Ergogenic supplements can be defined as “products that, due to their physiologic or pharmacologic properties, improve physical performance in order to improve training performance”. One of the most popular, most researched, and most consumed supplements is caffeine.
Caffeine is a stimulant naturally present in food and drinks such as tea, coffee, and cacao. Besides, caffeine is added to products such as pre-workout supplements, gels, and energy drinks. Given the growing interest in this substance, studies have been conducted to understand the effect of caffeine on sports performance, in different types of sports and exercises. Most of the literature that studied the role of caffeine in sports performance used anhydrous caffeine capsules as the “source” of this stimulant. Recently, the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a position stand on the role of caffeine in performance.
Athletes involved in endurance sports, such as running, swimming and cycling, are the ones who most opt for caffeine supplementation. According to the literature, the consumption of a moderate dose of caffeine, corresponding to 3-6 mg/kg/body mass, leads to an increase in performance (from 2 to 4%) in aerobic exercise. Consequently, caffeine can act as an ergogenic aid in endurance exercises.
As far as strength and power exercises are concerned, the certainties are neither so many nor so defined; however, in general, studies point to a beneficial effect (moderate to high) of caffeine intake. Although further investigation is needed, consumption of 3 to 6 mg/kg/body mass, 30 to 90 minutes before exercise, appears to increase speed and power in resistance exercise. In addition, caffeine consumption may delay the feeling of fatigue, although results from different studies are mixed.
Thus, caffeine intake seems to exert beneficial effects across different sports, such as basketball, football, volleyball, rugby, hockey and combat sports. However, although the effects seem beneficial for some sports, they may not be for all athletes – in addition to the ergogenic effect being influenced by genetic factors, some adverse effects associated with caffeine consumption (sleep disturbances, exacerbation of anxiety) that occur in some athletes can impair their performance. Thus, tolerance, adherence and effectiveness must be taken into account before considering supplementing with caffeine. Each athlete should “train” caffeine supplementation (preferentially at pre-season), and each protocol must be individualized, taking into consideration interindividual differences.
Cognition is also part of physical performance, so the role of caffeine has been studied in this field. Caffeine may play a positive role in cognitive function, including alertness and attention. In situations where athletes are unable to get enough sleep, caffeine can also increase cognitive performance. Therefore, caffeine can be considered within sports facilities as an ergogenic aid. However, interindividual differences have to be considered, to promote effectiveness and tolerance.
The content of this article does not constitute medical advice by a registered healthcare professional. Please consult a qualified sports nutritionist before starting any new diet, exercise or training programme.
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