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How Should I Take Caffeine?

Caffeine can help to improve endurance performance, but what is the best way to take it?

Caffeine can be obtained from a variety of food and drinks. It is well-established that caffeine has positive effects on sports performance, provided it is taken the right manner and in the right amounts. See our article how does caffeine work for a deeper dive into this topic.


How to Take Caffeine Infographic


Shorter Races and Training with Caffeine

For shorter races or training sessions around 60 minutes or less, caffeine can simply be taken 30 to 60 minutes before starting in the form of caffeine gels. A dose of 2-6 mg per kg of body weight will provide all of the performance benefits of caffeine, though the higher end of the range is no more effective than the lower end and may produce side-effects.


Longer Races and Training - How much Caffeine and When?

Caffeine peaks in the blood around 30 to 60 minutes after being ingested and has a half-life of 4-5 hours. It is typically ingested an hour before exercise, but this means that by the end of long races or training sessions (4-5 hours or longer), the amount of circulating caffeine may have halved. Therefore, there has been some research into taking caffeine during exercise, rather than just before. Some studies have investigated whether taking caffeine during a long exercise session, but not beforehand, can improve sports performance. They showed that taking caffeine after around ~2 hours of exercise can improve performance later in exercise. These studies even showed that smaller doses of caffeine (90 to100mg) can have a benefit when taken late in exercise, despite this small amount being unlikely to improve performance if taken before exercise. However, larger doses (~200mg) are still more effective than smaller doses at improving performance when taken during exercise.


Caffeine and Sports Performance During Exercise

Taking regular doses of caffeine during exercise has also been looked at, which simulates the practice of many athletes in taking caffeine containing carbohydrate gels or sports drinks at regular intervals (such as every 15-30 minutes). Taking smaller doses of caffeine during exercise can improve performance and seems to keep the amounts of caffeine in the blood high. The total doses required seem to be similar to the amount required before exercise (2-6mg per kg). Therefore, if a race is very long (such as an Ironman) or has high effort periods near the end (such as a final climb) it could be helpful to have 100-200mg of caffeine 30-60 minutes before higher intensity periods. Similarly, caffeine can be taken in a more regular fashion during exercise, either with or without a dose at the start of exercise. Taking caffeine before the start of the race will still provide a performance benefit, so caffeine does not need to be restricted to only later on in longer races. The research suggests that the exact protocol of ingestion doesn’t appear to matter very much, provided the effective dose is reached. However, with multiple caffeine doses it can be easier to reach the high caffeine intakes that can cause side effects (>6 mg/kg).


Where Should I Get Caffeine From?

Coffee is the most popular caffeine source in the diet with ~100mg per cup (though this varies widely). Studies have shown that caffeine from coffee, or as a powder dissolved in water, are both effective at improving performance when taken before exercise. However, because the amount of caffeine in coffee can vary drastically, it is not a very reliable way to take caffeine.


What Are the Best Alternate Sources of Caffeine?

Using caffeine-containing sports drinks, gels or pills can be a more reliable and accurate way to take caffeine, which may reduce the risk of side effects from taking too much accidentally. Coffee can also make some people need to go to the toilet soon after, which might not be desirable if it is taken 30-60 minutes before exercise. When taking caffeine during a race, it is probably best to use a non-coffee source such as a sports gel like our C30+ or a tablet – for the same reasons, which can also be used to deliver carbohydrates for fuel.


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