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There has been a growth in products linking caffeine and sport but what's the science behind them? We dig into the studies to find out more about why athletes drink coffee or use other products (like gels) when they're looking for improvements in their performance or physical strength.


– Caffeine has been proven to improve endurance and performance times in athletes such as runners, cyclists and rowers.[1] It has also been shown to increase accuracy, speed and agility in tennis players[2] and is evidentially beneficial in high-intensity sports such as rugby and football.[3]

– Caffeine works on the Central Nervous System by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine and stimulating the adrenal gland. By blocking adenosine caffeine suppresses tiredness and increases the activity of dopamine.[4] The stimulation of the adrenal gland increases the heart rate, dilates the pupils, causes muscles to tighten and releases glucose into the blood stream. The changes in exercise physiology helps athletes increase their exertion and therefore improve their performance.

– Caffeine enables the body to use fat as an energy source, saving the glycogen stored in muscles for later in the workout.[5]

– As the concentration of caffeine in the blood peaks at 30-60 minutes after ingestion, it’s suggested that caffeine is consumed about an hour before exercise to increase performance during training or racing. However for endurance athletes, studies have shown that consuming half the caffeine dose an hour before exercise, and the rest at intervals throughout exercise encourages a greater ergogenic effect.[6] This is one reason that some athletes consume caffeine gels during a race and Jo Meek, Team GB ultra runner, drinks Intrepid Baboon or Hectic Hamster to help sustain her endurance during long runs.

– Caffeine consumed in an anhydrous state (tablet form) has greater ergogenic effect than coffee in liquid form.[7] However, it doesn’t provide the associated health benefits of drinking coffee. Drinking coffee can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, protect against the development of liver disease, can help protect you against Parkinson’s disease, reduces the risk of endometrial cancer, and protects against the development of Alzheimer’s disease.[8]

– However, due to its ergogenic benefits, caffeine in high doses is banned by sporting associations. Due to people's varying sensitivity to caffeine it is unclear exactly how high this dose would be. A concentration of 12 or more micrograms per millilitre of an athlete’s urine is banned; this would be about 500mg of caffeine for an average person.[9]

– The recommended intake of caffeine for enhancing performance is 0.45 – 1.36 mg per lb of body weight – but don’t worry; we’ve done the maths for you![10]

Athlete Weight Dose of caffeine(mg) Cups of
Espresso(1.5 fl oz) Cups of Filter
Coffee(8 fl oz)
140lb / 64kg 63 – 190 0.8 to 2.5 0.4 to 1.3
150lb / 68kg 68 – 204 0.8 to 2.6 0.5 to 1.4
160lb / 73kg 72 – 218 0.9 to 2.8 0.5 to 1.5
170lb / 77kg 76 – 231 1 to 3 0.5 to 1.6
180lb / 81kg 81 – 244 1.1 to 3.2 0.6 to 1.7
190lb / 86kg 86 – 258 1.1 to 3.4 0.6 to 1.8
200lb / 91kg 90 – 272 1.2 to 3.5 0.6 to 1.9
210lb / 95kg 95 – 286 1.2 to 3.7 0.7 to 2

[1] Jensen, Christopher D., ‘Caffeine and Athletic Performance’. Retrieved from
[2] Jensen, Christopher D., ‘Caffeine and Athletic Performance’.
[3] Goldstein, Erica R., ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition Stand: Caffeine and Performance’ (2010). The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. [Online] Retrieved from
[4] Goldstein, Erica R., ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition Stand: Caffeine and Performance’.
[5] AIS Sports Nutrition. (2009) Retrieved from
[6] Jensen, Christopher D., ‘Caffeine and Athletic Performance’.
[7] Goldstein, Erica R., ‘International Society of Sports Nutrition Stand: Caffeine and Performance’.
[8] Rogers, Paul (29/11/11), ‘Coffee and Caffeine for Health and Fitness’. Retrieved from
[9] Rafoth, Dick, ‘Cycline Performance Tips: Caffeine’. Retrieved from
[10] Jensen, Christopher D., ‘Caffeine and Athletic Performance’.

It is always advisable to consult your doctor or other qualified health care provider before undertaking any type of physical or increased exercise, and/or consuming coffee in relation to that exercise.

Get in the Mood® has compiled this information in good faith for the interest of readers; however, accept no responsibility for the accuracy or content of source material used as published on this website and other communication material in which it might appear.

Thank you Mansel Kersey for your photo help.

Updated: October 2021