Is Caffeine Good for My Workouts?

A Closer Look at Performance-Boosting Effects

Woman on bike holding coffee
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Coffee is a very popular drink among athletes. Some of the reason for this is cultural—the get-together after training, for example. (Note the cyclists in full gear populating some coffee shops on a weekend morning after a long ride.)

Apart from the fact that coffee is obviously a popular drink, tastes good, and seems to contribute to a feeling of well-being and energy for many people, the health and performance benefits of coffee drinking may be due to the stimulant caffeine and other naturally occurring plant constituents.

Caffeine as a Performance Supplement

Caffeine is one of the sports performance supplements recognized as safe and effective at the recommended doses. Caffeine is not banned or listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency for competitive sports. The reasons caffeine can help with performance is not altogether clear, but it may be neurological. Caffeine consumption may delay the onset of fatigue—that is, you don't feel fatigue or pain as early as you would without the caffeine dose.

Research shows that caffeine burns fat increases mental focus, and improves muscle performance. Among endurance athletes, caffeine has shown to boost performance in the longer endurance events such as marathons and triathlons. A recent study suggests it may also enhance anaerobic and sprint performance among soccer players. Emerging research indicates that caffeine may enhance strength-training performance in weightlifting and competitive powerlifting, though more research in these areas is still needed. The secret? Caffeine may offer benefit for athletes in these power sports by allowing them to train harder.

Caffeine can potentially reduce the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) associated with pain and discomfort to enhance high-volume training.

In addition, caffeine may give some trainers and competitors a feeling of well-being and power—after all, it is an effective brain and adrenal stimulant. This effect, however, may be more psychological than physiological, as the line between the two can often be blurred.

Health Effects of Coffee

For healthy adults, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about four cups), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advises limiting caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams during pregnancy (about two cups)—though a 2020 study suggests that caffeine during pregnancy should be avoided entirely.

In a range of human health studies, coffee and caffeine have been associated with possible prevention of various diseases, with few adverse effects in healthy people.

Some of the possible health benefits of coffee include:

  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Protection against liver disease
  • Protection against Parkinson's disease
  • Reduced risk of endometrial cancer
  • Protection against Alzheimer's disease

Many of these benefits have surfaced in prospective human studies, though more large scale research is still needed before we can regard these claims with absolute certainty.

The role of caffeine and coffee in heart disease has shown promising results in recent years, with moderate to high consumption showing a reduced risk of heart disease among prospective studies of large populations.

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