Caffeine and Performance

Caffeine makes mornings manageable world wide! It does this by stimulating our central nervous system and blocking the action of a molecule called adenosine, which amongst other functions promotes sleep and suppresses arousal. For many of us, this makes us feel awake, energised and focussed. Because of these reactions, many athletes like to use caffeine before or during training and competition.

So, is caffeine something you should consider to potentially improve your sporting performance?

The Good
Caffeine consumption does have the potential to improve endurance performance. One way it may achieve this is through the increased secretion of endorphins (“feel good hormones”), which may lead to a decrease in the perception of pain, and hence the ability to push harder and/or longer. Caffeine may also reduce the Perceived Rate of Exertion (RPE), making your level 8 workout feel more like a 6. Caffeine is also likely to have a positive impact on the number of repetitions completed during strength or power lifting.

The Bad
Too much caffeine can cause anxiety, shaking, an upset stomach, toilet urgency, and “overstimulation” that can negatively affect sleep, training and performance. 

The Ugly
Some unregulated “sports performance” products (eg: pre workout drinks), may contain other stimulants and/or unclear labelling of their caffeine content, which in combination can cause serious health consequences, including death. 

How much caffeine should you ingest? 
Consume 2-6mg per kilogram of body weight 60 minutes prior to exercise. As an example, a 60kg athlete would consume between 120mg and 360mg of caffeine. The performance enhancing effects of caffeine can last up to 4 hours so keep this in mind if you plan on taking caffeine before a late afternoon training session. Doubling the dose doesn’t appear to generate any additional benefits. See table below for the caffeine content of popular items.

Method of consumption 
There are many different foods and products that contain caffeine. Products such as Revvies Energy Strips and No Doz tablets may be advantageous over drinks and food due to these products having a definite amount of caffeine, which not only allows you to know exactly how much caffeine you’re consuming, but you can also break-up the tablets or strips to create specific serves. These products are also very convenient on long distance runs or rides due to their compact size and ease of consumption. 

Will you respond to caffeine? 
Due to genetic make up, some people are “Responders” to caffeine and some are “Non-Responders”. This makes it important to experiment with different caffeine amounts before competition, ie: during training sessions, to gauge whether you’ll be bouncing off the walls or wasting your money on caffeine products. 

Should you abstain for better results? 
Non-caffeine users can have a stronger response to caffeine compared to regular caffeine users, making it more beneficial for their performance. So how can regular caffeine users obtain a similar “caffeine high”? The science suggests withdrawal from caffeine for 4 days may be required to re-sensitive athletes to its affects, however that is not always practical. If you’re a habitual caffeine user but want to use it to perform better in the gym or on the sports field, try to abstain for at least 24 hours to see what affect this has on your body. 

Drug testing 
Caffeine is not a banned substance, however athletes who are required to undergo drug testing should be extremely cautious about what caffeine-containing products they chose to consume. Third-party regulation programs are a helpful way to know if your product is safe and contains exactly what is says on the label. Look for products that are listed on the following websites:


Caffeine content of popular items

Instant coffee 60-80mg (per 250ml)
Café coffee (latte/flat white) 110-280mg (250ml)
Espresso 25-215mg (1 shot)
Energy drink ~80mg (250ml can)
Black tea 25-110mg (250ml)
Green tea 30-50mg (250ml)
Iced coffee 30-200mg (500ml)
Cola drink 35-50mg (375ml can)
Dark chocolate 43mg (100g)
Revvies Energy Strips 40mg (1 mouth strip)
No Doz & No Doz Plus 100mg (1 tablet)

Australian Institute of Sport
Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association
Food Standards Australia New Zealand
Smith-Ryan & Antonio (2013) Sports Nutrition & Performance Enhancing Supplements
World Anti-Doping Agency

The authors received no financial benefit or otherwise in recommending products in this article.

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