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Caffeine: A good pre-workout/competition stimulant?

While many performance enhancing "drugs" have been ruled illegal by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the use of caffeine as a supplement has been deemed legal up to a urine caffeine concentration level of 15 µg/mL. Moreover, in 2005 the International Olympic Committee removed caffeine from its "banned substance" list. (It does still monitor caffeine consumption, however). The limits placed on the consumption of caffeine by some governing bodies and the removal of limits by other governing bodies prompted a question from me: Does the ingestion of caffeine prior to an athletic endeavor really make a difference in performance?

Studies regarding the ergogenic effects (reported as an increase in oxygen consumption and/or an improvement in performance times) are conflicting. Some studies have shown positive improvements while others have noted little to no change in performance when caffeine is ingested. Thus, when a majority of the data is taken into account the overall results could be deemed "inconclusive". Further, when all of the data is taken into consideration the benefits of caffeine (within the above noted legal limits) on athletic performance are often dependent on the athlete her/himself and the type of workout in which she/he is currently involved: age, weight, metabolism, amount of caffeine, timing of intake, caffeine sensitivity, hydration status, training level and type of training. Some athletes will show noticeable improvements in performance when caffeine is ingested prior to a workout/athletic event, while others will show little to no response.

All of this encouraged me to ask you:

What is your opinion of the benefits of caffeine on athletic performance?
How do you approach this subject with your athletes?

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