As a coffee professional, owner of Lake City Coffee, and weekend warrior, I (Russell) have often wondered if coffee improves athletic performance? Is that true? Absolutely! In fact, a preponderance of studies conclude that coffee improves athletic performance on the average of 6 percent. If you're an athlete, 6% isn’t the only number that’s important to you. If you're serious about improving your performance, then you should know how, where, when, and why to get your caffeine on board.
Which Athletes Are Using Caffeine
I have two friends who have worked for IRONMAN for almost a decade. They travel the world, working these events. They’re rubbing elbows with these world-class athletes on a weekly, if not daily, basis. They themselves have been competing in IRONMAN for over a decade.
When I asked them how many IRONMAN athletes use coffee as part of their regular workout. They laughed and said, “All of them!”. I’m not sure it could be 100%, but obviously the percentage of both professional and armature athletes using coffee for the specific purpose of improving their performance is pretty darn high.
The US Military’s Use of Coffee
The US Military’s use of coffee as a performance enhancement is well documented. This urban legend is so pervasive, personally being a skeptic, I asked a few “Nighttime Warriors”, and they all said, coffee is just another tool, much like night-vision goggles.
There are two reasons the military use caffeine. The first is obvious, to keep their warriors awake. Secondly, caffeine improves their alertness, focus, and response times. Not surprisingly, trigger-pull time is significantly improved, even during the day.
How Coffee Improves Athletic Performance
Coffee’s primary enhancement molecule is caffeine. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, i.e. it stimulates certain areas of the brain and the nervous system. Caffeine binds to fatigue and pain receptor sites within the brain, thus reducing the feeling of fatigue and pain.
Secondly, for muscles to contract, they need calcium to move around within the muscle fiber. The faster and more efficiently the calcium moves, the vaster and strong the muscle contraction. Fortunately for athletes, caffeine helps this movement of calcium within the muscle fiber to happen faster.
For a preponderance of information on this subject, follow this link.
Coffee’s Calming Effect on Athletes
The psychological effect that coffee has upon athletes should not be underestimated. Caffeine aside, the coffee experience alone helps athletes to mentally prepare for battle. By “battle” I mean this. Athletes go through the mental battle of enduring fatigue and pain. The pre-battle coffee experience is much like meditation or prayer, in the sense the experience calms the combatant’s mind.
Mental stress is the enemy of performance. The more relaxed and confident that an athlete can be before and during battle is essential to top performance. I suggest this is also true for non-athletes. Stress kills. Coffee helps to avoid or battle stress. This is a good thing, a very good thing.
What Specifically Do The Studies Show?
There are literally thousands of studies on caffeine, some of which go back over 100 years. In fact, over 74 major studies were published in the USA and Europe, just in the last few years. Of these studies, only a few didn’t show caffeine’s significant improvement in performance.
In that same time-period, several meta-analysis-studies were conducted. Meta-analysis-studies are a conglomeration of dozens of major studies, into one major study. In each of these meta-analysis, caffeine, usually via coffee, improves athletic performance as much as 15.9%.
These studies show that the greatest performance enhancement seems to be for endurance athletes, such as marathoners, rowers, triathletes, IRONMAN, etc. On the other hand, top anaerobic athletes, like weight lifters, also see improvements, but not quite to the same extent as endurance athletes. Studies show that power athletes, see improvements are on the average of 2 - 4%.
What Can You Expect?
Caffeine affects everyone differently. While some people may experience zero athletic improvement, others may experience dramatic improvement. Additionally, how long does it take for the coffee/caffeine to kick in and when is its peak improvement? Again, it all depends on you.
The point is this. You should conduct a you-speriment. A you-speriment, is kind of like an experiment, but it’s specifically for you. Your reaction to caffeine isn’t only different from the next guy, but your reaction to caffeine will:
- Change as you grow older
- Depend on what you’ve eaten
- May vary on when you’ve eaten
- Depend on you hydration level
- Your weight
- And yes, your attitude
How To Get Your Caffeine Onboard
A vast majority of athletes simply drink coffee. Keep in mind that the darker the roast, the less the caffeine. That mean that a white-roast coffee will have nearly twice the caffeine as a dark roast.
