Caffeine and the Benefits for Endurance Performance

  • By richard watson
  • 27 Jul, 2016

It's time to wake up and smell the Coffee

coffee drink

Caffeine is one of the most heavily researched and beneficial ergogenic aids available. It is mostly consumed in coffee, with 1 cup containing around 75mg of caffeine. The understanding of the performance effect of caffeine has increased and this has widened its use. Most people know that “caffeine may improve performance” but what does it actually do and how can we make the most of caffeine?

Caffeine is classified as a stimulant and is the most common drug used in the world. Caffeine crosses the membranes of all the body's tissues. It can wield effects on the central nervous system and the peripheral tissues that result in physiological effects. Studies have shown that caffeine can help an athlete perform better. It has been shown to be a powerful ergogenic aid that is beneficial in athletic performance and training. Caffeine has been shown to increase speed and power output, improve the length an athlete can train, and assist the athlete in resisting fatigue. Caffeine has also been proven to stimulate the brain which contributes to an athlete's clearer thinking and ability to concentrate harder on the task at hand.

The Science

The American Alliance for Health stated that there are three ways that caffeine may provide ergogenic effects. "First, the metabolic theory suggests that caffeine provides improved endurance due to an increased utilization of fat as fuel and a sparing effect on carbohydrate utilization. Secondly, caffeine may increase the calcium content of skeletal muscle and enhance the strength of muscle contraction. Lastly, caffeine has a direct effect on the central nervous system as a stimulant, and this can help with fatigue, increased alertness, and increased muscle recruitment (Powers M, 2004, pg. 4)[9]".

Many athletes have used caffeine prior to competitions for years, but it wasn't until recently that caffeine has been discovered to aid an athlete's performance. "Results of studies reported over the last five years strongly indicate that caffeine effectively increases athletic performances in endurance events (Sinclair & Geiger, 2000, pg. 2)[10]". Athletes ranging from cycling to those participating in strength and power competitions benefit from caffeine consumption. "Persons were able to complete a cycling time trial significantly faster after caffeine ingestion, (Jenkinson & Harbert, 2008, pg. 3) [7]".

Caffeine has been shown to increase speed and power. It also allows athletes to train longer. Caffeine stimulates the brain which contributes to clearer thinking and greater concentration. Studies have shown that caffeine doesn't directly improve maximal oxygen capacity but assists in the process of resisting fatigue. "Although the effectiveness of caffeine as a means of masking fatigue has been explored since the early 1900s, the use of this ergogenic aid became popular following widely publicized research indicating improved endurance performance (Applegate & Grivetti, 1997, pg. 6)[2]". Like all drugs, caffeine use has some side effects. There is no evidence that states that caffeine leads to dehydration, ion imbalance, or any other adverse effects. Caffeine acts centrally on the brain to lower the perception of effort, which is particularly noticeable in longer events such as running or cycling. In distance events over 90 minutes, mental tiredness as well as physical fatigue plays a large role in determining performance as the event progresses. Caffeine can help to maintain performance in this situation.Buy a good quality products with combined energy & caffeine

Caffeine in drinks
Caffeine in drinks

How much?

It is suggest that you consume 3-9mg of caffeine per kilo of body mass, with more caffeine not resulting in better performance. For example, a 70kg athlete could take in 350mg of caffeine during an endurance event lasting over 90 minutes (5mg* 70kg = 350mg). Everybody’s sensitivity to caffeine can vary, so it should always be tried in training and in small doses initially. Caffeine does not dehydrate during exercise; however it has been shown to increase urine volume, so keep hydrated.

In most people, caffeine is absorbed in about 45 min after ingestion. The effect can last between 2- 4.5 hours and this depends solely on the individual. Protein mixed with Caffeine can beperfect for hard training session when you need the protein to help rebuild muscles break down and the shot of coffee to help prevent fatigue and increase power output.

Speed/Power in Long Term Exercise

There have been few studies conducted to evaluate the effects caffeine has on speed or endurance event. Early studies found improvements in activities such as cycling, and treadmill tests. Researchers have studied elite skiers on a 20-23 km course at both high and low altitude. The ingestion of caffeine resulted in faster performance times at the halfway mark and the finish line. The total time was about 55-67 minutes while caffeine resulted in times of 33 and 101 seconds faster for low and high altitudes.

