Caffeine and its Importance in Sports
A large proportion of Canadians are proud consumers of coffee. It is possible that you, the reader, have already consumed and even felt the restorative effects of this product in all its forms (coffee, tea, energy drink, soft drink, chocolate, etc.). Some have even introduced it into their diet on the same term as their meals. They say they never start a day without their coffee! But what about its consumption during physical activity? Is it a good thing to use it? Will everyone draw favourable effects from it?
First of all, what is the role of caffeine in our system?
At first glance, one of its main functions is to increase alertness by stimulating the central nervous system. This helps us be more attentive and fight against drowsiness. Another function of caffeine is to improve cognitive performance such as memorization, perception, learning, etc. This effect is even observed in people accustomed to the substance.
Is it beneficial to use caffeine before physical effort?
Although caffeine is present in a wide range of products designed to enhance physical performance, researchers are still ambiguous about the real benefit that it could bring to athletes. They have not yet proved its effectiveness in terms of physical performance, but have not called it ineffective either. Other results are thus on their way. What should we think then? We normally do not need caffeine to participate in a physical activity. However, there might come a day when you feel tired and need a cup of coffee to keep you alert and awake during your hockey game; there is nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, if you need a large coffee every time you go on the ice, there is a problem. You can be dependant on this product and it becomes a crutch when you participate in sports.
The table below indicates the amount of caffeine in various products.
Source: Santé Canada. Aliments et nutrition. La caféine et votre santé, 2005.
What are the dangers linked to its use?
If consumption is taken near bedtime, caffeine can cause insomnia, nervousness, and restlessness. If taken in large quantities, caffeine can cause nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, arrhythmia, increased respiration, muscle cramps, and headaches. However, one of its strongest effects is the dependence it can provide during prolonged use. Thus, during a sudden stop of its consumption, the individual may suffer headaches, irritability, nervousness, anxiety, drowsiness, dizziness and confusion. Moderation is a safe bet, as it is with every good thing!
In conclusion, taking a coffee before a game is not bad in itself. If the consumption is regular and exaggerated, dependence may develop and become at risk for the side effects mentioned above. If fatigue occurs, it is best to ask yourself the following questions before consuming a drink containing caffeine because they can often be the cause of it:
- Did I sleep well last night?
- Have I eaten enough in the last 24 hours?
- Have I eaten enough carbohydrates in the last 24 hours?
- Is my fatigue physical? If yes, is it due to a workout from yesterday?
- Is my fatigue mental? If yes. is it due to a new source of stress in my life?
Caffeine can help in the short term, but it is always wise to try to correct the cause of fatigue in order to minimize the frequency of its appearance. A correction of the issues mentioned above should therefore be prioritized. However, before undertaking any changes to your diet, to adjust your training plan or for tips on improving your quality of sleep, you are advised to consult a medical professional (nutritionist and/or kinesiologist).
- Sc. Kinesiologist
Caféine (page accessed on March 18, 2010), [French] [Online], URL: