Coffee enhances performance

If you’re looking for a performance boost during a soccer match or a charity fun run, you might consider an espresso or macchiato to give you that extra edge. Recent research suggests that caffeine affects performance via a pathway that leads to an increased production of adrenalin. We explain…

Scientific studies suggest that the caffeine in coffee can improve one’s capacity to work or exercise – specifically, the effect is most evident in endurance (aerobic) sports like running, cycling or rowing.

The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee cited a recent review of 33 trials¹ where individuals who consumed caffeine recorded faster times when running, cycling or rowing a set distance. This effect was seen in individuals taking moderate quantities of caffeine (3-6mg/kg body weight) before and/or during exercise.

In addition, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that caffeine intake increased endurance performance (3mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise), endurance capacity (3mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise), and a reduction in perceived exertion (4mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise).¹

Studies found the effects of caffeine to be more pronounced in certain groups of people involved in specific sports, such as trained athletes engaging in power-based or team sports requiring intermittent bouts of activity.

Larger caffeine doses don’t have a larger effect

The research suggests that caffeine affects endurance performance via a pathway that leads to an increased production of adrenalin, which stimulates energy production and improves blood flow to the muscles and the heart.²

It was also found that a moderate amount of caffeine was more effective than a high dose. Caffeine may also modulate fatigue and influence ratings of exertion, perceived pain and energy levels, all of which are likely to lead to improvements in performance. Specifically, caffeine ingestion of 5mg/kg body weight has been found to reduce muscle pain in subjects carrying out 30 minutes of high-intensity cycling, compared to another group who had not consumed any caffeine.³

The effects of caffeine appear to be time-limited

Two trials looking at anaerobic exercise repetition in trained4 and active5 subjects both reported that the ingestion of caffeine produced an improved performance in the first set of exercises, but this effect was not repeated in the second set. This would indicate that the effects of caffeine are short-term only.

In conclusion, the 2010 International Society of Sports Nutrition had made the following seven points with regard to caffeine and performance:

  • Caffeine is effective for enhancing sport performance in trained athletes when consumed in low to moderate dosages (~3-6mg/kg) and overall does not result in further enhancement in performance when consumed in higher dosages ( ≥ 9 mg/kg).
  • Caffeine exerts a greater effect when consumed in a tablet, powder or capsule form as compared to coffee;
  • It has been shown that caffeine can enhance vigilance during bouts of extended exhaustive exercise, as well as periods of sustained sleep deprivation;
  • Caffeine is effective for sustained maximal endurance exercise, and has been shown to be highly effective for time-trial performance;
  • Caffeine supplementation is beneficial for high-intensity exercise, including team sports such as soccer and rugby;
  • The literature is equivocal when considering the effects of caffeine supplementation on strength-power (anaerobic) performance, and this area is still under investigation
  • The scientific literature suggests that caffeine does not induce diuresis (excretion of urine) during exercise, nor brings about any harmful change in fluid balance that would negatively affect performance.


¹ EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increase in physical performance during short-term high-intensity exercise (ID 737, 1486, 1489), increase in endurance performance (ID 737, 1486), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1488) and reduction in the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise (ID 1488, 1490) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal;9(4):2053 [24 pp.].doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2053

² Ganio M. S. et al. (2009), Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review. J Strength and Conditioning Research; 23.

³ Gliottoni R.C. et al. (2009), Effect of Caffeine on Quadricep Pain During Acute Cycling Exercises in Low Versus High Caffeine Consumers. Intern. J. Sport Nutrition Exercise Metabolism, 19, 150-16

4 Goldstein E.R. et al. (2010), Caffeine Enhances Upper Body Strength in Resistance Trained Women. J Internat Soc Sports Nutrition, 7 (18): 1-6.

5 Astorino T.A. et al. (2010), Effect of Two Doses of Caffeine on Muscular Function during Isokinetic Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42 (12): 2205-2210.

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