Another study explained individual who performed 2 hours of cycle exercise after caffeine ingestion. The caffeinated athletes' generated 7.3% greater total power output. Skilled cyclists were told to perform, as quickly as possible, a set amount of work that was estimated to take about an hour. After exercising to exhaustion, seven endurance cyclists were given either a straight carbohydrate drink or one laced with the equivalent of six cups of coffee. "While it's been established that carbohydrates and caffeine improve a variety of athletic performances, this is the first study that has revealed that combining caffeine with carbohydrates after you've exercised can actually help your muscles refuel more rapidly (Caffeine Aids Athlete Recovery, 2008, pg. 1)[4]". When the solution contained caffeine the power output improvement was greater. Grab a nutritional energy gel with Caffeine click here

Muscle Glycogen

It has been found that caffeine results in glycogen sparing. Professor John Hawley, Head of RMIT's Exercise Metabolism Group, found that athletes who had caffeine with their meal after exercise had 66% more glycogen in their muscles 4 hours later (Caffeine Aids Athlete Recovery, 2008)[4]. Glycogen is the body's preferred fuel for muscles when exercising. Hawley Stated, "If you have 66% more fuel for the next day's training or competition, there's no question you'll be able to go further and faster (Caffeine Aids Athlete Recovery, 2008, pg. 1)[4]". There are many experiments lasting less than 30 minutes in which caffeine has been shown to be beneficial when glycogen does not appear to be limiting.


Caffeine is known to assist athletes to train harder and longer. "The actions of caffeine throughout the body correlate positively with caffeine levels and the levels are governed by caffeine absorption, metabolism and excretion. Caffeine is absorbed efficiently through the gastrointestinal tract after oral administration with about 100% bioavailability (Sinclair & Geiger, 2000, pg. 2)[10]".

Caffeine is a complex substance that is found in many organic compounds and is consumed by humans in coffee, tea, and chocolate. Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world. Food industries are adding caffeine to a wide variety of foods and drinks. Caffeine is found in a number of 'natural health products' and in many over-the-counter drugs. The affect caffeine has on the body ranges from various adenosine receptors in several types of body tissues.

Caffeine is ergogenic in most if not all aerobic exercises. Studies have shown that as an ergogenic aid caffeine enhances endurance type exercises such as running, swimming, and cycling. Studies have shown that caffeine also provide benefits in anaerobic activities such as resistance training. "Glucose recovery slows drastically after 3-4 hours, so recovery rates after 4 hours are excellent proxies for glycogen storage 24 hours after exercise. If you have 66% more fuel for the next day's training or competition, there's no question you'll be able to go further and faster (Caffeine Aids Athlete Recovery, 2008, pg. 1)[4]".

So far there has been little evidence demonstrating that the administration of caffeine substances prior to or after exercise produces a negative effect. One article stated, "The mechanisms involved in actions of these compounds are varied and complex and extend well beyond the traditional explanation of sparing of muscle glycogen to probably involve fundamental aspects of muscle contractility." Many scientists have conducted a number of tests and experiments to determine caffeine's effects and will continue researching caffeine as an ergogenic aid.


  1. ANTONIO, J. (2004) Caffeine: The Forgotten Ergogenic Aid. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 26 (6), p. 50-51
  2. APPLEGATE, E. & GRIVETTI, L. (1997) Search for the competitive edge: A History of dietary fads and supplements. The Journal of Nutrition: 1996 ASNS Symposium Proceedings , 127 (5), p. 869-873
  3. BEAVEN, C. et al. (2008) Dose Effect of Caffeine on Testosterone and Cortisol Responses to Resistance Exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, 18 (2), p. 131-141
  4. Caffeine Aids Athlete Recovery (2008) Australasian Science 1 Sep. 2008: ProQuest Education Journals. ProQuest. Karl E. Mundt Library, Madison, SD. 29 Jan. 2009
  5. CLARK, N. (2005) Caffeine and Performance. Palaestra 1 Oct. 2005: 46. Research Library. ProQuest. Karl E. Mundt Library, Madison
  6. GRAHAM, T. (2001) Caffeine and Exercise: Metabolism, Endurance and Performance. Sports Medicine 31 (11), p. 785-807.
  7. JENKINSON, D. & HARBERT, A. (2008). Supplements and Sports. American Family Physician , 78 (9), p. 1039-1046.
  8. McNAUGHTON, L. et al. (2008). The effects of caffeine ingestion on time trial cycling performance. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness , 48 (3), p. 320-325.
  9. POWERS, M. (2004) "Safety, Efficacy, and Legal Issues Related to DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS", Strategies , 18 (1), p. 30-34.
  10. SINCLAIR, C. & GEIGER, J. (2000) Caffeine use in sports: A pharmacological review. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness , 40 (1), p. 71-79.
  11. WALLACE, S. (2006) A Comparison of Caffeinated Drinks [Photograph] [WWW] Available from: [Accessed December 4,2009]
Sports Therapist Richard Watson

Richard Watson

Sports Therapist

Richard is a leading sports therapist in the Coventry and Warwickshire area, he has worked at the Olympic and Paralympic games 2012 treating the many athletes competing. Richard has been involved in many major sporting projects including treating and training a team that took on an accent of Everest. He currently runs his own Sports Therapy company providing local athletes with sports massage and personal training.

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