For many of us it is the most beloved habit of the day, consuming our cup of coffee. It helps us to wake up in the morning and to keep us alert while performing our daily tasks. How enjoyable it is to meet our family or best friends having a cup of coffee and a chat? But, did you ever consider coffee to boost your performance in sports? Well, if not, you should give it a try. Coffee is a natural doping substance – perfect to push you to a higher level of performance. Even if you want to feel better after an exhausting training session or want to prevent sore muscles, coffee is a good choice.
Crossed off the list of forbidden substances, poured into a cup
Let’s start from the beginning: When we talk about coffee, you immediately know that we are in fact talking about its most important agent, caffeine. It is well-known for its influence on the central nervous system: It acts as a tonic, inceases the metabolism, is a stimulant and lifts the mood. The truth is: Caffeine has all it needs to be on a list of banned substances in the world of high-performance sport… and there it was! Until 2004 caffeine was on the doping list of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) before it was deleted again as the then limit was so extremely high that no one would have even consumed so much to achieve such a high level. Another reason was that caffeine found its way in so many beverages and products that it wouldn’t have made any sense to maintain this prohibition.
So, what exactly is this caffeine capable of? First of all: Caffeine has two “relatives” – theophylline (in tea) and theobromine (in cocoa). More than 100 plant species contain this naturally occurring substance – including the coffee bush. The caffeine needs about 30 minutes to be absorbed by the body and to take full effect. And this effect benefits us athletes: Vigilance, attention and powers of concentration increase, blood vessels expand, and even the oxygen absorption improves. Studies have shown that the amount of caffeine of about 2 espressos (approx. 300mg) prolongs the time until fatigue starts while training on an ergonometer, which means that endurance increases. By taking in about 3mg of caffeine per kilogram bodyweight scientists could ascertain viewable improvements of performances – especially in endurance sports! Besides this beautiful effect another one stood out: The tested athletes simply had more fun while working out and sensed it to be less exhausting. Also studies in triathlon, swimming or running concluded with the same results. Just in pure bodybuilding the research studies didn’t get consistent results up to now.
The reason for all those positive effects is derived from the stimulating characteristics of caffeine: On one hand it saves glycogen, so the muscle releases its energy at a slower rate. On the other hand it blocks the cerebral adenosine receptors, which increases the excitability and also has a pain-relieving function. Athletes who consumed caffeine before their workout complained less often about sore muscles afterwards. The reason is that the blood vessels expand, the muscular system gets a better supply of oxygen. In addition the release of adrenaline and dopamine increases the vitality of the whole body. The claimed negative effects of caffeine such as frequent urination and subsequent dehydration, which might diminish the performances of the athletes, could not been verified. Even the issue that passionate coffee drinkers becoming accustomed to the effects of caffeine isn’t really valid. Indeed, it’s correct that consuming coffee on a regular basis reduces the effects, but studies have also shown that only few days of abstinence allows athletes to regain benefit from these positive effects.
So: Enjoy your coffee! Even before you start your training session. And next time you’re on a competition and if it doesn’t cause you an upset stomach, you can try if the caffeine can push you to a higher peak of performance. Who knows, perhaps it is just a little espresso that separates you from your next Personal Best…?