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Caffeine for Athletes – Good or Bad?


When you are completely exhausted or unmotivated to go to boxing class, where do you turn? Caffeine. Some people base their entire productive output on the amount of caffeine they consume. Caffeine is a drug, complete with highs, lows, and addictions. But it is legal, socially acceptable and a staple for many athletes.

A good number of athletes utilize caffeine daily. A “cup of Joe” is not the only way to wake up. Supplement companies are cashing in big on the need to energize before a workout. Caffeine for athletes is found in pre-workout powders, pills, drink, and even food. It can also serve as a fat burner and appetite suppressant, which is especially inviting for fighters cutting weight.

How Much Caffeine is Normal?

Studies suggest that a moderate dose of three milligrams per kilogram of body weight may improve athletic performance and endurance. In an 84- kilogram or 185-pound man this would be about 252 milligrams. For reference, a Starbucks grande coffee has about 330 milligrams.

At the 252 milligram level, research shows that performance may increase, but very little if any metabolic changes occur. Energy drinks boast anywhere from 80 milligrams to a scary 400 milligrams per can. The FDA lists 400 milligrams as the maximum dose for an adult, though only 200 milligrams is recommended.

Caffeine for Athletes Used to be banned in the Olympics

At one time caffeine was on the Olympics’ list of forbidden substances, with the blood-level equivalent of eight cups of coffee serving as enough to get an athlete banned from the Games.

Caffeine for athletes is no longer banned, but the International Olympic Committee still tests for the substance. They reserve the right to re-ban caffeine if it starts finding elevated levels in a large number of competitors.

In 2017 caffeine was placed in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) monitoring program. Given the vast numbers of stimulants available to athletes, WADA is concerned that there may be an issue with improper use.

Effect Training and Performance

Depending on dosage and personal tolerance, effects of caffeine typically last five to six hours. That is without the energy drain of a hard boxing workout. Even then, the boost should last through the entire session.

Studies suggest that caffeine’s effects on the central nervous system may contribute to the ability to push harder in short duration activities and slightly bunt pain perception. The vast majority of pre-workout supplements contain between 100-350 milligrams of caffeine.

Reduced Muscle Fatigue and Lactic Acid Build Up

Caffeine reduces the muscles’ consumption of glycogen, which is the stored energy used up during exercise. There is a limited amount of glycogen available in the muscle. Once it is used up, muscle fatigue sets in. Caffeine assists the body in tapping into its own fat reserves as energy, which reduces the glycogen rate. This process is called “glycogen sparring” and serves to delay muscle fatigue.

One of caffeine’s short-term benefits is a reduction in lactic acid build up. As glycogen is depleted, lactic acid builds up in the muscle. This is the cause of the burning sensation you feel in your muscles during and after a workout. A University of Illinois study conducted in 2009 found that 300 milligrams of caffeine taken prior to a workout reduced the amount of burning felt by participants in the study.

Should Athletes use Caffeine?

Everything in moderation. If caffeine use creates a dependency this could cause serious problems in sleep cycles and post-workout recovery. Be honest with yourself about your actual intake and enjoy your training session bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 

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