Caffeine – Essential Sports Nutrition

caffeine-and-essential-nutritionMany people enjoy the odd cup of tea or coffee every now and again – and who can blame them?

They are drinks that taste great, come in many different varieties and flavours and, more importantly, wake you up and give you that extra lift when you start to tire.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a bitter tasting, white coloured stimulant drug that is based on crystalline xanthine alkaloid.

It is a naturally occurring substance and is found in certain leaves, seeds and the fruit of a number of plants.

Common sources of caffeine include coffee beans, tea leaves, as well as other products made using the kola nut.

Other sources also include guayusa, guarana berries, yaupon holly and yerba maté.

In humans, caffeine acts as a metabolic stimulant, it also stimulates the central nervous system, temporarily improving alertness and reducing drowsiness.

Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated for general consumption in nearly all parts of the world.

Despite this however, competitive athletes should consume caffeine with caution and first check to ensure its consumption is not restricted in any way by their sport.

Caffeine as a stimulant

Caffeine has a stimulatory effect that everyone can appreciate and as well as giving you that extra boost when you most need it, it also improves perception as well as alertness.

It is not just in coffee where you will find caffeine either – it is also appears in tea, chocolate and a whole range of popular soft drinks.

With this in mind there is little wonder that many nutritionalists advise you to restrict children’s intake of caffeine-based products as added stimulants can make children hyperactive and can artificially reduce their need for sleep.

Benefits of caffeine for athletes

However, the advantages of caffeine products, especially for athletes, are clear for all to see.

Athletes often need extra boosts and stimulants throughout various periods of exercise and competition and caffeine, when used properly, can be used to good effect.

Characteristics such as increased perception and alertness are ideal advantages to have in a competitive game and can help an athlete stay focussed for much longer than normal.

Ergogenic aid

It is also recognised that athletes take caffeine products because of their potential ergogenic effects.

Ergogenic aids will aid athlete endurance, although there are no specific correlations between this and short term exercise.

This is because it is recognised that caffeine has no or very limited ergogenic impact on exercise that is based around high intensity training that lasts only for a short period.

Caffeine will help maintain an athlete even after strenuous periods of exercise, as it provides a stimulatory advance when an athlete most needs it.

It does this by invigorating the movement of fat-based acids from fatty tissue and spares muscle glycogen.

There are many people who do not believe the hype and relationship between caffeine as an ergogenic aid, as there are contradictory reports about its effectiveness.

In many instances it all boils down to personal preferences and how as an athlete you feel after consuming such caffeine-based product.

For instance, if you take a caffeine based product and you feel that it improves your overall performance, there is no reason why you should not continue with this practice.

Everyone is different and, in many instances, people will feel different benefits depending on what stimulating products they try.

How much caffeine will boost performance?

Whilst some reports report that there are no positive advantages to be gained in taking caffeine, other reports have found that there were significant improvements in athlete performance.

One study even went so far as to recommend specific dosage rates.

According to the reports that have shown a correlation between the use of caffeine as an “added boost”, the recommended amount of caffeine should be roughly five mg of caffeine per kg of body weight.

The study also makes clear the importance of measuring your weight before an event commences – most notably between an hour and forty five minutes before participation.

Caffeine conditioning – minimise its regular use

It is important to remember, however, that, as with most things, too much coffee drunk in a short space of time, or too many caffeine products consumed regularly, could reduce the positive impacts of caffeine, as your body becomes accustomed to its effects.

It is thought to be better to load your caffeine intake prior to an event – but be careful how much you consume at any one time as caffeine is classed as a stimulant.

You therefore need to ensure that you are within any legal consumption guidelines for your sport, especially as the International Olympic Committee currently does not permit urinary levels above one and a half litres of coffee for an ordinary sized man.

Getting the balance right

There is no getting away from the fact that caffeine is classed as a drug – primarily because of its stimulatory effects.

Because of this, you need to carefully monitor your daily intake and the effects on your performance, health and general wellbeing.

Additionally, you may also want to research the potential negative effects of caffeine intake and weigh up the advantages versus the disadvantages in order to get the balance right.

The negative effects of caffeine

If you are an athlete and are considering using caffeine as a trial to determine if your endurance is improved, you may actually feel the negative effects before seeing any advantages – if there are any at all.

Caffeine products, especially for those of us who are not used to taking them, can increase the chances of you feeling unwell.

Headaches, nausea and dehydration are known to be common side effects for people who are new to caffeine products.

The recommended amount of caffeine that many studies suggest will improve performance is quite substantial, especially if you have never taken it before… so a slow build up could be a sensible approach… at least until you understand how your body reacts

As with most things in life: everything in moderation should do the trick.

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