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The Olympics Caffeine Limit; Why Caffeine is Legal under Olympic Rules and Why Athletes Use Caffeine

Why is Caffeine Legal under Olympic Rules?

Caffeine is legal under Olympic rules and it is popular with athletes. Caffeine occurs in a wide variety of foods and the doses that people use to enhance their performance are hard to distinguish from normal use. As a result, the World Anti-Doping Agency dropped their ban in 2004.

The IOC caffeine limits

Rules laid down by the International Olympic Committee or IOC include a caffeine limit for athletes. Anyone exceeding the urinary limit of 12 mg/ml faces a ban leading to disqualification. This is roughly 600 to 800mg of caffeine, or 4 to 7 cups of coffee which someone would need to consume over a 30-minute period. That's a lot of coffee even for coffee lovers like us! The National Collegiate Athletic Association has a similar limit, set at 15 mg/ml.

Benefits of Coffee Before Workout

There are proven benefits of coffee before workout which is why caffeine is probably the most popular drug in sports. Athletes use coffee pre workout to stimulate the central nervous system by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that normally causes a calming effect in the body. Because adenosine has been blocked, the adrenal glands release adrenaline - which is also known as the “fight or flight” hormone. People looking to improve their sporting performance will benefit from their heart rate increasing, their pupils dilating, their muscles tightening up, and glucose being released into their blood stream. The result is extra energy… In fact, you now have the caffeine buzz.

But wait… we’re not done yet. Caffeine also increases dopamine. Dopamine activates the pleasure in parts of the brain. It has been suspected that this also contributes to caffeine addiction. Physiologically, caffeine makes us you feel alert, pumps adrenaline to give you energy and changes dopamine production to make you feel good.

In addition to various psychological and physiological benefits, numerous studies have documented caffeine’s ergogenic effect on athletic performance, particularly in regard to endurance. If you're wondering what this means, then read on... Studies show that drinking coffee before a workout, you will extend your endurance in moderately strenuous aerobic activity. Other studies, researching caffeine consumption on elite distance runners and distance swimmers, show increased performance times following caffeine consumption. That's one of the reasons that Team GB runner, Jo Meek, includes Brilliant Racoon coffee and Hectic Hamster coffee in her training and race preparation. (You can read more about the science in our blog Caffeine and Sport - the facts)

Interestingly, a study measuring voluntary and electrically stimulated muscle actions found that caffeine produced no effect on maximal muscular force. Even though it might not make you stronger, the same study showed findings that suggest caffeine has an ergogenic effect on muscle during repetitive, low frequency stimulation and we certainly enjoy drinking coffee before our cross-fit training sessions.

Scientists and many athletes have known for years, of course, that a cup of coffee before a workout jolts athletic performance, especially in endurance sports like distance running and cycling. Caffeine has also been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream. This enables people to run or pedal longer (since their muscles can absorb and burn that fat for fuel and save the body’s limited stores of carbohydrates until later in the workout).

Coming back to caffeine and the Olympics, a 2011 report showed that more than two-thirds of about 20,680 Olympic athletes had caffeine in their urine, with use highest among triathletes, cyclists and rowers. But whether and how caffeine affects other, less-aerobic activities, like weight training or playing a stop-and-go team sport like soccer or basketball, has been less clear.

Research into Caffeine Pre Workout

In 2012, researchers at Coventry University in England recruited 13 fit young men and asked them to repeat a standard weight-training gym regimen on several occasions. An hour before one workout, the men consumed a sugar-free energy drink containing caffeine. An hour before another, they drank the same beverage, minus the caffeine. Then the men began their workout and they lifted, pressed and squatted, performing each exercise until they were exhausted.

Exhaustion arrived much later for those who’d had caffeine pre workout. After swallowing the caffeinated beverage, the men completed significantly more repetitions of the exercises than after the placebo. They also reported feeling subjectively less tired during the entire bout and, in perhaps the most interesting finding, said that they were eager to repeat the whole workout again soon.

“Essentially, we found that with the caffeinated drink, the person felt more able to invest effort,” says Michael Duncan, a senior lecturer in sports science at the University of Exeter in England and lead author of the study. “They would put more work into the training session, and when the session was finished, in the presence of the caffeinated drink, they were more psychologically ready to go again.”

Dr. Duncan says, he believes that caffeine “antagonizes adenosine,” a substance in muscles that builds up during exercise and blunts the force of contractions. The more adenosine in a muscle, the less force it generates. Caffeine reduces adenosine levels, “which then enables more forceful muscular contractions and delays fatigue,” Dr. Duncan says. “That’s the theory, anyway,” he adds.

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

Get in the Mood are providing this information for the interest of readers and accept no responsibility for how the reader interprets or acts on this.

Updated - from an original post in August 2016

Thank you Jordan Turner, PT, Boxer and Breathing Coach for your photo help!

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