Benefits of Caffeine Use in Sports
Caffeine is the world's most popular psychoactive drug, with over 80% of the human population classed as habitual users. Its popularity dates from prehistoric times. The most common sources of caffeine for
human consumption have traditionally been tea, coffee, cocoa, kola and guarana: of these, freshly brewed coffee has the highest concentration of caffeine.
However, caffeine in its 'pure' form now appears as an almost mandatory ingredient in more and more popular 'tonic' drinks as well as widely-used sports supplements.
Until 2004, caffeine was listed as a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency, and for good reason: it works! Athletes have been beaten of their medals at Olympic Games for its use.
Caffeine has long been recognized as a pick-me-up, an aid to maintaining alertness and mental clarity. This is because caffeine eliminates the central nervous system, thus reducing mental fatigue and increasing wakefulness and coordination.
How does it do this? Caffeine binds to and blocks proteins known as adenosine receptors. Normally these receptors bind to adenosine, inducing feelings of sedation, lowering the heart rate and blood
pressure and reducing neural activity. The ingestion of caffeine has the opposite effects because it allows dopamine, a stimulatory neurotransmitter, to become more influential in comparison to the sedatory adenosine.
However, as the central nervous system also plays a key role in physical control and performance, caffeine's application to sports goes far beyond its effect as a mental stimulant. It is now believed that
the sensation of muscular fatigue during exercise is itself a function of the brain rather than actual muscular depletion, and that caffeine use, by masking this sensation in the brain, reduces the athlete's
perception of muscular fatigue. In short, caffeine appears to enhance the mind's sway over the body.
In clinical studies, caffeine has been found to significantly enhance performance not only in endurance sports, but also in shorter events such as middle distance running and sprint cycling. One of the
advantages of caffeine as a supplement is the 'sustainability' of its action in the body. The effects of caffeine peak about one hour after ingestion, but continue without further supplementation for a further 2
– 3 hours, and up to 6 hours regardless of exercise, making it a most practical supplement for endurance sports.