The effect of caffeine on sports performance

Find out about caffeine and its benefits on sporting performance and how its used in caffeine gels and VOOM Pocket Rockets.

By voomnutrition Admin


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What is caffeine? 


Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world and has been reported to be used daily by upwards of 80% of adults in most countries (Fredholm, 2004). Caffeine is made up of four main elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen and is considered as being organic. Caffeine is commonly found in tea leaves, coffee plants, cola nuts, mate leaves, and guarana plants. It is extracted from plants as a white powder similar to corn starch and has a bitter taste (Carvalho, et al., 2012).


What is Guarana?


Guarana is a less frequent source of caffeine but surprisingly has four times the caffeine per seed when compared to a coffee bean. Additionally, guarana has been shown to provide additional stimulation than caffeine alone.


Caffeine Gels for Cycling


Many sports nutrition brands who make energy gels include a variant with caffeine, but whether these caffeine energy gels work likely depends on both the individual and the amount of caffeine in the product. There's definitely a coffee-drinking culture amongst cyclists so in many cases they're already used to caffeine and can appreciate its benefits when used properly. This is likely another reason why cyclists use caffeine gels as well as typical sports gels.


How much caffeine is in coffee?


As a benchmark, an espresso coffee contains approximately 80mg of caffeine, but this can be variable depending on the type of coffee bean and strength of brew.


However, the improvement in performance is greater when caffeine is consumed in an anhydrous state (a solid form without water) than in coffee. Additionally, it has also been reported that regular consumption of caffeine, such as in daily coffee, can diminish the ergogenic effect of caffeine on sports performance.


How does caffeine improve athletic performance?


When considering whether to use it, it’s important to know what caffeine does in the body. Caffeine raises physiological and nervous function within the body which can reduce fatigue and increase alertness, thus resulting in improved performance (Guedes, et al., 2012). 

Reducing fatigue is arguably the main benefit which is possible due to caffeine’s similar structure to adenosine. Adenosine plays a vital role within the Central Nervous System (CNS). As adenosine binds to receptors within the brain it causes cascade reactions within the cell which hinder neurotransmitters, suppresses arousal and spontaneous activity (Davis, et al., 2002) and subsequently cause fatigue. Muscular contractions, such as those during both endurance exercise and resistance training are affected when this occurs, resulting in fatigue.

Caffeine can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier and with its similar structure to adenosine it binds to the same receptor sites on the cell, mimicking the effects of adenosine but instead does not produce this cascade reaction, therefore suspending the effects of fatigue (Davis, et al., 2002).


How MUCH does caffeine improve physical sports performance?


In recent studies, caffeine has improved sport performance by decreasing fatigue and time to exhaustion amongst runners by up to 60% (Astorino, 2012). This was supported by 20-50% increase in time to exhaustion amongst trained cyclists working at 80% of VO2max where a reduced rate of perceived exertion (RPE) was also reported (Costill, DL., 1978). The increased time to exhaustion is thought to be because whilst carbohydrate metabolism remained consistent between caffeine and non-caffeine trials, fat metabolism during exercise was increased when participants had consumed caffeine.


What are the cognitive benefits of caffeine?


Caffeine has been found to significantly decrease reaction times in auditory and visual choice tasks when it was used at doses of as little as 32 mg and as great as 600 mg (Jacobson and Edgley, 1987). Such benefits could be the difference between scoring a winning goal in football or taking the final wicket in cricket.


Caffeine can also be a very useful tool when dealing with situations involving sleep deprivation, for example in stage races like the Montane Spine Race, or ultramarathons like the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc. Sleep deprivation alters mood and degrades alertness. Studies have shown caffeine can have significant beneficial effects in reversing these mood changes, whilst simultaneously increasing energy and confidence levels (Penetar et al. 1994).


Will caffeine make me run faster?


When consumed in the right quantity caffeine can improve running performance through its ability to reduce and delay feelings of fatigue and improve focus or concentration which can be particularly important in ultra-distance events or technical off-road sections when trail running.


The reduction in reaction time that caffeine can facilitate can also be beneficial during technical running or in sprinting and track and field events. Not all athletes respond in the exact same way to caffeine so it is always recommended that the use of caffeine is tested in training.


How much caffeine should I have to improve performance?


Recommendations suggest 4mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight approximately 1 hour prior to endurance activity is optimal, which would equate to up to 280mg for a 70kg runner. Research suggests about 400mg of caffeine in any one day is safe, but the healthy limit is variable from person to person.


Alternatively, smaller doses of caffeine can be used to tactically reduce ‘rate of perceived exertion’ or fatigue, and boost energy at certain points during training or racing. The VOOM Pocket Rocket Caffeine Kick delivers 175mg caffeine per bar, which can easily be portioned into four chunks, to give you a lift when you need it most. #VoomInPowerUp!


Astorino, T. W. A., 2012. Caffeine and Exercise. In: V. R. Preedy, ed. Caffeine [electronic resource] : chemistry, analysis, function and effects. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, pp. 314-336.

Carvalho, J. J., Emmerling, F. & Schneider, R. J., 2012. The chemistry of Caffeine. In: V. R. Preedy, ed. Caffeine [electronic resource] : chemistry, analysis, function and effects. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry, pp. 41-52.

Costill DL, Dalsky GP, and Fink WJ. Effects of caffeine ingestion on metabolism and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports 10: 155–158, 1978.

Davis, J. Mark, Zuowei Zhao, Howard S. Stock, Kristen A. Mehl, James Buggy, and Gregory A. Hand. Central nervous system effects of caffeine and adenosine on fatigue. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 284: R399–R404,2003.FirstpublishedOctober24,2002;10.1152/ ajpregu.00386.200

Fredholm, Bb.  Caffeine as an Adenosine Receptor Antagonist. European Neuropsychopharmacology 14 (2004): S156-157. Web

Guedes, R. C. A., Lima De Aguiar, M. J. & Alves-de-Aguiar, C. R. R., 2012. Caffeine and Nutrition:. In: V. R. Preedy, ed. Caffeine [electronic resource] : chemistry, analysis, function and effects. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry, pp. 3-21.

Jacobson and Edgley. 1987Effects of caffeine on simple reaction time and movement time. Aviat. Space Environ. Med. 58:1153–1156.

Penetar et al. 1994. Effects of Caffeine on Cognitive Performance, Mood, and Alertness in Sleep-Deprived Humans. Food Components to Enhance Performance: An Evaluation of Potential Performance-Enhancing Food Components for Operational Rations.



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