Coffee & Athletic Performance
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Have you ever wondered how your daily cup(s) of coffee may impact athletic performance and training? If so, you’re not alone! As I sit here and sip on a warm cup of coffee, it only seemed appropriate to write a post for my athletes and answer a f
ew common questions related to the pros and cons of caffeine consumption.
Coffee has a unique and somewhat complex nutrient profile. This beverage contains more than a thousand different compounds, including carbohydrates, lipids, nitrogenous compounds, vitamins, minerals, alkaloids, phenolic complexes, and caffeine. As you may have heard, coffee has several reported benefits, and the research indicates that your favorite cup of joe may even be associated with positive long-term health outcomes such as and lowering your risk of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and clinical depression.
Additionally, coffee is widely praised in many athletic communities as the natural caffeine content is said to help boost performance. The caffeine found in coffee has the power to act as a powerful ergogenic aid, and the research indicates that consuming caffeine pre-exercise may improve, aerobic performance, muscular endurance, muscle strength, anaerobic power, speed, and jumping performance. These evidenced-based outcomes are the result of caffeine acting on the central nervous system, where the stimulant helps offset fatigue by reducing perceived exertion and pain perception.
So, how much caffeine do you need to consume to experience the reported training benefits? Most studies indicate that 3–6 mg/kg of caffeine i
s the dosage associated with enhanced aerobic performance. As mentioned above, coffee is a natural source of caffeine with 8 oz. of the liquid providing around 100mg of caffeine. Therefore, its possible to use plain black coffee as “vehicle” to deliver the ergogenic dose of caffeine.
However, this poses a few questions for consumers – does coffee provide the same benefits as taking a separate, caffeine anhydrase supplement? If it is effective, would drinking coffee be an efficient way to consume the performance enhancing dose? Lastly, are there any risks to increasing coffee consumption around training?
Yes, I know, so many questions … Nevertheless, lets dive in!
According to a 2016 review of the literature, when comparing the effect of caffeine anhydrase to the impact of plain black coffee on athletic pe
rformance, most studies resulted in comparable outcomes. Therefore, endurance athletes who choose to drink coffee rather than take a caffeine anhydrase supplement or pre-workout drink will still reap the ergogenic benefits. I consider this good news as it means athletes do not necessarily need to go through the trouble of finding a safe and effective supplement.
However, athletes and coaches should consider the practical limitations of using coffee. Remember that to benefit from caffeine, an athlete would generally need to consume 3–6 mg/kg. If we were working with a 70kg athlete and wanted to administer a therapeutic dose of 4mg/kg of caffeine, this athlete would need to consume ~280mg of caffeine. Since we know that 8 oz. of regular brewed coffee contains about 100mg of
caffeine, our hypothetical athlete would have to comfortably hold around 24 oz. (3 cups) of coffee prior to his or her event. For some athletes, this quantity of fluid would simply be too much and the sensation of fullness and/or overhydration may negate any performance benefit provided by the caffeine. Therefore, athletes need to experiment for themselves and determine if they can realistically incorporate that much fluid into their pre-game regimen.
Lastly, all consumers should evaluate any and all potential risks of increasing their coffee/caffeine intake. We know that caffeine consumption is generally
considered safe for healthy adults. However, some individuals may experience negative side effects such as anxiety, restlessness, poor sleep, and increased heart rate. Furthermore, athletes must also be cautious with their coffee consumption as caffeine is a substance that is technically restricted by the NCAA. Caffeine is a simulant, and therefore it falls under the banned substance category when consumed in excess. Specifically, if an NCAA-issued drug test identifies that your urine has a caffeine concentration higher than 15mcg/mL, than you will likely face penalties, if not be disqualified from your event. Therefore, I recommend that if athletes choose to use coffee for the beneficial nature of caffeine, do
not exceed 5-6 cups of brewed coffee, or the equivalent to 400-500 milligrams of caffeine.
In conclusion, athletes may benefit from drinking coffee prior to training and competition as the caffeine content can help improve some aspects of performance. Just keep in mind that drinking coffee specifically may not always be the most practical way to achieve the ergogenic dose of caffeine, and you must be cautious as consuming too much caffeine may trigger a positive drug test. If you have additional questions regarding caffeine, supplements, or supplement safety, I encourage you to reach out as I'd be happy to w
ork with you.