A single dose can significantly improve exercise performance, focus, and fat burning (1). The US Special Forces even use it to enhance performance and awareness. Caffeine is found in many foods and beverages, and over 90% of the US population consumes it on a regular basis (5). Caffeine is a powerful substance that can improve physical and mental performance.
This article explains the benefits of caffeine for exercise performance.
How Caffeine Works
Caffeine is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, and blood levels peak after 90-100 minutes. Caffeine levels remain high for 3–4 hours, and then start to drop (6).
Unlike most substances and supplements, caffeine can affect cells throughout the body, including muscle cells and the brain (6).
For this reason, caffeine’s effects on the body are quite varied. These include:
- The nervous system: Caffeine activates areas of the brain and nervous system to improve focus and energy while reducing tiredness (6).
- Hormones: Epinephrine (adrenaline) is the hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which can increase performance (3).
- Fat burning: Caffeine can increase the body’s ability to burn fat via lipolysis, or the breakdown of fat in fat cells (3).
- Endorphins: β-endorphins can increase feelings of wellness, and give you the exercise “high” that people often experience after working out (9).
- Muscles: Caffeine may impact the motor cortex, which is a part of the brain that signals muscle activation (11).
- Body temperature: Caffeine has been shown to increase thermogenesis, or heat production, which helps you burn more calories (12).
- Glycogen: Caffeine may also spare muscle carb stores, primarily due to increased fat burning. This can enhance endurance performance (13).
Caffeine can easily pass throughout the body. It has varied effects on your hormones, muscles, and brain.
New research suggests caffeine gum may be your best bet on contest day
It is well known that caffeine boosts performance, and many athletes can be found on contest-day morning knocking back espresso shots or dutifully sipping on their morning cuppa Joe before heading to the start line. Coffee is certainly the most popular pre-contest pick-me-up, but many athletes choose to forgo the liquid and take a caffeine pill instead. Recent research suggests, however, that athletes who are looking for the biggest boost in performance should use caffeine gum or strips instead.
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The study, which was published in the journal Biology of Sport, had 14 amateur competitive athletes complete a series of self-paced time trials after consuming either a placebo or a caffeine supplement in one of three forms: “chewing gum, a dissolvable mouth strip, or a pill. Each type contained the same dose of caffeine and was ingested 15 minutes before the time trial”.
The researchers found that the gum or dissolvable strip performed better than the pill, prompting them to conclude that a product “designed to be chewed or dissolved in the mouth” is the best option for athletes looking for a performance boost. While coffee wasn’t included in this study, we can draw some conclusions from earlier research. An April 2013 study determined that caffeine pills and coffee both improved endurance performance equally, so with that in mind, we can assume that caffeine gum or dissolvable strips will also outperform coffee, as they did the pill.
So the next time you’re toeing the start line in hopes of a PB and you’re looking for an extra push, you may want to consider swapping your morning cup for a stick of gum. Just remember, you never want to try anything new on race day, so make sure you experiment with whatever you’re planning on using during training to prevent any unwelcome surprises in the middle of your race.
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