Caffeine and Athletic Performance

Written by Kelsey Gilbert. Reviewed by Emily Fultz, MS, RD, LDN

It is quite common that an athlete would want to better their athletic performance without the use of hazardous and complex performance aids. Due to this goal, many athletes reach for caffeine to provide a safe, yet effective burst of energy.

There have been many studies demonstrating that caffeine aids athletic performance, overall proving that certain doses of caffeine can aid an athlete striving to enhance their performance. Athletes may get their caffeine from sports bars, energy drinks, capsules, coffee, and many other sources.

Mechanism of Caffeine

Caffeine is rapidly absorbed through the GI Tract, moved into cell membranes, then circulated to tissues. Within 30-45 minutes elevated levels will appear in the bloodstream. Concentrations are decreased by 50% to 75% within 3-6 hours of consumption. Although it may seem beneficial to redose and consume caffeine again, there are limited studies that prove this to be helpful. It is important for an athlete to replenish electrolytes and energy levels between events.


Caffeine has been shown to improve muscle contractility, work output, time to exhaustion, and performance during prolonged exercise. One study found that 5,9, or 13 mg/kg (of bodyweight) produced significant benefits during activities lasting 30 to 120 minutes. These studies also found that relatively low doses of caffeine increased cognitive function as much as high doses. The optimal dose was found to be between 3 to 6 mg/kg.

Dosage and Usage

Possible Side Effects (More likely in high doses)

  • Nervousness/Jitteriness
  • Shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • GI Upset

It is important to track these symptoms prior to a competition or major event to ensure there is no athletic impairment due to symptoms.

Take Away:

Caffeine has proven to aid athletic performance in many ways, providing a safe, and effective way for athletes to reach their performance goals.

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