Caffeine to Improve Performance

It is a fact that athletes can use caffeine to improve performance with the blessing of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and most sports organisations.  Coffee can improve mental focus and energy level. Caffeine works very well which explains why North Americans drink an average of 2 cups of coffee per day.

There are other benefits of caffeine to improve performance. The most recent July 2016 issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research contains three separate studies that research the benefits of caffeine.

Fat Loss

The number of people was not very large (12) but the results were interesting. The subject were asked to sprint intervals after taking caffeine or a placebo. The amount of energy used increased by 8% while at rest and more than 10% after exercise when caffeine was used, compared to the placebo. Endurance and fat burning rate was up by 10%. So in the end, taking caffeine before exercise can help burn more calories and fat.

Vertical Jump Height

vertical jumpA squat jump and counter-movement Jump was performed by 25 NCAA Division I athletes after taking 5 mg/kg of caffeine or a placebo. On average, the athletes increased their vertical jump 5.4% and their counter-movement jump by 4.3%. The researchers thought the caffeine stimulated the muscles to contract faster and with more power.


Three maximum voluntary muscle contraction tests were performed by 15 subjects after taking a caffeine based energy drink, a non-caffeine based energy drink or a placebo. On average, the caffeine based drink increased strength by 5%. Overall, the researchers felt that caffeine may increase strength but not by a large amount.

Should You Use Caffeine to Improve Performance?

Many athletes use caffeine in the form of a cup of coffee, energy drink or a pre-workout supplement which normally uses caffeine as a stimulant.

The NCAA is very strict on supplements but do list the benefits of caffeine as:

  • A reduced perception of fatigue which allows higher intensity training and longer workouts.
  • Improves performance when the sport has high-intensity effort lasting longer than 90 seconds.
  • Improvements in concentration, coordination and focus.
  • Up to 4 hours of performance effects due to caffeine.

caffeine to improve performanceThe IOC and NCAA are pretty close to the same limit for caffeine use at 12 and 15 microgram/mL of urine respectively.  From a practical standpoint, that is about 1000 mg of caffeine per day (6-8 cups of coffee). That is a lot of coffee to drink in one day but most athletes use energy drinks, preworkout supplements, or caffeine pills so that limit can be reached fairly easily.

Those who want to use caffeine should stick to coffee or supplements that clearly label caffeine quantities per serving. Failing a positive drug test is not fun and can lead to a ban from participating in your sport.

Understand the effect caffeine has on your body by testing quantities in practice and training, never in a game.   Having too much for you personally can negatively impact your performance by making you over-stimulated and jittery.

Not all of the information about caffeine is good. Though it is an approved supplement, there are limits to its use. Caffeine is addictive and can cause dehydration, nausea and shaking that decrease performance.

Caffeine is a diuretic which means it can cause frequent bathroom trips which reduces the fluid level in your body causing dehydration. Dehydration is the #1 reason for poor performance in athletes. Expecting caffeine to give you energy is a myth.

You can use caffeine to improve performance because it is a stimulant. If you are looking for energy, you are looking in the wrong place. Caffeine and calorie free energy drinks have NO energy because they have no calories. You need to consume calories to give yourself longer term energy for workouts and games. Caffeine is short lived much like sugar from candy. Your body uses it up very quickly. Using carbohydrates in your diet is the key, not supplements. Supplements are intended to help food, not replace it.

Using caffeine to improve performance is not illegal if used in reasonable quantities. Relying on it to give you the energy you need in games will not work. Use caffeine in moderation and use real food to give your body what it needs.

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