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Caffeine and Exercise: To Sip or Not to Sip?

Caffeine and exercise

Is caffeine the answer to better on-ice performance?

By Megan A Ware

Contrary to popular belief, current research suggests that caffeine is not a diuretic and does not cause dehydration. The US military has done extensive research on caffeine and dehydration and has found that consuming about 100mg a day of caffeine does not increase urine output. As for caffeine and exercise, caffeine may improve performance for endurance athletes (like marathoners and cyclists) and speed endurance athletes (like soccer and hockey players). And, as most of us already have experienced, caffeine can delay fatigue and improve mental sharpness.

Studies have shown that most exercisers improve their performance by about 12% when using caffeine; however, these benefits were only seen for those participating in longer bouts of exercise. Short-duration exercise (8-20 minutes) is not as affected by caffeine and sprinters experienced no benefit. The benefits are greater for those who do not regularly consume caffeine and exercise have not built up a tolerance to its effects.

There are some risks when considering caffeine and exercise. Some people will experience side effects such as anxiety, nausea, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal distress and insomnia. And don’t forget, caffeine is an addictive substance. When you build up a tolerance to caffeine, the benefits are minimized and withdrawal from caffeine can cause headaches and irritability.

How Much is Too Much?

The amount of caffeine tolerance a person has depends on the individual, but if you are regularly consuming upwards of 500- 600 mg of caffeine per day, it may be time to scale back. Here’s an idea of just how much caffeine can be found in these typical products:

  • 8 oz brewed coffee: 60-150mg
  • Energy drink or bar: 200mg or more, depending on the size and brand
  • Caffeine pill: 100- 200mg
  • Soda. tea: 40-60mg per cup
  • 1 oz caffeinated gel (i.e., Gu): 20mg
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Varies (check the label)

Overconsumption of caffeine can lead to restlessness and sleep deprivation. If you think you need to cut back on your caffeine consumption, do so gradually to minimize the effects of withdrawal. Avoid any caffeine later in the day, then start to cut out one serving of caffeine per day.

The Benefits of Coffee

Scientists and medical professionals around the world have changed their stance on caffeine. The results of study after study confirm that coffee is more of a friend than an enemy. The findings include:

  1. Improves your brain function
  2. Makes you smarter
  3. Helps burn fat faster
  4. Reduces of risk of dementia
  5. May decrease the risk of depression
  6. Possibly reduces the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes (Source: JAMA Internal Medicine)
  7. Associated with the lowered risk of certain types of cancers
  8. May delay the onset of Alzheimer’s
  9. Reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease
  10. Can improve liver function
  11. Reduces the risk of stroke
  12. May improve your gut health
  13. Lowers the rate of dying at an early age

(For a more comprehensive look at the benefits of coffee and the study sources, as well as the risk factors, check out “Is Coffee Good or Bad for You?”)

Keurig K-Slim Coffee Maker, Single Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Brewer, 8 to 12 oz. Brew Sizes, Black

Tips for Using Caffeine and Exercise

Caffeine is absorbed quickly in the body and peaks in the blood about 1-2 hours after consumption. Aim to consume caffeine about 1 hour prior to a workout to gain the most benefit.

Keep in mind that black coffee has zero calories, but a 16-oz frozen cappuccino drink has 470 calories and is full of unnecessary sugars. Even a chai tea latte has about 250 calories. So if you’re consuming sugary beverages like these for your caffeine intake to help you in your workout, you might be doing more harm than good.

Note: As with any nutrition or exercise program, consult your physician to see if the use of caffeine is right for you.

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