Kulling, F. A., & Aldana, S. G. (1992). Comparison Of Caffeine Effects On Motor Performance Between High And Low Caffeine Users. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 24 (Supplement).

Oliveira, M., Hogervorst, E., Gleeson, M., Bandelow, S., & Schmitt, J. (2008). The Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance During and Following Prolonged Exercise to Exhaustion. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40 (Supplement).

Powers, S. K., Byrd, R. J., Tulley, R., & Calender, T. (1982). Effects Of Caffeine Ingestion On Metabolism And Performance During Graded Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 14 (2), 176.

Slivka, D., Cuddy, J., Hailes, W., & Ruby, B. (2008). Effects of Caffeine and Carbohydrate Use on Exercise Performance, Substrate Oxidation and Salivary Cortisol. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40 (Supplement).

Weir, J., Noakes, T. D., Myburgh, K., & Adams, B. (1987). A high carbohydrate diet negates the metabolic effects of caffeine during exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 19 (2).

Williams, J. H., Barnes, W. S., & Gadberry, H. (1986). The Effects Of Caffeine Ingestion On Hyo-Electric Signal Characteristics During Isometric Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 18 (Supplement).

Zen, J., & Ting, Y. (1997). Simultaneous determination of caffeine and acetaminophen in drug formulations by square-wave voltammetry using a chemically modified electrode. Analytica Chimica Acta, 342 (2-3), 175-180.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). What are the effects of caffeine on exercise performance?.


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