What’s the GO with caffeine use in sport?

Caffeine is now the world’s most popular stimulant ingested by over 90% of people including athletes because it makes them feel “damn good”.

But is it really that good for you? This article explores a balanced perspective on caffeine use in sport.

Caffeine has been used for decades as a way of buffering fatigue, prolonging endurance and enhancing concentration in many team and individual sports. While evidence is building for its use over events lasting up to 60 minutes, there are few high-quality studies using elite athletes as subjects supporting its use over power sports and longer endurance distances.  Sure, it gives you a “pick me up” but at what expense?

While some athletes will get beneficial effects of enhanced focussed and reduced fatigue, others can get so fired up, they get the shakes, their bowels explode and their “rev” is excessive so they make poor tactical decisions during events. Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist affecting dopamine transmission and altering neurotransmitter function.

With long term and high-volume caffeine intake, an increased risk of overstimulating nervous system occurs so you experience bouts of anxiety, headaches, migraines, poor sleep, depression, angina, nutrient depletion, elevated blood pressure, addictive habits towards caffeine and adrenal exhaustion.   Caffeine also contains a diterpene known as cafestol which has shown to increase serum LDL cholesterol, increase aortic stiffness, blood pressure, endothelial dysfunction and homocysteine all of which contribute to heart disease- Yikes!

The other “doozy” with caffeine is that even if you are currently enjoying just one cuppa a day you most likely already have caffeine tolerance. As time goes on you’ll need to have more and more cuppa’s to get your euphoria and at some point, it will just stop taking you to your “happy place” altogether.

So at this point, if you are sitting back saying “ I am good I don’t drink coffee” just take a breath. Just because you don’t drink coffee, doesn’t mean you aren’t consuming an excessive load of caffeine. Caffeine is found in many commonly consumed drinks and foods. Let’s take a look at the most common ones:

Food/ Beverage Size Caffeine in milligrams
Short black/ expresso coffee (1 cup) 100-200mg
Instant coffee (1 cup) 60-170mg
Decaffeinated coffee (1 cup) 2-4mg
Green tea (1 cup) 20mg
Tea (black) (1 cup) 30-100mg
NO Doz (1 tablet) 100mg
Revvies (1 strip) 40g
Sports gels (1 gel) 25mg-50mg
Coke and V energy drink (1 can) 50mg
Hot cocoa ( 1 mug) 60-120mg
Chocolate (60g) 10-50mg

So what to do?

The good news is that recent studies suggest the performance benefits of caffeine can be felt at low doses (1-3mg/kg) which are less likely to impact on your health in other ways.  So theoretically speaking effects may be felt by athletes using the following amounts:

50kg athlete    50-150mg;      ( 1 coffee)

60kg athletes 60-180mg;

70kg athlete    210mg;

80kg athlete    80-240mg

90kg athlete    90-270mg      ( 2 coffees)

Top tips for caffeine use for sports performance:

  1. If you are using caffeine for the first time try small amounts initially and infrequently so you don’t develop resistance. Attempt any trials during training in similar conditions first so on event or race day, there are no unsavory surprises.
  2. Just remember that although caffeine may make you temporarily feel good it can also cause adverse performance effects. Caffeine displaces vitamins and minerals essential for athletic performance such as magnesium, zinc and B vitamins so you may need to have the additional dietary intake of foods high in these compounds. Caffeine can irritate the kidneys and is a diuretic increasing the risk of dehydration in hot weather so you may need to increase your fluid intake. Caffeine can also aggravate the digestive system and cause diarrhea, so you may have to play around with taking it with foods rather than on an empty stomach. Some athletes also find if they have caffeine of any kind in the afternoon or evening, they experience sleeping difficulties, so avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
  3. Caffeine is also a pro-inflammatory substance and prolonged use can contribute to systemic inflammation which underpins nearly all chronic conditions, so rule of thumb is just have it in moderation and save it for when you need it the most!
  4. Smart considered and moderate use of caffeine may provide a performance edge but it will not suddenly turn you into some kind of super hero breaking world records. You still have to invest in sound balanced nutrition and hydration strategies, train smart, rest well and allow the natural adaptation of the human body to occur!
  5. As with all products, always remember to check each ingredient on the packaging of any sports product because some substances that may appear as relatively benign (e.g glycerol or mannitol) may be banned under the Australian (ASADA) and World Drug Agency Association (WADA) guidelines. Caffeine is currently on the 2017 WADA Monitoring Program which means you need to keep an eye on what the ruling is as far as intake limits for each individual sport. Rule of thumb- always do your own thorough research before using any sports product despite its popularity! For further information visit and
  6. If you are currently a heavy coffee drinker, wean yourself off coffee gently so you don’t go into an unprovoked tirade at your family or work colleagues as you deal with the headaches associated with detoxification. By reducing your intake gradually by ½ a cup a day, you are also more likely to allow your tolerance to reduce so when you settle for smart and more moderate use, you can obtain benefits at a lower dose. In some individuals’ withdrawal may be more comfortably achieved with the use of herbal adaptogens, liver support, activated vitamins and dietary intake of brassica family vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower) to ease the transition.
  7. If you are looking for coffee substitutes or reduced caffeine products you may like to try roasted dandelion tea, high-quality green leaf tea, chai tea or Rooibos tea.
  8. Limit decaffeinated coffee. It may have reduced caffeine but many of the extraction methods still use chemical solvents that may be toxic.

For more information on caffeine and natural options to enhance your performance visit

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