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Coffee... Is it worth the buzz?

I love coffee. I’m not the only one either, it’s the second most consumed beverage in world (7), and 60% of the British cycling team said they regularly consumed it (8). Good fact.

But is it really that good for exercise, or should I be looking elsewhere for my training fix?

Firstly, does caffeine work?

On the whole, yes.

It’s widely accepted that it improves performance and is an effective ergogenic aid.

Especially in endurance sports.

Multiple studies have shown caffeine improves performance in both time to exhaustion, and time trial tests in both cycling and running (1, 2). Likewise, a reduction in perceived exertion also contributes to improved output (5), basically enabling you to cycle/run faster for longer.

Win win!

So for your WOD's, or any endurance based activity it goes without saying caffeine is a sensible option.

What about for strength training?

Not quite as straightforward.

Studies show (Beck et al. 2006, Green et al. 2007) caffeine can have a positive effect on number of repetitions in strength training although shows no real benefit on 1RM (1 rep max).

So great if you’re before a long hard session but maybe not necessary if it’s absolute strength you’re working towards.

However, the placebo effect ("I KNOW coffee makes me strong"), or excitation, feeling of alertness and an increase in reaction time can help make you feel better and do better.

How many times have you gone into the gym after a double espresso thinking you can lift the world?

This has a carry over effect. So if coffee makes you feel strong, that drink it!

Does it always work?

Unfortunately not. There does some to be some non responders (4). See you at the finish line......

Ok so we know it will usually help.

But how much?

Graham and Spriet (9, 10) using time to exhaustion showed either 3 and 6mg/kg of caffeine induced the biggest increase in performance, whereas any more showed no further benefit.

So more is not better <<< Read that again.

I know a LOT of pope who are guilty of double dosing because they’re real men.

All that will happen is you’ll get jittery, nervous and probably perform worse.

So stick to 3-6mg/kg of bodyweight.

So for me (95kg), I would need around 285mg for an decent workout, and 570mg when I want to go all out.

In real money.

  • A filtered coffee from Costa has around 277mg, Starbucks 240mg (tall), 405mg (Venti)

  • Tea is about 12mg so forget that

  • Pro plus 50mg per tab

  • Caffeine tabs are usually 200mg (Obvious choice!)

Coffee vs caffeine

Graham et al (1998) using a time to exhaustion test showed coffee was inferior compared to caffeine alone. You also don’t get the diuretic effects of coffee so you won’t be going to to the toilet before your big race!

So worth taking the pills? Not necessarily, Hodgson el al. (2013) showed both coffee and caffeine effectively improved time trial performance.

So it’s really up to you what you prefer.

So pills and powdered caffeine in its anhydrous form may propagate more desirable ergogenic effects than coffee alone, but coffee still does the job.

And for me, I enjoy my cup of coffee I will keep doing that. And throw a few pills in if it’s a big session :)

Key Points

  1. Caffeine may improve performance consumed at a dosage of 3-6mg/kg 30-60mins before training.

  2. There is no additional benefits of a higher dose and could have an adverse effect

  3. Caffeine alone may be a more potent ergogenic aid than coffee

  4. Practical implications - we all have individual tolerances so if you 're sensitive to caffeine be aware of it affecting your sleep.


1. Beck TW, et al. 'The Acute Effects Of A Caffeine-Containing Supplement On Bench Press Strength And Time To Running Exhaustion. - Pubmed - NCBI'. N.p.

2. Desbrow B, et al. 'The Effects Of Different Doses Of Caffeine On Endurance Cycling Time Trial Performance. - Pubmed - NCBI'.

3. Irwin C, et al. 'Caffeine Withdrawal And High-Intensity Endurance Cycling Performance. - Pubmed - NCBI'. N.p.

4. Kalmar ,. 'Caffeine-Induced Increase In Voluntary Activation And Strength Of The Quadriceps Muscle During Isometric, Concentric And Eccentric Contractions'. Sci. Rep. 5 (2015): 10209.

5 PM, Doherty. 'Effects Of Caffeine Ingestion On Rating Of Perceived Exertion During And After Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. - Pubmed - NCBI'.


Sports Nutrition and performance enhancing supplements

In-text: (Smith-Ryan and Antonio) Bibliography: Smith-Ryan, Abbie, and Jose Antonio. Sports Nutrition And Performance Enhancing Supplements. New York: Linus Leanring, 2013. Print.

7. Hodgson, A. (2014) A Storm in a cup of coffee – The physiological and metabolic effects of caffeine. ISSN Diploma Course. April 2014.

8. Sale, A. (2014) Caffeine – ISSN Diploma Course. June 2014.

9. GRAHAM, T. E. & SPRIET, L. L. (1991) Performance and metabolic responses to a high caffeine dose during prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol, 71, 2292-2298.

10. GRAHAM, T. E. & SPRIET, L. L. (1995) Metabolic, catecholamine, and exercise performance responses to various doses of caffeine. J Appl Physiol, 78, 867-874.

11. Hodgson, Adrian B., Rebecca K. Randell, and Asker E. Jeukendrup. 'The Metabolic And Performance Effects Of Caffeine Compared To Coffee During Endurance Exercise'. PLoS ONE 8.4 (2013): e59561. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.

#performancenutrition #paleodiet #BOXNUTRITION #sportsnutritionist #boxnutrition

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