Some endurance athletes chew coffee beans while they’re working out. This is perhaps the most direct and practical way for endurance athletes to ingest coffee while working out.
When To Get Your Caffeine Onboard
Depending on how you’re taking your coffee/caffeine, will depend on when to take it. If you’re simply drinking coffee, then the rule-of-thumb is drinking your coffee 60 minutes before the start of your workout/competition. You’ll get your peak caffeine hit about 30 minutes later.
Depending on the length of your workout/competition, you may want to consume additional coffee/caffeine several times per hour.
Topping Off While Working Out
- Drink more coffee. Just carrying coffee during a workout could be problematic.
- Chew roasted coffee beans. Although the lighter the bean’s roast, the more caffeine it has, additionally the harder it is to chew, i.e., dark roast, less caffeine, but easier to chew.
- Artificial caffeine pills. Although these work well, there are also a number of studies indicating that artificial caffeine is carcinogenic and has some serious side effects.
- Caffeine Chewing Gum – Like the caffeine pills described above, there’s the same issue of using artificial caffeine.
How Much Caffeine Is Enough?
Studies show that on the average you should consume about 3-6mg of caffeine per kilo of the athlete’s weight. Keep in mind, this is just a rule-of-thumb. Again, it’s going to depend on you and how caffeine affects you. So, again, you’re going to have to you-speriment.
Know your own body. Athletes, in general, listen to their bodies better than most people. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. Coffee/Caffeine is just another variable for your to listen to your body.
Side Effects of Coffee
- Montezuma’s Revenge – Yep, coffee can make you poop. Some people have zero issues, others have major issues. This is precisely why you-sperimenting is essential.
- Getting Shaky – It’s no surprise that some people get the shakes from coffee. In some sports, that’s not a big deal. In other sports it’s a deal breaker. Imagine competing in a biathlon (cross-country skying, then shooting a rifle). Getting the shakes while shooting a gun, probably doesn’t work well.
- Stomach aches & indigestion – Coffee doesn’t agree with some people’s stomach. 99% of the time that coffee upsets people’s stomach, it isn’t the acid. The problem is that they’re drinking burnt and bitter industrial coffee. The beans have been burnt so bad that the beans have turned to charcoal. Some people’s stomachs are sensitive to eating charcoal. Go figure. To avoid this, but good coffee that’s not over roasted.
Diuretic Effects of Coffee
Is coffee a diuretic? “YES” and also a definite “NO”. Studies consistently show that consuming under 400mg of caffeine, will actually hydrate your body. On the other hand, consuming over 400mg of caffeine is actually acting as a diuretic, i.e., your body is pissing out more fluids than you’re drinking of the coffee.
So, how many cups of coffee can you drink to consume 400mg of caffeine? Well that all depends on the coffee that you’re drinking. Your average dark roast coffee has about 80-100mg of caffeine. On the other hand, your average medium roast coffee beans will have 120-140mg of caffeine. What that means is that, “on the average”, you will stay more hydrated at 4 cups of coffee.
Most competitive athletes use coffee to improve their performance. Nearly all studies on this subject support consuming coffee for athletic performance. Additionally, coffee has numerous documented health benefits.
My only word of caution is you-speriment ahead of time. Change up the coffee that you’re drinking, the time you drink it, how much you drink it, etc. And most importantly listen to your body. Just because you got the jitters or pooped your shorts, doesn’t mean coffee won’t work for you, you just need to know what works best for you.
Lake City Coffee
Alisha and I (Russell) started Lake City Coffee in 2015. We’re a 100% online coffee roasting company. We import our beans directly from the Tarrazu Region of Costa Rica. Our passion is providing to our customers the freshest, smoothest, and most flavorful coffee that they’re likely to find anywhere.
Bold statement? Not really. Just go to our “Reviews Page” and just read what our customers have to say. When 95% of our business is repeat loyal customers, then it’s not too tough to figure out that we deliver exactly what our customers want.
Lastly, to the best of my knowledge we are the only online coffee roasting company that:
- Roasts and ships the same day
- We gently roast our beans the old fashion low-n-slow way
- Our fresh roasted beans are packaged in air-tight, closable zipper bags
- Inside each bag of coffee we include an oxygen absorber, which dramatically improves the freshness of your coffee beans
We hope that you join us.
Russell & Alisha Volz