Three Things to Know: Coffee is a Performance Booster
- Practice with using coffee/ caffeine in a workout, not in a race.
- Don’t use coffee to mask fatigue.
- Caffeine/coffee is one of the few supplements that work.
Research consistently shows that coffee is a performance booster that works for cyclists and runners.
Coffee, because of its caffeine content, has been shown to be one of the only effective legal performance boosters.
And if you don’t like coffee, caffeine tablets also work.
Exercise often “feels” easier after a cup of coffee or whatever energy drink or pre-workout fuel you happen to use.
Research consistently shows, however, that caffeine/coffee is a performance booster that acts on our central nervous systems.
Coffee is a performance booster for aerobic sports
Caffeine seems to be most effective with endurance and speed, but still can pack a punch with strength work, according to a study with a meta-analysis of research.
“…it is evident that caffeine ingestion enhances performance in anaerobic exercise tasks as well. However, it is possible that the magnitude of the effect of caffeine is greater for aerobic as compared with anaerobic exercise.”
The optimal dose is still under study. It seems about 3 to 6 mg/kg works well with most people.
While that’s a big range, I’d suggest trying the minimal amount in training before doing anything crazy in a race situation.
Generally, “… as a broad rule of thumb, two cups of coffee, consumed around 60 min before exercise, should exert an ergogenic effect in most individuals.”
Ergogenic meaning performance boosting.
If I have intervals or other hard workout in the afternoon, I’ll generally drink a coffee 30 minutes before I go out the door.
Coffee is a performance booster that needs trial and error
I’ve known several people who were very sensitive to caffeine and for whom even one cup of coffee would send them to jittery-land.
Plus, the metanalysis noted that there were few studies that focused on women.
Also, few of the studies focused on older people, and some research suggests a reduction in the effectiveness of caffeine as we age.
Anecdotally, I have not noticed this. I notice that it takes more coffee to get the “effect” since I tend to drink throughout the day.
The meta-analysis did mention that infrequent caffeine users get a bigger bump than habitual users. (We sound like drug users, which, in a way, we are!)
Another issue in the research is that the studies used caffeine powder as the fuel. There is some research I reference later that shows caffeine and coffee are pretty much the same.
Timing coffee as a performance booster can help fat oxidation
Other research suggests that drinking coffee 30 minutes before exercise can increase fat oxidation.
This may mean you burn more fat during exercise if you drink a cup of coffee prior to exercise, especially in the afternoon.
“Overall, these results suggest that a combination of acute caffeine intake and exercise at moderate intensity in the afternoon provides the best scenario for individuals seeking to increase whole-body fat oxidation during aerobic exercise.”
However, the performance enhancing effects of caffeine seem to be mostly on the central nervous system, so it’s uncertain whether we’re burning more fat instead of glycogen (carbohydrates).
This research also focused on men.
Incidentally, this research, which focused on aerobic exercise, suggested that caffeine increased VO2max. I’d be curious to see more about this.
Plus, I’d like to know that if I’m doing an easy workout when I’m primarily consuming fat as a fuel, does coffee help or hinder that process?
Coffee is a performance booster as much as plain caffeine
Asker Jeukendrup, a sport scientist who does a lot of work with nutrition, studied caffeine and coffee.
“It was found that time trial performance was significantly faster, and average power significantly higher when caffeine or coffee was consumed, compared with decaffeinated coffee or placebo. But, interestingly, there was no significant difference in performance between coffee and caffeine.”
Coffee is a performance booster and the elixir of life
For many people, like me, coffee is the elixir of life.
The fact that coffee is a performance booster is just icing on the cake, or, at the very least, an excuse to ride my bike somewhere just to get coffee!
Of course, I have to be careful of the amount and timing to help race day performance.
And it helps, well, digestion…
One thing to be wary of, because this happens often with me, is using coffee to get out the door when you probably should be taking the day off.
Three things to know about using coffee as a performance booster
So here are the three things to know about using caffeine or coffee as a performance booster:
- Like any supplement or training tool, practice with the amount and type of coffee/ caffeine in a workout, not in a race. You don’t know how your body will react.
- Be careful to not use coffee as a way to mask fatigue when you really should take a day off.
- Caffeine/coffee is a performance booster, one of the few supplements that actually has science to back it up!
Want to know more about what you can achieve with coffee – or coaching?
My purpose with Simple Endurance Coaching is to help everyday endurance athletes achieve their goals with more strength, endurance, and mobility.
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Paul Warloski is a:
- USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
- RRCA Running Coach
- Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
- RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
- Certified Personal Trainer