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Should you include caffeine to boost your sporting performances?

Caffeine is one of the most tested/researched substance within sporting performance.

Will it improve my performance?

How much do I take?

When should I take it?

Firstly, can you remember the first time you drank a coffee? Did you get the jitters? Sweating? Shaking? This is because your body is not used to it. So if you are going to try it for the first time do trial it in a training run, not in a race!

I personally would like to think that coffee has a benefit on performance in sport. And well it does and doesn’t. Studies have shown that you may be only getting a 1-3% boost in performance gains. This is purely from caffeine during an event as it stimulates the brain and contributes to clearer thinking and greater concentration – especially as you start to fatigue.

This is how and why you may get better results! The mental clarity that comes with caffeine. But there is a warning when taking coffee for first timers. It comes with side effects as described above; along with anxiety and nervousness you may also feel a bit shaky. Coffee cleans out your system (you know exactly what I mean), so do not try this on race day or you may see the portaloo more often that you want to! If you are not a casual coffee drinker you may find you get an upset stomach, so stick with something you know or gradually get used to drinking coffee or taking caffeine.

If you are not a coffee drinker you can find caffeine in other forms such as sports gels, energy drinks, NoDoz pills. They all have different amounts of caffeine in them so be careful.

Studies have shown that 3mlg per kg of body weight is needed to show an effect on performance of an athlete. But that does seem like an overload if you think about it - a 68kg athlete needs a little over 200mlg of caffeine. A red bull has 80mlg of caffeine in it, would you take 2 and half of those? 1 shot of espresso has 30-50ml in it.

I found for me -and many other athletes go by this too - to get the best results I take the caffeine amount over 2-3 hours and not all at once. Otherwise it may make you feel jittery more than anything else.

Caffeine does peak 60-90min after taking it, so plan it out when you are taking it before and during a race. Especially ¾ of the way through a race when you find yourself mentally tired this can be a booster to stimulate your brain for that final ¼ of the race. It won’t give your muscles energy but it will energise your brain. So since the final push of a race is mostly mental, staying clear in your head is crucial.


- If you are an average joe athlete, there are better places to put your focus on instead of caffeine to try and get a performance gain.

- If you are going to try and take it, do try in training and accustom yourself to caffeine.

- Take it 60min before a workout/race to see the benefits (concentration, clarity).

- It could be of some benefit to have a gel with caffeine in it in longer races to help concentrate. Studies have shown every 45min during an endurance event maybe beneficial.

Tony Dodds

Olympic Triathlete and coach.

Evolve Triathlon Coaching

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