Caffeine, the Legal Performance Enhancer

Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, commonly taken in through coffee and tea for its ability to improve alertness. Caffeine can also be found in most pre-workouts and popular energy drinks. But does caffeine really give you a boost in triathlon performance or is it just a placebo?

How Caffeine Improves Performance

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system that makes you more alert and reduces RPE or Rate of Perceived Exertion, which means that due to caffeine's effects you feel less tired when racing or doing your training sessions.

Taking caffeine increases the process of fat oxidation. Fat oxidation is the process of using fat as your energy source rather than carbohydrates, effectively helping you lose weight and improve your performance at the same time. Doing so will spare your muscle glycogen or carbohydrates during low-intensity efforts, allowing you to use them during the more intense parts of your session, boosting your endurance.

How Much Caffeine Should You Take

Everything is good in moderation – and caffeine is no exception. Taking 2 to 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight is the optimal dose to boost your performance. If you aren’t drinking coffee regularly, a maximum of 3 mg/kg of body weight will do nicely.

Now, you may try to up the dosage to increase your performance further, but doing so will be more detrimental than helpful. Studies have shown that taking 6 mg/kg of body weight or more hampers your ability to focus and may make you jittery. On top of that, your body develops a caffeine tolerance if you take in large doses frequently. On this regimen you won’t get the same benefits you once did for the same amount of caffeine.

When Should You Take Caffeine

Drinking caffeine at least 45 to 60 minutes before a race will give you the most benefits, as caffeine effects spike after this amount of time elapses. Additionally, taking caffeine during races will also increase your performance as your blood circulation is faster during this. As a result, your intestines will process the caffeine quickly, allowing you to reap the benefits faster.

Some athletes may try to stop drinking coffee for at least 1 to 2 days to get a better spike in performance. However, doing so may cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. Instead of doing this, try to lessen your caffeine intake within 4 to 7 days before the race then get back up to your regular dose on race day. This is especially true if you’re an avid coffee drinker.

What Forms Of Caffeine Can You Take

Caffeine can be taken in a lot of different forms, aside from the usual coffee or tea. Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, contain a lot of caffeine. Cola obviously, but also Mountain Dew, if you're not aware. If taken with carbohydrates, caffeine will provide you with better results than regular carbohydrate drinks.

Pre-workout drinks and fat burners also contain caffeine. Research shows that caffeine taken in tablets allows for better performance. Sports products like gels and energy bars are another way of taking in caffeine.

How you get your daily fix of caffeine depends on what’s the most practical for your situation. Try it out and see what works for you!

(Header photo by P.O.sitive Negative on Unsplash.)

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