Just as most of us embrace the caffeine kick from our morning cup of joe, athletes often turn to caffeine to boost their sports performance. New research, however, suggests that athletes may want to lay off the coffee and energy drinks in their free time — it could hamper caffeine's performance-enhancing benefits when they need them most.
It is found in coffee, energy drinks, tea, and even some pain medications. Its widespread consumption means that we may not consider caffeine to be a drug, but it is.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system to reduce fatigue and drowsiness. It may also benefit exercise performance; research has shown that it can improve endurance and increase muscular strength.
As such, it is no surprise that caffeine is a popular go-to performance enhancer for athletes.
A new study, however, suggests that consuming caffeine on a regular basis may desensitize athletes to the performance-enhancing effects of the drug.
Corresponding author Dr. Brendan Egan, of the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University in Ireland, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
Athletes should cut back on coffee
The researchers came to their results by testing the impact of caffeine on 18 men, all of whom were part of a sports team.
All men were required to take part in 10 40-meter sprints. Before each sprint, the athletes were asked to chew some gum. Some subjects received caffeinated gum, which contained levels of caffeine that were equivalent to what is found in two cups of strong coffee, while others received non-caffeinated gum.
The daily caffeine intake of each participant was also noted, and the researchers looked at whether this impacted their performance outcomes on the sprint tests.
The study revealed that for the male athletes who consumed caffeine on a regular basis, the caffeinated gum had little impact on their sprinting performance.
In fact, the team found that subjects who consumed the equivalent of around three or more cups of coffee every day saw their athletic performance decline with repeated sprint tests, even after chewing the caffeinated gum.
Those who had a low habitual caffeine intake, however, maintained their performance throughout all 10 sprint tests after chewing the caffeinated gum.
Commenting on their results, the researchers say:
"The data suggest that a low dose of caffeine in the form of caffeinated chewing gum attenuates the sprint performance decrement during [repeated sprint performance] by team sport athletes with low, but not moderate-to-high, habitual consumption of caffeine."
The researchers add that their findings indicate that regular caffeine intake may hamper the performance-enhancing benefits of the drug.
With this in mind, they recommend that athletes who drink coffee regularly should cut down in the lead-up to a sports performance. If not, they may be unlikely to reap the rewards of a caffeine supplement.