Caffeine & Exercise: Does Caffeine Enhance Performance?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 8:47am

By Michele Silence, MA

We all enjoy an occasional boost—something to perk up our performance or give us a little extra energy. In this frame of mind, caffeine often sounds like a good option. After all, it’s perfectly legal, widely available and used by every coffee drinker in the world. But can a dose of caffeine really give you that edge you’re looking for? Or is it just hype?

Caffeine can be a powerful supplement

Ample research proves that caffeine definitely enhances performance, especially in the case of aerobic endurance events like cycling, running and swimming. No one knows exactly how it works—whether performance increases because of the drug itself or because caffeine speeds up heart rate and circulation. However, if you’re lifting weights or doing some other type of exercise, be advised that caffeine has not conclusively been proven to help.

Side effects of caffeine

Loading up on caffeine is not without a number of side effects. If you’re susceptible to any of the following, you may want to think twice about consuming caffeine as an exercise aid. In some people it can cause anxiety, jitters, an inability to focus, irritability, insomnia, gastrointestinal unrest and nervousness. With higher doses, the risk of irregular heart beats increases. If you take a caffeine pill don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re having a heart attack. Heart rate goes up, sweating may begin, muscle tightness can occur and nausea is often part of the reaction.

Caffeine: pill, liquid or food?

Caffeine is found in a number of consumable products: from chocolate and coffee to soda and over-the-counter tablets. The form most commonly linked to significantly enhanced performance is over-the-counter tablets. Popular opinion often suggests that coffee is your best bet. However, some studies have indicated that something in coffee may nullify caffeine’s effect. Soda and chocolate simply don’t have enough to be that effective. So, the most useful form is tablets.

Should you take caffeine before exercising?

In the end, the bottom line is whether or not you really need a caffeine boost. Is your fitness level at the point where a small improvement can mean the difference between doing great or not? And, how are you going to feel when performing a bit better knowing it’s from a chemical aid? Is it really necessary? The boost you get may not be worth the side effects, psychological trip or extra money.

For information on taking in fluids (including caffeine) after exercising see the following article from TheDietChannel: Re-build Your Body After A Strenuous Workout With Food.