Taking caffeine before exercise could improve performance during a broad range of exercise tasks, according to a new review of past research conducted at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.
In 2004, caffeine was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency list of substances banned during competitions. Since then, the intake of caffeine among athletes has increased with no signs of slowing down, say researchers.
The research team conducted an “umbrella review” - meaning they looked at results of earlier reviews that analyzed multiple studies of caffeine and exercise performance.
The 21 earlier reviews, done between 2004 and 2018, analyzed an average of 19 studies each.
They found that caffeine helped muscle endurance, muscle strength, jumping performance, exercise speed, anaerobic power and aerobic endurance.
Three reviews, involving an average of 13 studies each, supported the exercise-enhancing, effect of caffeine on strength. Two reviews, which looked at a total of 39 studies, supported an effect on endurance.
In general, the effect of caffeine was greater for aerobic exercise than for anaerobic exercise.
The “optimal” dose, however, remains elusive. Although coffee is the most widely-used form of caffeine globally, it’s not commonly studied as a pre-exercise performance enhancer. The caffeine dose depends on coffee bean type, preparation method, cup size, brand and additive flavors.
In general, two cups of coffee, consumed one hour before exercise, should exert an ergogenic effect in most people, said the lead researcher.
But the response to caffeine varies from person to person. People interested in supplementing with caffeine should be careful with the dose of caffeine, as high doses may result in strong side-effects such as a headache, nausea and insomnia.
One limitation of the review is that it relies on the earlier teams of researchers to accurately compare different measurements, intervals, timeframes and study groups. In addition, most of the studies involved young men.
As with any pre-race strategy, test out caffeine in training before the competition, recommend sports nutritionists.
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